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Opinion Editorials

We – And Our Customers – Are Not Machines




Steve Austin, astronaut, a man barely alive. Gentlemen, we can rebuild him, we have the technology. We have the capability to make the worlds first Bionic man. Steve Austin will be that man. Better than he was before. Better. Stronger. Faster.”

More than 30 years later, it seems that the human population continues to move closer and closer to becoming just what Steve Austin was in the Six Million Dollar Man … a machine.

With our Bluetooths, PDAs, mobile PCs, and constant

contact it becomes easy at times to forget that there are people on the other end of those messages. And while e-mail, texting, and instant messaging helps sell real estate – it can become a crutch to our field.

A crutch that allows us to stop treating people like people and start treating them like machines or any other commodity. I learned this the hard way recently.

An e-mail inquiry on a listing comes in, we share a couple e-mails, and set a showing on one my properties. Great, I’m stoked. Have a second showing at 5:15 with a client and this new client is set to be met at 6:30 with 15 minutes travel time between.

My client is 20 minutes late for the first appointment, so I bolt to meet my new clients. They are 10 minutes late and my first client is blowing up my cell phone wanting to know when I’ll be back to take care of his needs. And suddenly I’m faced with a dilemma:

  • Do I give up on these new clients and get back to the second showing for this client that is going to write on this house, or
  • do I hold out my usual 20 minutes for a late client.

Well I did the first and just missed a chance to show this home to a young couple that have an infant and could have yielded. And to set “karma” my first client didn’t write.

Why am I writing this today?

I made a couple of fundamental flaws in this process, and am hoping by sharing you’ll be reminded how easy it is to quit seeing people as people and only as commodities.

  • Always Talk to Potential Customers: E-mails are great to begin communication but you need to make that personal contact to solidify the deal. Also, it is a major safety faux pas that I committed.
  • Balancing The Birds: One of the things I’ve learned from working at Best Buy is “stacking customers”. What did I do last night? Failed at stacking customers, they don’t need to see you today – but they do need to know you care.
  • Keep a Black Book: My grandfather always carries a little notebook with numbers and contacts in it. What was my biggest mistake yesterday? I didn’t have a cell phone number for my new clients. That one action would have made this embarrassing situation go away.

Hopefully, this little reminder will help you not make the same mistake I did last night.

Writer for national real estate opinion column, focusing on the improvement of the real estate industry by educating peers about technology, real estate legislation, ethics, practices and brokerage with the end result being that consumers have a better experience.

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  1. Jim Duncan

    May 8, 2008 at 9:03 am

    I have little sympathy for the first client – did they call you to let you know that they were going to be late? This part falls, I think, on both client and agent – agent for not setting expectations of punctuality for the client, and the client for not respecting the agent’s time.

    We’re not machines, and neither are the clients, but if the clients don’t respect our time, we have to move to those who do.

    I met an appraiser the other day who was 10 minutes late – didn’t call, but I had called his office when he was 5 minutes late (and I had to meet him. That 10 minutes threw off most of my day.

    Personally, I call clients if I’m going to be 2 minutes late (which rarely happens) and I expect similar respect.

    But that’s just me.

  2. Toby Boyce

    May 8, 2008 at 9:43 am

    In the “real” world I follow your thoughts as well. I try to be on time for all appointments – why? Because it is the professional thing to do, and that was my first problem. I didn’t have a cell phone number for #2 to find out where we stood. Client #1 would have sat on the back-burner and simmered until #2 was done, had I been able to make contact.

    But, I’m finding more clients contacting me via e-mail regarding properties. Which is awesome. But I’ve made a personal “rule” that we must talk on the phone for a few minutes and exchange vitals before the appointment is scheduled. I’ll show one house to a suspect before they become pre-approved, but not on an e-mail discussion.


  3. Jim Duncan

    May 8, 2008 at 9:45 am

    I’ll show one house to a suspect before they become pre-approved

    I love it.

  4. ines

    May 8, 2008 at 12:05 pm

    I have to tell you that time issues are huge here in Miami. There is a general disrespect for others’ time and as much as it aggravates me…..I’ve gotten used to it and plan around it (I know it’s ridiculous, but I can’t control it). I do expect people to respect my time and will wait a max of 15 minutes when another agent is late.

    As for the “man as a machine thing” – you are right – human contact before a showing is crucial – I’ve also learned the hard way. Funny how you can tell so much more about a person when you talk to them on the phone, no?

  5. Jay Thompson

    May 8, 2008 at 12:15 pm

    While in my younger days the ladies often referred to me as a “Love Machine”, you’re right, we (and our clients) are not machines.

    Time is valuable for all, and it’s not free. “Human contact” is critical in this business. All the technology is great, but it doesn’t replace face-to-face contact.

    And mutual respect for each other’s time.

    And I’m kidding about the “Love Machine” thing. Sorta…. 😉

  6. Vicki Moore

    May 8, 2008 at 12:54 pm

    I’m going to start referring to you as The Love Machine. That’s great!

  7. ines

    May 8, 2008 at 1:42 pm

  8. Matthew Rathbun

    May 9, 2008 at 5:49 am

    Jay – oh brother….

