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Where customer service ends and gift giving begins

(Business News) Here are some intuitive ways to improve your sales with better customer service policies and procedures without breaking the bank.

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Why Don’t We Listen to Advice?

It has happened to all of us. And, I’m not exactly sure why. But some parent, guardian, or mentor in our lives advises us to go down one path, and then instead we select another. Probably most of us experienced this as teenagers, when parents or older siblings told us what to do, but we did something else instead.

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I’m not exactly why this phenomenon occurs, but it happens all the time. Perhaps we think we know best—that we are more intimately involved in the correct path, so we believe that we can make a better decision.

I’ve just been a fly in the wall in a situation such as this one—and it relates to customer service. In real estate, just as in all fields where customer service is paramount, you meet all sorts of people who have different expectations about the sales process and their customer service experience.

Buying a Home Is Not Like Buying Jeans

However, selling or buying a home or a condominium is not quite the same as buying a pair of jeans at the mall, and most buyers and sellers have not bought and sold nearly as many properties as they have purchases at the mall, and the two are not interchangeable.

So, this agent that I know recently closed a transaction where he represented some acquaintances of his, on the purchase of a low-end home in mediocre condition. They completed all of their inspections and conducted all of their due diligence activities. And while they did run into some personal troubles with their loan, they finally did close on their very first home.

Sadly, in this case, the agent’s work didn’t end when the transaction closed and the commission check was paid.

Now, the clients are dissatisfied with the property and have a laundry list of wants that include new carpet and removal of the “popcorn” on the ceiling. They are requesting that the agent and their lender to chip in. And, despite my advice, this agent is getting much more involved than he should.

3 Ways to Avoid an Unpleasant Customer Service Experience

Unfortunately a situation such as this one is not uncommon in real estate, and there are three ways to avoid finding yourself in such a hole.

  1. Set expectations accordingly. If you are working with homebuyers and sellers or any other sorts of clients, you need to set expectations accordingly. You need to explain your role in the transaction up front, and clarify what your clients can expect from you.
  2. Explain the process thoroughly. If you are working with newbie homebuyers and sellers, you must take the time to spell out every part of the process in detail.Explain why the home inspection is important and encourage your clients to study all of the disclosures in great detail so that they are making an informed decision and not one with rose-colored glasses. Don’t rely on electronic signature platforms and text messages to do this for you; this must be accomplished one-on-one.
  3. Just say “no.” Commission-based earners need to determine where the rubber meets the road. While sometimes awkward, it’s often easier to say “no” than get involved in a dicey situation where you end up using your entire commission check to pay for new carpet for your client’s home.You may need to set a policy about not working with friends or relatives, and instead refer them to colleagues. It may also mean that you tell clients what the specifics of your contribution policy.

Hindsight is always 20/20. But if you develop some good policies and procedures for working with your own clients before you embark on a sales adventure, you’ll end up closing lots of deals and getting lots of referrals. And when you visit a past client’s home, the carpet on the floor will not have been a gift from you.

Melissa Zavala is the Broker/Owner of Broadpoint Properties and Head Honcho of Short Sale Expeditor®, and Chief Executive Officer of Transaction 911. Before landing in real estate, she had careers in education and publishing. Most recently, she has been able to use her teaching and organizational skills while traveling the world over—dispelling myths about the distressed property market, engaging and motivating real estate agents, and sharing her passion for real estate. When she isn’t speaking or writing, Melissa enjoys practicing yoga, walking the dog, and vacationing at beach resorts.

Business News

So you were asked an illegal question in an interview, now what?

(BUSINESS NEWS) Interviews are nerve racking enough without having to wonder if your potential employer is playing by the rules. Be aware of these tips in case you find they aren’t.

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Interviews are universally nerve-wracking. You’ve got the resume, the references, the outfit – but you never know what your interviewer(s) are going to throw at you.

You expect questions relating to your skills and your ability to do the job, but sometimes a question comes out of left field and you’ve got to scramble for a coherent answer.

“If you were a pizza delivery man, how would you benefit from scissors,” asks Apple. And Gallup wants to know, “What was the last gift you gave someone?”

Well, when I ordered a pizza last night, I tipped the delivery person with scissors . . .

Unfortunately, some questions that seem just wacky, or harmless and friendly, are not just inappropriate to ask in an interview, but are actually illegal.

Illegal questions are generally those that request information irrelevant to the job description. Here are the most common categories of illegal questions, shared across all states:

  • Race
  • Color
  • Sex/Gender/Orientation
  • Military discharge
  • Religion
  • National origin
  • Birthplace
  • Age
  • Disability/Health status
  • Marital/family status

Any of this personal information could be used, intentionally or not, to discriminate against them. A direct inquiry regarding any of these topics is obviously off-limits, but sometimes the question might come from a tricky angle.

“When did you graduate college?” = “How old are you?”

With this information, employers could decide you’re too young or old for the role, no matter how qualified you may be.

“Orizaga is an interesting surname – is it Spanish?” = “Are you Hispanic?” A biased interviewer could use this information to determine that you are or aren’t a “good fit.” Similarly, “Is English your native language?” = “Are you from an English-speaking country or not?”

“Is that your maiden name?” = “Are you married?” And so on.

These questions are often asked innocently, by untrained interviewers looking to make conversation. Nonetheless, you don’t have to answer them, and your best bet is to tactfully avoid the question without demanding your constitutional rights in the middle of the interview.

Tone is everything, but if you respond to an illegal question with something along the lines of, “Is that relevant to this role?” in a calm, mild voice, most interviewers will take the hint and move on.

