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It IS All About Me. Deal With It.

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Me. Me. Me.

Until I became a real estate agent, I never paid close attention to my customer service experiences. I mean, I would know if I had an exceptionally good or bad experience, but beyond a brief note of that in my head, I never paid that much attention.

After about 3 years in real estate, and countless classes and books and observations about interacting with people in a customer-service way, I started looking at how I spoke to people and listened to people in a whole new light.

I started really listening to people – not just waiting for my turn to talk.

I started trying to remember little things about people – instead of thinking about myself while they talked about themselves.

Now, 7 years into this business, I have learned to SHUT UP in a way I never thought possible. I have learned that people tend to like me NOT for what I tell them about ME, but what I let THEM tell ME about THEMSELVES.

It all came full circle last week when I was on the customer end of a major purchase. Derek and I got rid of our 4-Door Dodge Ram Gas Guzzling Monster Car Payment and went on the hunt for a 2001 Jeep Cherokee that we were going to pay cash for.

I had already been noticing my restaurant and retail experiences and making notes of WHY I was happy with service and WHY I was not happy, but this car buying experience was quite an eye-opener.

Our search started with an internet scam, which made me realize that a lot of people cannot trust what is on the internet unless they can attach a live, human being to the transaction process. In the wonderful world of real estate, blogging is good for that.

We wound up driving around to different dealerships and came across 5 different types of customer service:

  1. Please-Let-Me-Further-the-Bad-Reputation-that-Car-Salesmen-Have: One person followed our car from the moment we entered the lot until we parked and almost opened our door for us (of course, after we took the “long way” to customer parking). Not once did this person ask us what we wanted or why we wanted it. They just jabbering on and on about their new financing programs and how cheap the 2008 sedan would be every month. We let them go on for a few minutes before WE had to tell THEM what we were looking for and that we were not going to finance anything. Thank goodness they didn’t have what we wanted. I would have hated for that guy to have gotten a commission from our purchase.
  2. Hello? Anyone out there?: One dealership had a couple “interesting” Jeeps and we wanted more information on. No one was there in the lot so we headed inside. There were 2 people on the phone, so we waited for a few minutes. No one even acknowledged us, so we went back outside and walked across the street to a different dealer. Nothing there so we walked back. Finally, we got a guy to talk to us. His first words were, “I can’t talk to you. You went across the street. I SAW you.” I am sure he was joking, but I had to tell him that MAYBE if someone was HERE to answer our questions, we would have stayed? They said that they had a Jeep we wanted at their other location but 6 other people wanted it. Lies AND scare tactics. Blech.
  3. You are not important and I will NOT get off my phone while showing you cars: I am too busy and too important for you.
  4. I am not really listening to you: This guy told us his whole life story and I could barely get a word in edgewise to ask important questions about my big purchase.

Ultimately, I become OH SO aware of how consumers are thinking …

  • This is about ME and how I am going to spend MY money on something that is going to be a MAJOR part of MY life.
  • I do not care about YOU. I just care about how YOU can help ME make the best decision in the quickest amount of time possible.
  • I want to feel/think that I am actually important to you.
  • I want YOU to KNOW and understand MY wants and needs.
  • I want you to make comments and actions based off of wants and needs that I have told you.
  • I want you to ask me questions so I can better understand my own wants and needs better.
  • I want you to be slightly intuitive and read my face and body language as well as actually LISTEN to my words.
  • I want you to give me my space when it is apparent that I need to “talk it over” with my significant other.
  • I am totally consumed with my possible purchase and I do not want any distractions, except for maybe a nice cold bottle of water.
  • I want to be happy with my decision and my purchase.
  • I want you to do what you tell me you are going to do and then, maybe, do a little bit more.
  • (Jeesh. I wish I could just tell one person what I wanted and they would go find it for me.)

Customer service experience #5 was the winner.

  1. What can I do for you? We finally found our Jeep. Beautiful, red, 2001 Jeep Cherokee with 57k miles. We were handed the keys, to take it for a spin and offered directions to the best roads and off-roads to test it on. Here is my cell phone number please call me with any questions you have on your test drive. What do you like about it? What can we do for you to make this a purchase you will be happy with? What didn’t you like? Oh, then we will replace BOTH those speakers. You seem hesitant about the price. What do you think is fair? Okay, we can do that. What other questions do you have? Would you like some water? Let me give you 2 a few minutes to talk about it. I will be in that office over there when you are ready. May I have a few of your cards? I seem to always run into people who are looking to buy or sell a home. It was great working with you. Here is your new car. I ran it though our detail shop again. How does it look? Congratulations on your new purchase!

