Archive for April, 2013

Rules to follow for Great Customer Service!

April 29, 2013
Are you giving Excellent Customer Service or Bad?

Are you giving Excellent Customer Service or Bad?

As popular as my last post was on Customer Service, I figured I would continue this week with a similar discussion on customer service. In my previous post, I shared some ideas as to how to think differently when it comes to customer service. If you Google “great customer service stories” you will get some very interesting stories and I encourage you do read them. This is one way to learn how to think ‘outside the proverbial box’ as some of these stories will challenge and inspire you to give a greater level of customer service. From the story of the gentleman who was flying from Los Angeles to Denver to see his 3 yr. old grandchild for the last time after the child had suffered severe trauma at the hands of his mother’s boyfriend. He was to be removed from life support and the grandfather was late for his plane due to traffic. When he arrived at the gate, the pilot was waiting for him to board the plane so he could go and visit his grandson for the last time. Or, you may be impressed with the story from the gentleman who was traveling home from a convention with several layovers with the coming layover being very brief. He ‘tweets’ Morton’s Steakhouse to see if they could deliver a porterhouse to the Newark airport as he was famished and would not have an opportunity to eat. Once he stepped off the plane at the gate, a tuxedoed gentleman was waiting, holding a bag with his order. He had to drive nearly 24 miles to deliver the steak and potatoes.

These are great customer service stories and there are many more. They are unique and not as likely to have a similar experience within your field of expertise. Doing the same for your customers is not what is expected, but it gives you the mentality that sometimes, you may go beyond the “call of duty” to serve your customers.

So, you may ask how you can give great customer service without simply having one of these unique and special circumstances arise. This is where true customer services comes into play. You see, it is easy and humane to see how someone would wait for a grandparent to reach his dying grandchild. But, what about everyday?

Daily, there are some basic rules you can employ to ensure you or your employees are giving great customer service. In fact, if you do it well enough over time, you can actually begin to use this as a marketing tool to promote you or your business. So, let’s begin with the general rules to observe.

Answer the phone. It seems simple enough, but do you know how many times I call other agents to get their voicemail systems. What is even more distressing about these voice mails is when I have to call them back because they do not return my call. So, answer the phone, but if you cannot, return the call. In our technology based society, you can include read and respond to emails in a timely manner. Most people now have their email going through their phones so it is easier to get an email from anywhere you may be. You may not be in the position to respond to the email at the time of receiving it, but follow-up with the email as soon as you can.

Don’t make promises unless you will keep them. If you promise to help them find the home of their ‘dreams’ or the ‘perfect’ home, you better be able to do it. For me, there are no ‘perfect’ homes out there. For anyone who has been a homeowner, you know that mistakes were made with the building of your home that cannot always be found. Further, the ‘perfect’ home leads one to believe they will find a home that will meet all of their needs and wants. This is impossible to achieve as the perfect home does not exist and if it does, it may not be for sale for the amount you can afford to pay. Are you saying, you can find the house with all the amenities you need and want in the area/community you want and at the price you can afford. I am not a gambler, but the odds of that home being available are slim. This doesn’t mean I cannot find a great home that will meet their needs and most of their wants. A home doesn’t have to be the ‘perfect’ home for a homeowner to love it. For example, the home my wife and I purchased does not have the man-cave/office that I wanted, but I still love the house and have enjoyed living in it.

Of course, promises can cover other areas that are not as broad as home choices. It could include saying you can get a home for a certain price. When potential buyer clients ask me if they can get a certain housing product for a certain price point, I never tell them I can do it unless I have already done a similar search for the community. For example, I had a gentleman the other day ask me about purchasing a three bedroom condo in a certain building in Raleigh for $500,000. On the surface, this seems like an attainable goal, but after I brought up homes in the building, we learned a three bedroom would cost around $750,000. Had I promised him I could find it, I would have harmed any chance to give him great customer service. The first step to great customer service is to be honest with them.