    Toby – unfortunaly agents have allowed themselves to be treated as a means to an end and not professionals. Most people are on time for meetngs with tax prep, parent-teacher coferences, getting the hair appoint etc… However, agents are “always there”, we don’t move on to the next appointment like most other industries do. We always seem to make time for every client even as aggravating as they are.

    But let me say this – Realtors are just as bad. A majority are always late for training, staff meetings, committee meetings, etc… I’ve caught a lot of flack for my tactics as an instructor in the past. At ten minutes after class I lock the doors to the classroom. When I give breaks, I have a timer on the projector. I always start exactly when I am suppose to. The word got out and folks are usually more timely for my sessions than they are for other instructors. It’s a slow hard process to change, but it’s well worth it.

    I’ve just learned to come to terms with it and realize that I can only control me, in regards to respecting other peoples time.

  9. Raleigh Real Estate

    May 9, 2008 at 10:19 am

    Great post. I have to agree personal contact is a must : ]

  10. Rebecca Levinson

    May 9, 2008 at 1:28 pm

    Good post and I don’t have too many meaningful words to add, other than I agree that a personal connection should follow an electronic one. Your time is valuable and so is your clients?

    On a side note, I love seeing these Transformer Graphics. Just was reading another post that had one too. I suspect Suspect SpeedRacer will be up and coming. Yes, I watched both these shows as a kid, so the nostalgia of the graphic and then the headline led me to this post.

  11. Jim Duncan

    May 9, 2008 at 3:40 pm

    Matthew – I wish more instructors were as strict as you.

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Opinion Editorials

Uber CEO regrets saying that murder is part of business

(EDITORIAL) Uber CEO calls murder a mistake. Should society support a business that seems to think death is just part of the cost of doing business?



Uber Pickup

On February 21, 2016, I woke up early to notifications about a shooting in Kalamazoo, Michigan. An Uber driver shot multiple individuals. Although I live in Oklahoma, the Facebook algorithms correctly deduced that this incident would be of interest to me. I have family and friends in Michigan, some in the Battle Creek area, just miles east of Kalamazoo. Later that morning, I learned that one of my friends had been killed in the incident.

Uber was criticized for the incident. Lawmakers across the country called for tougher background checks on Uber drivers. It was a PR nightmare for the company. Ultimately, it was the driver who was charged. Earlier this year, the driver pled guilty to all counts against him and was sentenced to life in prison. Uber continued operating, although then-Governor Rick Snyder did sign legislation that increased regulations for the ride-sharing industry.

I say this out of disclosure. This Uber tragedy affected me in a way that may cloud my opinion. I believe that Uber should be regulated more than it is. But recent events have made me question why society supports Uber and what I believe is a toxic culture.

How does Uber keep managing their corporate profile?

Uber seems to weather their PR crises fairly well. They’ve been criticized for inadequate background checks. Sexual harassment allegations at corporate headquarters shook up the management team. Uber has suffered data breaches. In 2018, the organization settled with the FTC for $148 million. Still, the company enjoys a market share of transportation services.

In 2018, Dara Khosrowshahi, former CEO of Expedia took over at Uber as its new CEO, replacing the CEO and founder Travis Kalanick. It was reported that Kalanick “led the company astray” from its moral center. Khosrowshahi said at the time, “In the end, the CEO of the company has to take responsibility.”

Just days ago, during an interview, Khosrowshahi said that “the assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi was a ‘mistake.’” It was a political murder. Khosrowshahi compared the assassination to a self-driving accident with an Uber vehicle that killed a pedestrian. It didn’t take long for Khosrowshahi to issue a retraction, saying that he “said something in the moment (he doesn’t) believe.”

Is Uber’s culture toxic?

Khosrowshahi says that his comment shouldn’t mark him as a person. He thinks that what he said was a “learning moment.” When a CEO misspeaks in an interview that isn’t just local, but international, maybe we should pay attention. According to him, murder isn’t a big deal. I wonder if he would say that if it was his father who died, or his friend who was killed by a driver.

When my friend died in the Kalamazoo shooting, I had to seriously think about how I viewed Uber. My friend wasn’t even using Uber at the time. She was getting into her own car at a local restaurant with some friends of hers. I recognize that Uber wasn’t responsible for the driver going on a shooting spree, but I have to wonder if it was Uber’s culture that led to a lack of response at the time.

Uber’s new CEO seems removed from how its services affect individuals and communities as its previous CEO did. When a company thinks that murder is a “mistake,” maybe it’s time to rethink about supporting a service that doesn’t seem to think about people, its employees, its drivers and its riders.

It may be more convenient than a cab, but it’s time to look at Uber’s real impact on society. I hear Uber saying that innocent deaths are just the cost of business. Is that the basis for a billion-dollar corporation?

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Opinion Editorials

Funny females are less likely to be promoted

(CAREER) Science says that the funnier a female, the less likely she is to be promoted. Uhh…



funny females promoted less often

Faceless keyboard warriors around the world have been — incorrectly — lamenting that women just aren’t funny for years now (remember the “Ghostbusters” remake backlash?).The good news is they are obviously wrong. The bad news? When women dare to reveal their comedic side in the workplace they are often perceived as “disruptive” while men are rewarded.