Mariana is a real estate agent and co-owner of the Wagner iTeam with her husband, Derek. She maintains the Colorado Springs Real Estate Connection Blog and is also a real estate technology trainer and coach. Mariana really enjoys helping real estate agents boost their businesses and increase their productivity through effective use of technology. Outside of real estate, blogging and training, she loves spending time with her husband and 2 sons, reading, re-watching Sci-Fi movies and ... long walks on the beach?

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21 Comments

21 Comments

  1. Maureen Francis

    March 30, 2008 at 6:11 pm

    Isn’t it funny how we become more aware of our own actions as we observe others? Recently my mother’s financial planner solicited my business. He is really a pro and I loved observing how he went about trying to win me over even though I said I wasn’t changing brokers. I’m happy with my current broker, but if I ever needed to make a move, I know I would be happy with her guy all because he kept asking questions about me and looking for ways to help me meet my financial needs. I keep thinking about how I can apply his approach to my business to make my clients even happier!

  2. Chris Shouse

    March 30, 2008 at 6:16 pm

    Wow a really good lesson in customer service and I hope that I give as well as I get. You did just remind me I need to listen more.

  3. RoundSparrow

    March 30, 2008 at 6:24 pm

    Just don’t expect this rampant consumerism to last forever. It has been going on since we ignored our lesson in the 1970’s…. and it may go on another 10 years or maybe only another 10 months.

    I at least hope you recognize the skill you learned is not one that humans really want to learn.

    I appreciate you sharing, not trying to be negative toward you, just trying to counter the message with the long-long-long term.

  4. Mike Farmer

    March 30, 2008 at 6:46 pm

    We soon won’t have to worry about dealing with humans to buy stuff.

  5. Jennifer Rathbun

    March 30, 2008 at 6:55 pm

    Sometimes it’s easier to listen to customers than family. I hope to let my family know that they come first and what they are trying to say is important.

  6. Matthew Rathbun

    March 30, 2008 at 6:59 pm

    I am one of those people that doesn’t send food back, even if it isn’t cooked right; because I don’t want to put extra work on someone. I’ve learned that stuff is just too expensive and I need to teach my girls to ineteract and make sure that you do get what you pay for…. politely.

    We really need to do a better job of understanding that the consumer doesn’t care about us, and that’s just ok. It’s a customer service job. If you want to be needed, have some kids…. yeah, that works 🙂

    The only person who cares about me is my wife. To an extent, that’s how I think it should be.

  7. Mariana

    March 30, 2008 at 7:01 pm

    Maureen – It is like when you learn a new word and then you hear it everywhere. Or you buy a new red Jeep and now all you see are red Jeeps…

    Chris – I think that we ALL could listen more.

    RoundSparrow – I think you are right. Human nature is rather me-me.

    Mike – Yes and no. I think that there will ALWAYS be soem form of human interaction, but maybe in different ways.

  8. Mariana

    March 30, 2008 at 7:02 pm

    Matthew- I agree. I really only care that my friends and family cares about me and can only hope that more people have friends and family that truly care about them as well.

  9. Missy Caulk

    March 30, 2008 at 7:27 pm

    This is identical to how I ended up with a certified Lexus. Same thing…. now I’m addicted and can’t go anywhere else, plasma tv’s, home made cookies, cappuccino coffee and excellent service. I told my team to go observe and then go to Ford.

  10. Mariana

    March 30, 2008 at 7:42 pm

    Missy – What a great team lesson.

  11. Cyndee Haydon

    March 30, 2008 at 7:55 pm

    Mariana – loved this post and the metaphor to real estate. Isn’t it great when we exceed at #5 – and ultimately as you showed it’s a win-win for “everyone”

  12. monika

    March 30, 2008 at 8:07 pm

    It’s always good to be a customer just so you can see 1st hand how poor service or good service impacts you. I took my parents car shopping last fall and I was pretty disgusted at the actions of the sales people. Sad to say but some REALTORS are very much like that too! yuck!

  13. Elaine Reese

    March 30, 2008 at 9:27 pm

    As a single female, I hate buying cars! Doesn’t sound as though your treatment was much better even with hubby along.

    BTW, I have a 98 Cherokee sport – chili pepper red – with 120K miles. Still looks and runs well. It’s my second one, so I hope you enjoy it as much as I have.