Listen to your customer. I had covered some of this with the previous post, and this is very important. Listening is a skill that is in great demand in our society today as very few people take the time to listen. Everyone wants to be heard, but few want to listen. I am reminded of the quote from the movie, “White Men Can’t Jump” where the two main characters describe the difference between hearing and listening to Jim Morrison music. To fully listen to your clients, you have to both train yourself to understand their language, but also, develop the understanding of what they really want. Remember, listening to the body language of your customer is more important than their words. For example, my wife and I went to brunch at a local restaurant recently and the waitress committed the greatest sin; she let my Diet Coke run out and didn’t refill it. In fact, I had to go the entire meal without anything to drink as I was empty before the food arrived. Wanting to speak with the manager about it, I was giving the body language and tried to make eye contact with the manager, but the manager never stopped by my table. He was too busy to pay attention to the body language of his customer. I may be back to that restaurant, but I would not recommend the establishment. The only reason I may be back is my wife likes the place and often books the eatery, but I would not happily return. They did not listen to their customer.

Deal with complaints. This issue goes hand-in-hand with listening to your customer. As with their being no perfect houses, there are no perfect people to deliver perfect customer service 100% of the time. Employees have bad days and products fail…it is a fact of life. These little disappointments do not have to be debilitating to a company if they have the ability to deal with complaints in a positive and uplifting manner. Usually, the customer giving the complaint is angry or at the least, very upset. It is their prerogative to act anyway they wish to act. As the professional, you have to be above the fray and not dissolve the situation into a shouting match. A great customer service person can turn a complaint into a positive experience for their customer and business by responding to the complaint in the right way. First, you have to listen to their complaint and do not get defensive. Then, you have to figure out how to answer their complaint without degrading them or their feelings. Unfortunately, most of the time it becomes a very emotional. As the professional, you have to take out your personal emotions and deal with the client in the most positive way possible. You should sympathize with their plight and ask them how you can make their experience better in the future. DON’T ASSUME YOU KNOW THE ANSWER! Sometimes a simple apology will suffice, but it has to be sincere to be effective. The waitress apologized when she finally brought me refill, but it was insincere and did not satisfy me.

Due to the size of this post, I will finish the final four general rules for great customer service on my next post. Stay tune and let me know what you think. Your thoughts are appreciated.


What is Customer Service? What should consumers expect?

April 17, 2013
Have you ever waited 30 minutes for service only to be disappointed?

Have you ever waited 30 minutes for service only to be disappointed?

Customer service is an issue that has been prominent in society for many years and no less than in today’s market. Many professional fields require a level of service that can benefit from this debate. As I prepared a presentation last week to a networking group, I thought this would be a great subject for this blog. You see, customer service is important in the real estate business just as it is important for restaurants or retail stores. For professional, customer service is more important since it is more important to remain in business. If I had the marketing budget of a Home Depot or Wal-Mart, I could afford not to focus as much attention to each individual customer/client. But alas, I have a very modest marketing budget, so most of my new business is generated via personal referrals from past clients who have experienced quality service from me.

In this article, I plan to cover a few areas of customer service that many businesses fail to attend to properly. When it comes to service, you must consider why it is important, the communication aspects of customer service, time and details of customer service. In my many years of service both in the retail industry, territory sales and now real estate, I have developed a specific sense of customer service. I had a professor who once told me that one poor customer service experience is like having ten since most people have at least that many friends they will tell. In today’s social media, you can multiply that number by the hundreds. I personally have well over 700 Facebook friends and many people have many more than I do. So, if you are in business, it is important to understand customer service.

Why is it important? As mentioned earlier, unless you have a large marketing budget, word of mouth can be very imperative to your business. It works both with positive and negative. As Shakespeare mentions in his play Julius Caesar, ‘the good a man does dies with him, but the bad lives on forever’. That is not a perfect quote, but you get the gist of his words. If you do not get positive word of mouth, you will never get quality referrals to enhance your business.

Communication is important when it comes to customer service. For one thing, you must speak their language and understand their body language. If your customer is Joe Friday and only wants the facts, you need to simply give them the facts and nothing else. For this type of customer, you do not need to run completely through all of the details as they are not interested in it and you will lose them quickly. Determine their language and speak it. Additionally, you need to understand the basic body languages of your customer. For instance, if your client walks into an office supply store with a focus and the body language that they know where they are going, then you will lose the customer if you stop them to ask them if you can help them. This is me and it upsets me every time an associate stops me when I did not ask for help. It is a “self-service” retail store, so let me self-serve myself. It would be better service if they made themselves available should I have a question. I don’t have any issues with greeting customers, but pay attention to the customer and speak their language.

Time is the most valuable asset any of us will ever own. We can make more money, but we cannot make more time. If this is the case, why do you see retail store associates wasting their customer’s time by not properly stocking the shelves. If you go into a home improvement store and the shelf is out, it can take as much as thirty minutes or more for an associate to get the lift machine with a spotter, block off two aisles and get the product down for you. This is saying that their time is not important to that store and its management. Furthermore, if I walk into a store and the store doesn’t have the item I am looking to purchase, they are virtually out-of-business as far as I am concerned.