That’s right. Women not only have to worry about being constantly interrupted, receiving raises less frequently than men despite asking for them equally as often, and still making nearly $10,000 less than men each year, but now they have to worry about being too funny at the office.

A recent University of Arizona study asked more than 300 people to read the fictional resume of a clothing store manager with the gender-neutral name “Sam” and watch a video presentation featuring Sam. The videos came in four versions: a serious male speaker, a humorous male speaker, a serious female speaker and a humorous female speaker.

According to the researchers, “humorous males are ascribed higher status compared with nonhumorous males, while humorous females are ascribed lower status compared with nonhumorous females.” Translation: Male workers earn respect for being funny while their funny female coworkers are often seen in a more negative light.

There are, of course, several reasons this could be the case. The researchers behind this particular study pointed to the stereotype that women are more dedicated to their families than their work, and being perceived as humorous could convey the sense they don’t take their work as seriously as men.

Psychiatrist Prudy Gourguechon offered another take, putting the blame directly on Sam the clothing store manager, calling out their seemingly narcissistic behavior and how society’s tolerance for such behavior is “distinctly gender-based.” She says these biases go back to the social programming of our childhoods and the roles mothers and fathers tend to play in our upbringing.

So what are women supposed to do with this information?

Gourgechon’s status quo advice includes telling women to not stop being funny, but “to be aware of the the feelings and subjectivities of the people around you.” While recommending an empathetic stance isn’t necessarily bad advice, it still puts the onus on women to change their behavior, worry about what everyone else thinks and attempt to please everyone around them.

We already know that professional women can have an extremely hard time remaining true to themselves in the workplace — especially women in the tech industry — and authenticity is often a privilege saved for those who conform to the accepted culture. We obviously still have a long way to go before women stop being “punished” for being funny at work, but things seem to be progressing, however slowly.

Former First Lady Michelle Obama shared her thoughts last year on the improvements that have been made and the changes that still need to happen, including encouraging men to step up and do their part. In the wake of the #metoo movement, CNBC recommended five things men can do to support women at work. There are amazing women in STEM positions around the world we can all admire and shine a spotlight on.

All of these steps — both big and small — will continue to chip away at the gender inequality that permeates today’s workplaces. And perhaps one day in the near future, female clothing store manager Sam will be allowed to be just as funny as male clothing store manager Sam.

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Opinion Editorials

To the unsung entrepreneurial heroes – we believe in you

(EDITORIAL) To the unseen entrepreneur we see you and we know that you work your tails off to do good things in your community even if it never means going IPO.



restaurant entrepreneurs

I recently frequented one of my favorite new restaurants to find it permanently closed after less than a year. This locally sourced brunch place had pinpointed all of the farms that supplied their food on a map of California that hung like gallery art in the center of their restaurant.

They made sandwiches at their shop with donated food for the homeless and wrote inspirational notes to tuck inside their brown bag lunches. Their food was not only nutritious but delicious, and they seemed to always have patrons when we went, not too many that there was a line out the door, but enough that they always seemed busy.

I wish that we had spent more time there, more money, told more of our friends or left glowing yelp reviews, but we are only two people, two people who took a delicious restaurant for granted because we thought how could this fail?

I’m sure that’s what the owners believed too when they started out.

They probably thought they’d make great food that people want to eat in a location newly dubbed Silicon Beach – amid shiny live/work complexes, surrounded by startups and young people.

They ventured that they could morally source nutritious food, give back to the community, and be excellent.

Part of me imagines that they did so well as a restaurant that they shut their doors just to expand, or open in a better location, or take a much needed break. But they probably failed, like so many businesses do, and I want to take a moment to say thanks.

Not just to the restaurant that served the best breakfast tater tots that I have ever had the pleasure of eating, but to every entrepreneur who embarks on a journey that tries to make the world better.

I’m not just talking about the tech entrepreneurs, though we need you too.

I’m mostly talking about the unseen baker that wakes up at 3am every morning just to bring a handful of baked goods to their city. Or about the small store owner that stocks chotchkies and cookbooks and beautiful things all of which I wish I could buy. I’m talking about the start up plumber who shows up to your house on a Sunday afternoon and fixes your toilet because you’re at your wits end.

You are the unsung entrepreneurs, the heroes that we hurriedly thank on our way out the door.

You are the folks who had a dream and risked everything to bring us delicious food, adorable chotchkies, and functional plumbing.

A mentor of mine once told me that to be successful you must jump in the water, swim as fast as you can, and slowly increase the speed.

To those of you out there swimming as fast as you can – we’re behind you, and we appreciate you.

This is your headline, one you don’t often get — keep doing what you’re doing, we believe in you, and your hard work does not go unnoticed.

And if you decide after everything you’ve been through that it’s time to hang a permanently closed sign on your front door, there are people out there, lots of them maybe, who will mourn the loss of your mini quiches, your adorable iPhone cases, or even the best breakfast tater tots in the world.

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