  14. Bill Lublin

    March 31, 2008 at 3:00 am

    Mariana: Nice Ride! I love Red Cars – Best of luck with yours – And congratulations on learning the most important thing about the sales experience – the only part of the experience that counts is the customer’s! If you really want to be annoyed, become a real estate investor and find out that the level of expertise that you work so hard to bring to the consumer is not matched by other agents in the transaction. For consumers, we need to make the value exceed the cost in order to give them the incentive to act – Since we’re in a service business, as you point out , that means listening to them so that we can respond appropriately –
    @ Matthew – You so often seem to say things I agree with – We fool ourselves into thinking that we have created deep emotional relationships with our customers (and sometimes we might – I have a dear close friend who was a buyer client over 30 years ago) but for the most part, it is our families and our friends who care, not our customers, for whom we are a means to an end- and we’re not alone there – I like the guy who sold me my last few cars, but I wouldn’t call him in times of emotional distress – And if you’re not lucky enough to have that great significant other or the plasure of kids and family- I would personally recommend the L:abrador Retriever 🙂 They’re very sweet and love you no matter what you do (but will be distracted by food or other dogs)
    @Roundsparrow- The skill Mariana learned may not be one that everyone wants tolearn, I htink it is one that every salesperson should learn if they expect to be around for a period of time and to generate repeat and referral business (it also makes it easier to sell someone something if you listen to what they want to buy) 🙂

  15. Bucking the Real Estate Trend

    March 31, 2008 at 3:39 am

    Loved your post. This is something we can all be aware of whether in our personal lives or our professions. Sometimes it’s hard! It’s natural to want to tell our own similar story… but …. “it doesn’t matter.”

  16. Mariana

    March 31, 2008 at 8:29 am

    Cyndee- Thank you. It is more than just a metaphor for real estate though … It is a metaphor for all things customer service related, actually … and even a metaphor for life sometimes.

    Monika- For as much as this IS translate-able to real estate, there are SO many differences between car sales and real estate … Thank Goodness!

    Elaine – This is Derek’s car and I was glad that he was along, even though I usually was the one being hard-nosed.

    Bill – I love it: “the only part of the experience that counts is the customer’s!” SO true.

    Susie – It is crazy how we all are so self-consumed at so many of the wrong moments in time… It is hard to overcome the urge to “identify at great lengths” with people.

  17. ines

    March 31, 2008 at 9:37 am

    This is soooo awesome Mariana and so true – I’ve become a great listener as well and as much as I like to talk, I know there’s a time and place for it.

    Just yesterday we made an appointment with buyer customers to see a particular listing they had been wanting to see. We tried to see it Tuesday but the sellers did not want to be disturbed on Tuesdays and told us to try Saturday. On Saturday, they were busy and finally got an appointment for Sunday (in this buyer’s market, talk about playing a risky game). When we got there, they had scheduled 4 other appointments with 5 minute intervals so we would all run into each other and think “WOW this house is popular and it’s going quickly!!” That whole car-salesman technique came out with true colors and my buyer customers found it distasteful.

    Listen and learn…..thank you my friend.

  18. Charleston real estate blog

    March 31, 2008 at 2:09 pm

    Mariana, I loved your post and as Bill mentioned, I’ve got a red car too. Don’t speed, you’re easy to spot 🙂

    But more importantly, we learn a great deal about how to treat others when we are the consumer.

  19. Mariana

    March 31, 2008 at 7:31 pm

    Ines – Those kind of sales-y tactics are extremely distasteful.

    Howard – I will make sure I tell that to my husband the Speeding Ticket magnet!

  20. Jeremy Hart

    May 14, 2008 at 6:36 pm

    When you’re the client/customer/buyer it’s always about you, isn’t it? Good reminder, I’m printing this one out for my wall.

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Opinion Editorials

Why robots freak us out, and what it means for the future of AI

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) Robots and humans have a long way to go before the social divide disappears, but research is giving us insight on how to cross the uncanny valley.

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Close of R2D2 toy, an example of robots that we root for, but why?

We hate robots. Ok, wait, back up. We at least think they are more evil than good. Try it yourself – “are robots” in Google nets you evil before good. Megatron has higher SEO than Optimus Prime, and it’s not just because he’s so much cooler. It cuz he evil, cuz. It do be like that.

It’s not even a compliment to call someone robotic; society connotes this to emotionless preprogrammed shells of hideous nothing, empty clankbags that walk and talk and not much else. So, me at a party. Or if you’re a nerd, you’re a robot. (Me at a party once again.)