When it comes to my business, I always conduct a thorough buyer’s interview to determine what the client wants to purchase to ensure I am not showing them homes that will not meet their needs. When I am working with sellers, I take the time to understand the client, their needs and determine the reason for their selling of the home. Of course, I try to understand and speak their language to ensure I am not wasting their time.

Paying attention to detail is one of the most important aspects of good customer service. A long time ago when I was in the meat business, I improved the sales from $35,000/week to over $55,000/week by paying attention to details. I took the time to understand my customer base and from that, made the decision that we would never be out of pork products, especially on the weekends. The result, we improved sales and thus, had better customer service. It did not result in letters being written to praise the fact that the product they wanted to purchase was on the shelf, but the best reward for customer service is repeat business. By giving my customers what they needed and wanted, sales went up and my department was no longer ‘out-of-business’.

In my current business, the details that are most important for them is the contract and negotiations. It is both my fiduciary responsibility and my customer service credo to give my best in all situations. The ‘devil’s in the details’ as they say, and many contracts that go awry do so because of a lack of attention to details. Every business has details that need to be attended to ensure the best customer experience for your clients. Pay attention to the details.

In closing, one of my favorite professors in college once told me that it is not enough to satisfy your clients, but you need to make them ‘raving fans’ of your business. This is the challenge of any business entity and one that I extend to you today. Make them ‘raving fans’ of your business. In our society, too many patrons are wiling to take less than great customer service. Don’t let your customers take less than ultimate service.

Just this evening, I went to the drive thru at PDQ on Falls of the Neuse. I don’t usually do this for dinner, but as I had an appointment in less than an hour, I needed to get a quick meal since the meeting was apt to go long into the evening. When I pulled up, I was tempted to either leave or go inside as there were five vehicles in front of me. They noticed this and to ensure a speedy service experience, the management sent out two associates to take orders from the waiting vehicles. A situation that at a normal fast food restaurant would have taken 20-30 minutes to get my food, it took less than 10 minutes. They paid attention to the customer’s needs and went above the call of duty to make me a ‘raving fan’ of their enterprise.

Tips for Selling your Home!

April 1, 2013
Selling your home is a process!

Selling your home is a process!

I am often asked about some tips to sell a home. It differs to an extent based upon the market, but generally, I give the same advice to anyone looking to sell their home. As usual, this is not all-encompassing as I am prone to leave things out that I ‘meant’ to put into this post, but the goal is to give you a general idea of what is required to sell a home.

In a great market it is not always necessary to hire a real estate professional to assist you in the sale of your home to get it sold, but you will typically get what you paid for. If you are acting as your own agent, I would caution you that it can be a hard road to travel. First of all, you may have difficulty pricing your home competitively. Often those who do not hire an agent sell their homes for much less than the market value. I won’t get into the specifics, but the research performed by the National Association of Realtors (NAR) has pointed towards this trend. Much more than price, a competent agent can assist with negotiating the price, terms, repairs, and miscellaneous items that are likely to arise. For instance, an agent can help you negotiate with the mortgage lender or the title insurance company. I had a listing once where I needed to negotiate with the Title company in order to provide a clear title for the buyer. You never know what may come up while you are selling your home and an agent can be instrumental in helping you navigate these special circumstances. Also, an agent can keep you legal. State law requires that all homes sold in North Carolina be accompanied with a Property Disclosure and HOA Disclosure with a few exceptions. These are primarily for information purposes only, but if you do not have one, the buyer can back out of the contract. If you do not have this in place, you will not be protected and may have your home off the market for several weeks, losing prospective buyers, just to discover the buyer has ‘cold feet’ and are utilizing the absence of a Property Disclosure to terminate the contract and keep the earnest money. If you do not have an agent, you may not be protected from this ‘out’.

The main ingredient in the sales process is price. You have to have your home priced competitively if you hope to sell it. This goes beyond any market conditions. For most people, price is the number one determinant to whether they purchase Home A or Home B. If you are not priced competitively, you will lose potential buyers who may think you are overpriced. Even if you are underpriced, the perception will be that the home needs too much work and thus, it is not worth the effort to view the home. I was in a meeting today where the speaker stated, “Perception is Reality”. If you look at it, this is the case. Potential buyers will make an assessment of your home based upon their perceptions. I have seen this many times where my buyer discounts a home based upon a perception they have acquired of a house, whether they viewed the home or not. Perception is important. A quality agent can assist you with a pricing strategy that will work.

