There has been this weird confluence of customer service experiences for me over the last few days. It’s like a disturbance in the nexus of the customer service universe. Ergo, I’m basically compelled to write this article ”“ I simply can’t help myself. Sorry, that’s how my brain works. I blame my parents.
I’m a big fan of great customer service. I love being on the receiving end of it, and I try to make premium customer service the primary focus of our real estate brokerage.
And then there was this”¦
Car Shopping and the Customer Service Experience
For the past couple of days we’ve been car shopping for our daughter, who now carries a freshly minted Arizona driver’s license (Lord help me). We began our journey by getting pre-qualified for a loan through our insurance carrier, USAA (who rock ”“ some write an article about them sometime).
Approved to purchase a shiny “previously owned vehicle” (remember when we called them “used cars”?) we headed to Santan Honda.
Typical car dealership ”“ greeted in the parking lot by someone young enough to date our daughter, the poor kid was wearing a tie in the blazing Phoenix sun. He seemed sad when we asked for the salesperson we’d made contact with on Santan Honda’s web site.
Web site sales guy was a nice enough. Didn’t try to up-sell, listened to our needs, and was friendly enough without being overly-gushy-friendly. Car buying is rarely a pleasant experience, but after a few minutes I was thinking that maybe this wouldn’t make me want to slit my wrists while standing in the dealer’s showroom.
Ah, but all good things must pass. Our sales guy phone rang right in the middle of a conversation. He whipped it out (the phone that is) and proceeded to walk away, giving us the international hand signal for “hang on, this will only take a second”.
A couple of minutes later, as we stood in the lot in the 347 degree heat, he came back, apologizing for taking the call. Okayfine, it happens.
Once we’d identified a car, we proceeded into the office area for the ritual haggling-back-and-forth-crap that makes buying a car so excruciating. We were literally about to sign documents when the guys phone rings again. This time he answers, and walks off, without even an international hand signal.
And the dude disappears for like five minutes. He finally returns with a “Sorry, now where were we?”
Hell man, I have no idea where we were. Your car buying process is more convoluted than buying a home ”“ which I didn’t believe possible. And now I’m annoyed at being dumped. Twice.
While I sort of liked this guy personally, professionally he just didn’t seem to care. It felt like he was just grinding through the process, and that we ”“ his customers that needed him ”“ didn’t really matter.
He didn’t care.
Fast forward several minutes: The finance department comes back and tells us they think our loan won’t work with the older car we are trying to buy. Despite their “approved dealership” status with USAA, they are basically clueless how the process works. We’re sent packing with instructions to call them tomorrow, after we worked through the loan issue (ahem, shouldn’t they be working the loan issue and calling us?).
Off to Carmax
So off we head to Carmax, where we previously had a great experience buying Francy’s car.
We’re greeted at the door by a very pleasant salesperson. As soon as we told her we’d been there before ”“ a year earlier ”“ she helped us remember who it was we worked with. Sadly, he had moved on, but Chrystal took us right in.
She dedicated herself fully to us, including our 16 year old daughter who had grown very tired of the car buying experience by then. We looked at many, test drove a few and Chrystal did a great job. We felt like she cared about us. The finance manager cared about us. The guy that cleaned the car cared. We bought a second car from them
And we won’t be going back to the Honda dealership.
The BMW Experience
Yesterday, as we waited for a title issue to get cleared so we could pick up the
used previously owned car, the BMW dealership called me. I’d purchased a car from them three months previously. On the phone was the Vice President of Sales who wanted to let me personally know that the salesperson we’d worked with was no longer at the dealership. She wanted to assure me that she was there if I needed anything from BMW. She gave me her direct line.
She cared, and asked how my “BMW experience” had been so far.
Ever driven a BMW Z4 at 114 miles per hour?
Yeah, me neither”¦ 😉
Aside from the quality ”“ the precision ”“ of that car, the customer service experience is freaking amazing.
“Well of course it is Jay”, says the lone reader who has made it 861 words into this post. “You’re talking about a luxury car dealer.”
Ever been to a Carmax Auto Superstore?
That’s not a luxury dealership.
But Carmax gets it.
You see, you don’t have to be a luxury car dealer to have killer customer service. You don’t have to be a high-end hotel, or a Neiman-Marcus to blow your customers away.