Let’s start by assuming robots as human-like bipedal machines that are designed with some amount of artificial intelligence, generally designed to fulfill a job to free up humanity from drudgery. All sounds good so far. So why do they creep us out?

There’s a litany of reasons why, best summed up with the concept of the uncanny valley, first coined by roboticist Masahiro Mori (Wow he’s still alive! The robots have not yet won) in 1970. Essentially, we know what a human is and how it looks and behaves against the greater backdrop of life and physics. When this is translated to a synthetic being, we are ok with making a robot look and act like us to a point, where we then notice all the irregularities and differences.

Most of these are minor – unnaturally smooth or rigid movements, light not scattering properly on a surface, eyes that don’t sync up quite right when they blink, and several other tiny details. Lots of theories take over at this point about why this creeps us out. But a blanket way to think about it is that our expectation doesn’t match what we are seeing; the reality we’re presented with is off just enough and this makes us uncomfortable .

Ever stream a show and the audio is a half second off? Makes you really annoyed. Magnify that feeling by a thousand and you’re smack in the middle of the uncanny valley. It’s that unnerving. One possible term for this is abjection, which is what happens the moment before we begin to fear something. Our minds – sensing incompatibility with robots – know this is something else, something other , and faced with no way to categorize this, we crash.

This is why they make good villains in movies – something we don’t understand and given free will and autonomy, potentially imbued with the bias of a creator or capable of forming terrifying conclusions all on its own (humans are a virus). But they also make good heroes, especially if they are cute or funny. Who doesn’t love C3PO? That surprise that they are good delights us. Build in enough appeal to a robot, and we root for them and feel empathy when they are faced with hardships. Do robots dream of electric sheep? Do robots have binary souls? Bits and zeros and ones?

Professor Jaime Banks (Texas Tech University’s College of Media & Communication) spends a lot of time thinking about how we perceive robots. It’s a complex and multifaceted topic that covers anthropomorphism, artificial intelligence, robot roles within society, trust, inherently measuring virtue versus evil, preconceived notions from entertainment, and numerous topics that cover human-robot interactions.

The world is approaching a future where robots may become commonplace; there are already robot bears in Japan working in the healthcare field. Dressing them up with cute faces and smiles may help, but one jerky movement later and we’ve dropped all suspension.

At some point, we have to make peace with the idea that they will be all over the place. Skynet, GLaDOS in Portal, the trope of your evil twin being a robot that your significant will have to shoot in the middle of your fight, that episode of Futurama where everything was a robot and they rose up against their human masters with wargod washing machines and killer greeting cards, the other Futurama episode where they go to a planet full of human hating murderous robots… We’ve all got some good reasons to fear robots and their coded minds.

But as technology advances, it makes sense to have robots take over menial tasks, perform duties for the needy and sick, and otherwise benefit humanity at large. And so the question we face is how to build that relationship now to help us in the future.

There’s a fine line between making them too humanlike versus too mechanical. Pixar solved the issue of unnerving humanoids in their movies by designing them stylistically – we know they are human and accept that the figure would look odd in real life. We can do the same with robots – enough familiarity to develop an appeal, but not enough to erase the divide between humanity and robot. It may just be a question of time and new generations growing up with robots becoming fixtures of everyday life. I’m down for cyborgs too.

Fearing them might not even be bad, as Banks points out: “…a certain amount of fear can be a useful thing. Fear can make us think critically and carefully and be thoughtful about our interactions, and that would likely help us productively engage a world where robots are key players.”

Also, check out Robot Carnival if you get the chance – specifically the Presence episode of the anthology.

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Opinion Editorials

BIPOC Gen Zers are using TikTok to create cultural awareness

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) TikTok has become a platform for younger generations to share their cultures, paving the way for a more inclusive society. And they’re doing it one 15 second video at a time.

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Black person's hands holding a phone loading TikTok above a wooden table.

When scrolling on TikTok, you might come across this question posed by a BIPOC creator (Black, Indigenous, or Person of Color): “How old were you when you realized you weren’t ugly, you just lived in a predominantly White space?”

Growing up in predominantly White spaces myself with immigrant parents from the Middle East, I had a warped perspective of beauty. Straight light hair, fair skin, Western features, a stick-thin figure – I internalized my physical otherness as lack.

It wasn’t until I moved to a diverse city for college that I realized this. I saw others speaking different languages, eating ethnic foods and dressing however they wanted without fear of losing their proximity to Whiteness. Exposure to others who didn’t fit “the mold” was transformative for me.