As I just stated, perception is reality. So, your home has to give the perception of quality and value if you wish to sell it. You do not have to hire a professional stager, but you will have to look at your home objectively as if you were the buyer. If you have too much stuff in your home, you will have to remove it and put it in storage. A clutter space looks much smaller. So, de-clutter your home is key to selling your home. Look at it this way, you are moving anyway so this is a great opportunity to purge your belongings as all of us have more stuff than we really need. Right?

Cosmetic appeal is imperative to sell a home. Not as much in a strong market, but it is still important. Your home should have neutral colors as the bright colors may be your taste, but the odds are, the next owner will have much different taste. Sure, they can paint the home and will most likely do so, but it may take them a couple of years to get around to painting. Meanwhile, they know they will have to live with the neon green living room. You need to neutralize the space. More than simply taste, cosmetic appeal runs the gauntlet from chipped paint to shabby and stained carpets. The old mantra in the marketing business is “Sex sells”. You don’t see overweight people as spokespeople for a sports car. No, you see models standing in front of a sports car like you would have the same appeal if you purchased that vehicle. It is not reality, but a perception they are trying to sell you. The same goes with real estate. You shouldn’t hire a model to stand in front of your home, but you need to make it as appealing as possible. The home should be in its best condition if you are hoping to sell it for the most money. Of course, if you cannot get these cosmetic repairs done, you will not get top dollar for your home and should price it accordingly. Along these lines, curb appeal is important to get the buyers out of their cars and into your house. I have seen situations where the curb appeal was so bad, my buyers told me to keep driving.

One way to prepare your home to sell would be to differentiate your home from the competition. Know your competition and what they are offering and try to find a way to be better than the competition. This may mean you will have to do more in the interim and have greater cost to get the home ready, but ultimately, it can make the difference; especially in a difficult market. For example, I had a seller in a community where she had 15-20 similar town homes for sale at the same time. There was little she could do to differentiate from her competition on the outside of the home, but instead, she offered to include her high-end refrigerator for the right price. This was about a $2,500 refrigerator where all of  her competitors had very basic refrigerators priced for less than a thousand dollars. She couldn’t price her home higher for this appliance, but we sold her home quicker because of that refrigerator. It made her home more appealing than the competition.

Finally, be willing, ready and able to negotiate any offer that you get. This doesn’t mean you have to accept the offer, but be willing to negotiate every offer. I always tell my clients that we are not going to walk away from an offer to purchase. We may counter the offer several times, but we are going to leave it up to the other side to be the party to walk away from the negotiations. It is hard, but I also inform them to take the emotion out of the negotiations. Buying or selling a home is an emotional process. The more you can separate your emotions from this transaction, the better you will be able to negotiate. Remember, the buyer, in most cases, is emotionally attached to your home. They can see themselves living in your home, raising their children there, sharing special moments with friends and family there. They are emotionally attached to your home. So, to get the better negotiating position on this transaction, you need to remove the emotion from your side. It is a business transaction. You may have put much blood, sweat and tears into your home, and we hope the buyers appreciate all that you have done to the home. Ultimately, they may be planning on changing the house dramatically once they own it. Your taste and their taste may not be similar, so do not get offended if they do not see the value in the remodeled kitchen. Keep the emotions out of it.

In closing, there are many lists you can find online that spell out exact items for you to complete to prepare you for selling your house. These lists are good, but I am not too much into these lists. For one reason, a list gives the perception of being all-encompassing and including everything you would ever need to do. If that were the case, all of these lists would be identical (and they are not). Look at these lists, but ultimately, you need to look at your home as if you were the buyer. What was important to you when you purchased that house? It may not be a bad idea to attend a few open houses before you list your home just to put your mindset into that of a buyer. You can never satisfy every buyer, but you only need to satisfy one buyer. To ensure that you do this, you have to appeal to the masses to give you the best odds of finding that one buyer who can see themselves living in your house.

In many people’s vocabulary, house and home are interchangeable. If you are selling, you need to start looking at your home as a house. It is a product, not your home. Mentally, the moment you made the decision to sell your home, you had moved out of that home. Now, you are living in a house until you can find your next ‘home’.