If the situation allows for it, you can keep your answer nice and vague without avoiding the question.

For example, if you’re asked about your college graduation date, you could say, “It’s been a while, but I still view college as one of the best experiences of my life.”

It’s important to note that asking an illegal question is not equivalent to committing a crime. The information must be used in a discriminatory manner, as determined by a court.

If you believe that an act of discrimination has been committed, you should contact a labor attorney, or file a charge with your local Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) office. Then, order yourself a pizza and ask the delivery person about their scissors.

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Business News

10 time tracking tools for productive freelancers, entrepreneurs

(PRODUCTIVITY) We’re all obsessed with squeezing more out of each day, but what if we used one of these time tracking tools to inject more chill time into our lives?

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Part of today’s culture is seeing how much one can get done in a day. We’re always so “go, go, go” and we treasure productivity.

This is incredibly true for freelancers, and, as such, it makes total sense that app and software technology would capitalize on this need. The following apps and programs are designed to help you save time and/or increase productivity.

1. Timeular: This app is designed to visually show you how you spend your time and, as a result, become more productive. Instead of wondering where your time goes every day, you’ll see it visually. This is done through a physical time tracker, where you can define what you want to track and customize your Tracker. You then connect via Bluetooth and place the Tracker face up with the task that you are working on (if you’re taking a phone call, the symbol facing up would be a phone). It then tracks all of your tasks into a color-coded visualization of the day’s activities. Dangerous for people like me who waste a lot of time on Instagram…

2. Bonsai: This bad boy is time tracking for freelancers. You can break down each project and track time individually in order to see where your time is going and how much is being spent on each entity. You then are able to automate invoices based on the time spent. Genius!

3. Tasks Time Tracker: Say that three times fast. This is a phone app that has multiple timers so you can track more than one thing at a time. This app gives you the option to input billing rates to easily track your earning. You can then export all of the info in a CSV format.

4. Azendoo: Everything in one place. This is a time-tracking service that assists your team’s needs and workflow. It puts project organization, team collaboration, and time reporting all in one place. A cool feature on this is you can input how much time you anticipate spending on a project, and then Azendoo compares that to how much time you actually spent.

5. Continuo: Similar to Timeular, you get to see all of your activities in a color-coded format on a calendar. This lets you easily breakdown how much time is spent on each activity and allows you to plan for the future. You are able to see your progress over time, and see how you’ve gotten faster and more productive.

6. PadStats: Described as “a simple app will help you to learn more about yourself”, PadStats will help you track and analyze your daily activities or daily routine. This app includes more quanity-based tracking, allowing data to be more user-oriented and stats to be more accurate.

7. Pomo Timer: This productivity boosting app is a “Simple and convenient pomodoro timer based on the technique proposed by Francesco Cirillo in the distant 1980s made in a simple and clear design,” according to iTunes. For those who like visually simplicity, this app is for you.

8. Blue Cocoa: This program overturns the stigma of a smartphone being a distraction, by turning it into a productivity tool. You start by creating a timer and working on something, and, if you get distracted, the timer senses this and tries to help. This is all in an effort to keep you on track of your task, while tracking the time spent.

9. Timely: A fully automatic time app. This features automatic time tracking, project time management, and team time management. It works to improve timesheet accuracy, increase project profitability, and optimize team performance.

10. Toggl: This is a simple time tracker that offers flexible and powerful reporting. It works to crunch numbers that you’ll need for reporting, all while syncing between all of your devices.

Pick one or two of the above ten, and reclaim your time. No need to “go, go, go,” if you’re a more productive person – this way you can “chill, chill, chill.”

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Business News

This fake company weeds out crappy clients

(BUSINESS) The former CEO of Highrise used a fake website to weed out toxic clients. How can you keep problematic customers out of your business?

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Sorting through your client list to weed out potentially toxic customers isn’t a process which garners the same attention as a company removing problematic employees, but it’s every bit as important — and, in many cases, twice as tricky to accomplish. One innovative journalist’s solution to this problem was to set up a fake website to act as a buffer between unwanted clients and his inbox.

If you’re anything like Nathan Kontny, your inbox is probably brimming with unread emails, product pitches, and pleas from people with whom you’ve never met in person or collaborated; unfortunately, many of these “people” are simply automated bots geared toward generating more press for their services.

Nathan’s response to this phenomenon was to create a website called “Trick a Journalist” in order to see which potential clients would sign up for the service.

Hilariously enough, the trap worked exactly as planned. Anyone signing up for Trick a Journalist was blacklisted and prevented from signing up for Nathan’s CRM software, with Nathan’s justification being that the CRM software in question should never be used for something so egregiously predatory as Trick a Journalist.

By creating a product which sets apart unwanted clients from the rest of the pack, Nathan succeeded in both attracting and quarantining present and future threats to the integrity of his business.

While this model may not be practicable at face value, there’s an important lesson here: determining the lengths to which your clients will go to gain the upper hand BEFORE working for them is an important task, as your clients’ actions will reflect upon your product or services either way.

Ruthlessness in business isn’t unheard of, but you should be aware of your customers’ tendencies well in advance of signing off on their behavior.

Of course, one minor issue with Nathan’s model of operation is that, invariably, someone will connect Trick a Journalist to his brand and miss the joke entirely.

There are less risky routes to weeding out potentially problematic clients than blacklisting them via a satirical website — though one might argue such routes are less fun — but the end result is essentially the same: keeping unsavory clients out of your inbox and off of your product list.

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