As someone in their mid-twenties, I came of age with social media like Tumblr, Facebook and, ultimately, Instagram. But I’d be lying to you if I said that I didn’t wish TikTok was around when I was a kid.

For reference, most TikTok users are between 16-24, meaning that many are still in high school. While content on TikTok is really all over the place and specifically catered to your preferences (you can feel the algorithums at work as your scroll), one facet that I find integral to the app’s essence is Gen Z proudly showcasing their cultures – aka #culturecheck.

Besides the countless ethnic food tutorials (some of my favorite content on the app!), fashion has become a main way for BIPOC or immigrant TikTokers to fully express their identities and share their culture with other users on the app, regardless of physical location.

Take the #FashionEdit challenge, where creators lip sync to a mash-up of Amine’s “Caroline” and “I Just Did a Bad Thing” by Bill Wurtz as they transform from their everyday Western clothes into that of their respective culture.

In her famous video, Milan Mathew – the creator attributed to popularizing this trend – sits down in a chair. She edits the clip in such a way that as she sits, her original outfit switches to a baby-pink lehenga and she becomes adorned with traditional Indian jewelry. Denise Osei does the same, switching into tradition Ghanaian dress. If you can think of a culture or ethnicity, chances are they are represented in this TikTok trend.

This past Indigenous People’s Day, James Jones’ videos went viral across various social media platforms, as he transformed into his traditional garments and performed tribal dances.

Though the cultures and respective attire they showcase are unique in each video, the energy is all the same: proud and beautiful. Showing off what your culture wears has become a way to gain clout on the app and inspire others to do the same.

The beautiful thing about cultural/ethnic TikTok is that it isn’t just Mexicans cheering for other Mexicans, or Arabs cheering for other Arabs – the app sustains a general solidarity across racial and ethnic lines while cultivating an appreciation of world cultures.

But just how deep does that appreciation go? Some users think (and I agree) that “liking” a video of an attractive creator in traditional dress is hardly a radical move in dismantling notions of Western beauty.

While TikTok trends might not solve these issues entirely, it’s important to note that they are moving things in the right directions – I certainly never saw anything like this when I was growing up.

For whatever reason, Millennials, Gen X and Boomers seem to have a lot of shade to throw at Gen Z. But one thing is for certain – this young generation is paving the way for a more inclusive, more respectful society, which is something we should all get behind. And they’re doing it one 15 second video at a time.

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Opinion Editorials

This website is like Pinterest for WFH desk setups

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) If you’ve been working from home at the same, unchanged desk setup, it may be time for an upgrade. My Desk Tour has the inspiration you need.

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Man browsing desk setups on My Desk Tour

Whether you’re sitting, standing, or reclining your way through the pandemic, you’re most likely doing it from home these days. You’re also probably contending with an uninspired desk configuration hastily cobbled together in March, which—while understandable—might be bringing you down. Fortunately, there’s an easy, personable solution to spark your creativity: My Desk Tour.

My Desk Tour is a small website started by Jonathan Cai. On this site, you will find pictures of unique and highly customized desk setups; these desk configurations range from being optimized for gamers to coders to audiophiles, so there’s arguably something for everyone—even if you’re just swinging by to drool for a bit.

Cai also implements a feature in which site users can tag products seen in desk photos with direct links to Amazon so you don’t have to poke around the Internet for an hour in search of an obscure mouse pad. This is something Cai initially encountered on Reddit and, after receiving guidance from various subreddits on the issue of which mouse to purchase, he found the inspiration to create My Desk Tour.

The service itself is pretty light—the landing page consists of a few desk setup photos and a rotating carousel of featured configurations—but it has great potential to grow into a desk-focused social experience of sorts.

It’s also a great place to drop in on if you’re missing the extra level of adoration for your desk space that a truly great setup invokes. Since most people who have been working from home since the spring didn’t receive a ton of advance notice, it’s reasonable to assume that the majority of folks have resigned themselves to a boring or inefficient desk configuration. With a bit of inspiration from My Desk Tour, that can change overnight.

Of course, some of the desk options featured on the site are a bit over the top. One configuration boasts dual ultra-wide monitors stacked atop each other, and another shows off a monitor flanked by additional vertical monitors—presumably for the sake of coding. If you’re scrambling to stay employed, such a setup might be egregious.

If you’re just looking for a new way to orient your workspace for the next few months, though, My Desk Tour is worth a visit.

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