With all these varied customer service experiences flying my way, my thoughts naturally turned to real estate. I simply can’t help myself. Sorry, that’s how my brain works. I blame my wife.
To the point. Finally!
Inside my aforementioned brain, I was trying to tie this car buying extravaganza together and relate it to real estate ”“ more specifically how we want customer service to permeate our brokerage operations.
You see, I could stand on high and loudly proclaim, “We are all about customer service!” or something similar. But that is all just lip service. The average real estate buyer, seller or investor has no clue if Thompson’s Realty provides great customer service. Let’s face it, is there any agent out there that advertises, “Pick me, I suck!”
Of course not. We all say we’re the greatest thing for our clients since the discovery of fire.
Saying it means nothing. Nothing.
We have to prove we live and bleed customer service, every single day. We have to care.
Oh, we’ve got testimonials. We’ve got five-star reviews on Yelp. And in the very midst of the car buying ordeal, one of our agents, Michele Guss, was featured (well, technically her clients were featured) in an Inman News article, Meet the Cash Buyers: Retirees find a 2nd home. Now we do our best to hire agents who place customer service first, and we are supremely confident they do exactly that. But when you read things like this on a national real estate news site, it warms the heart; or at least helps validate your hiring decision:
Shirley looked up real estate agents in Phoenix and came upon the website for Thompson’s Realty. She called the office to inquire about seeing some properties and got the agent on floor duty, Michele Guss.
Guss is one of the brokerage’s 18 agents, and, like all the brokerage’s agents, works from home. She authors the Phoenix North East Valley Real Estate blog.
Wasco said she "lucked out" with Guss for always "going the extra mile" over what turned out to be a months-long, tumultuous process.
"Michele will go miles (for you)," Shirley said. "I mean, she lives over an hour away from where I was looking at property but she went ahead. We started out with condos and went to townhouses."
Late on a Saturday night, one particular 1,528-square-foot home in the community came on the market. Wasco received an auto-notification and called Guss about it early Sunday morning. By noon, Guss had rushed off to take pictures of the inside of the home because the listing agent had posted only one shot of the outside.
Real estate is a service industry. Period. According to the Arizona Department of Real Estate, at this moment in time there are 39,682 people in Maricopa County with active real estate licenses. Subtract our 18 agents, and that means there are 39,664 direct competitors for our business that are out there pounding the pavement, scratching for every client they can get. And I’m not even including agents in Pinal county that work the Phoenix metro real estate market.
That is a boatload of competition to deal with.
But let’s face it, contrary to what a lot of agents will tell you, selling a home isn’t all that difficult. Filling out a contract isn’t rocket science. Sure you need to know a lot of minutiae and understand the umpteen bazillion ways a real estate transaction can crater. There is certainly knowledge and experience that matters.
But we aren’t trying to cure cancer, prove the Riemann Hypothesis , or discover the origins of the universe.
Any agent, if they are brutally honest, will tell you the most difficult part of this business is finding the client. Once you have secured a listing from a realistic seller, or find a truly qualified buyer that wants to buy a home, the rest of this job just isn’t that hard.
How is it that some real estate agents succeed, yet so many others fail? What separates the haves from the have nots?
The same thing that separates BMW and Carmax and The Broadmoor and Neiman-Marcus and Michele Guss from the rest of the average car dealers, hotels, retail stores and real estate agents.
- They provide a remarkable customer service experience.
- They work their tails off to make sure their clients are happy.
- They care about their clients.
- Their clients trust them.
- Their clients like them.
Trust and Likability ”“ HUGE factors in real estate sales, and in life.
This isn’t to say that you have to fall in love with your clients. You don’t have to be best friends forever. You don’t have to take a bullet for them. We have all worked with people we don’t particularly care for. Admit it, you have, and people that don’t like you have worked with you. Have those clients become raving fans?
I don’t think so.
But how about those clients you care about, those you build trust and rapport with, those who you like and like you?
They are your raving fans.
They spread the word.
They are your business. Now and in the future.
When you boil it down, providing a remarkable customer service experience is really all that matters. People need to like you, and you need to care.
If you have made it through this 1,822 word tome, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments. Is great customer service the key to success in virtually any business? Have a customer service story ”“ good or bad ”“ to share? Think I’m crazy? Fire away”¦