It’s not enough anymore to be friendly and knowledgeable—agents must be willing to go to any length to win over clients, especially if they are looking to profit from return client business.
When his client’s distressed dog left signs of severe intestinal issues throughout the home just minutes before a showing, Jamie Connor jumped into action, scrubbing house and hound to make sure all was in line for the arrival of the potential buyers. Extreme? Maybe. Necessary? Absolutely.
Connor, a Centurion Producer with Century 21 Sussex & Reilly, knows the return he can reap by providing customer service on the highest level. It’s not enough anymore to be friendly and knowledgeable—agents must be willing to go to any length to win over clients, especially if they are looking to profit from return client business.
“The only thing you bring to the table other than marketing is your service,” says Connor. “Once someone gets a taste of good service and then experiences someone who doesn’t provide that, they realize that there’s a very distinct line.”
Connor says regardless of when or how clients contact their agent, their question is the most important thing to them at that time, and they need to know it is to the agent as well. “You have to respond within minutes, because that’s part of the expectation. At the end of transaction, I want my clients to be wowed. If they’re not, then I’ve done something wrong.”
Heading off stressful situations for his clients is another aspect of customer service, says Connor. And although problems do arise with lawyers, inspectors and lenders, it’s the agent’s duty to “manage all of the parties,” and solve those issues without involving the client.
Most agents agree that communication is at the top of the list when it comes to basic customer service, but opinions vary when it comes to availability. Do agents have to be accessible at every hour of every day?
“It shouldn’t be that demanding, but you should always be available. I’m a full-time agent and I make myself available seven days a week by phone,” says Diane Marchetti, an ERA Caporale agent, with 20 years in the industry. “There are days I like to take off. You just really need to know time management.”
She’s had her share of demanding clients who think they are her only client and are very needy. “I just do the best I can with that and I have someone in the office to help out. I just handle them gently and discreetly. Through my history in this business, I’ve seen people who believe service is No. 1 and other people who neglect it.”
Barbara Roseman of Koenig & Strey GMAC Deerfield says clients today tend to be more demanding because they are under a lot of pressure in so many other aspects of their lives that it spills over to the buying or selling of a house.
“The job of a Realtor is to anticipate those demands and at a moment when things are stressful, we need to help them stay cool and get them through it,” she says. “You get your satisfaction when you’re able to take yourself out of your own needs, anticipate what others’ needs are, and be able to meet them.”
For Roseman, the most integral component of customer service is listening, because every client’s needs are different. “You have to be attuned to them to see what’s needed. Some need more hand-holding, some need facts, some need numbers. As a Realtor you want to be able to give them what they need.”
Roseman benefits from reading responses to surveys conducted by an outside source. They surveys are completed by buyers, sellers and even other agents who work with Koenig & Strey agents and the feedback is invaluable, says Roseman, who consistently rates extraordinarily high in customer satisfaction.
“They are sometimes painful, but you always learn something,” says Roseman, who was recently chosen to speak on the topic of customer service at a GMAC convention in Las Vegas.
Like her peers, Roseman has found it necessary to go above and beyond in her role as an agent, including the time she had to call on her own family and friends to make a caravan to move a procrastinating seller out of her old house and into the new house on the day of closing so the new owners could move in as scheduled.
With nearly 30 years in real estate, John Doenges, VP and broker-manager at john greene Realtor North Office has seen a drastic increase in the level of customer service clients have come to expect.
“I’ve seen major change just in the past 10 years, especially with the onslaught of the Internet, limited service Realtors and marketing techniques,” says Doenges, noting that the Internet in particular has put a lot of pressure on Realtors. But in spite of the convenience of the virtual tour, he has yet to see a client willing to spend $500,000 on a home without walking through it.
“The onus is on the Realtor to show the seller they’re going to get as much exposure for the home as they can.”
Occasionally Realtors will find themselves in situations in which they have to step up to the plate for a demanding client, even if it means helping pay for a home inspection or radon test. “I’ve seen agents buy hot water heaters and things like that,” recalls Doenges, who manages 19 agents. “I guess you would consider it customer service, but it’s basically to keep the transaction together.”
His agents have gone to such lengths as to bring in cleaning teams, provide fresh flowers for showings, provide pieces of furniture or other items for home staging and even have lawns landscaped. Agents will even band together when necessary to deliver extreme customer service for a particular client.
“All of these kinds of things we never did in the old days,” says Doenges. “Credibility comes en masse, so if you can take three or four agents through a house and present a consensus to the seller that the paint color should be changed, the homeowner is less likely to be offended by the suggestion and go ahead and do it to help get the house sold.”
Recently, Doenges’ $20 million-per-year agent was asked by a client to assemble a piece of furniture being delivered before a showing. “That’s expensive time to be putting furniture together, but you want that edge. You want people to tell their friends over coffee at Starbucks what their agent did for them.”
Keeping the peace between buyer and seller is another measure of customer service. “On a call back for client follow-up, you may hear people discussing problems you don’t think the client necessarily needs to hear; it might hurt their feelings, she says. So you have to monitor what they need to hear, whether or not it’s something that might help the marketability of the home. You have to be straightforward with people.”
Doenges says the true grade in an agent’s ability to deliver excellent customer service is return business. “I’m old school; I’m 100 percent personal referral now. It’s only when you get that call five years later from an ex-client to sell their home that you know how well you did in the beginning. That’s the true grade card,” says Doenges, adding that communicating with ex-buyers and sellers on a semi-annual basis at minimum is necessary for repeat business.
Coldwell Banker Primus Realtor Mary Ann Schaper has opted out of being a top producer in order to give ultimate customer service to a smaller number of clients. “I like to do the unexpected things,” says Schaper, who is relatively new to real estate, having joined the field about two years ago.
Her top-notch customer service has twice this year earned her recognition for Coldwell Banker Primus’ concierge service. “Anything my clients need I can get for them,” she says.
Although it might seem a small gesture to some, it’s routine for Schaper to send clients movie tickets to help pass the time while waiting for a closing and to send them a gift one month after closing and again six months later, all of which are highly regarded gestures among her clients. She’s hosted parties for her clients, shoveled snow from driveways and recently went so far as to invite a client to move in with her while an issue with a purchase was being resolved.
Agents can also do well by just following the basic principals of solid customer service, says Sherry Pope of Coldwell Banker Residential Realty, such as understanding the customer’s needs, being a good listener, helping clarify what they want, being knowledgeable and honest about what’s obtainable and what isn’t, and making sure they are surrounded with quality professionals that will make the process from contract to close as stress-free as possible.
“Most importantly, putting their needs before your own,” adds Pope, whose clients benefit from her training as an interior designer and her experience in contract furniture sales to Fortune 100 companies.
Pope knows the importance of “holding the energy” when stress levels rise and that a great agent also demonstrate superb negotiating skills, has a strong understanding of financing and possesses an almost “sixth sense” with regard to where a home will sell and how to avoid obstacles that would prevent a smooth closing.
Connor shows up for every closing, never uses lock boxes, gives clients immediate feedback and treats every client’s property as he would treat his own investment. “At the end of the day, it’s always about my clients having a big smile and being as stress-free as possible,” says Connor. C.A.
Copyright 2006 Agent Publishing LLC
Century 21 Sussex & Reilly
john greene Realtor North Office
ERA Caporale Realty Inc.
Koenig & Strey GMAC Deerfield
Mary Ann Schaper
Coldwell Banker Primus Realty