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Op/Ed

Legitimizing customer service: The next frontier in real estate

(EDITORIAL) Real estate practitioners are famous for saying they specialize in customer service, but it’s mostly bluster. That said, it is now defining who top producers are as they leave competitors in the dust.

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Despite all the industry talk about better service in the real estate brokerage and mortgage service industries, better service remains mostly that… just talk. Many organizations now pursue strategies of delivering more services believing that more equates to better.

For some organizations the strategy of offering more services is an acknowledgement of the inability to manage the core brokerage business at an acceptable level of profitability. Therefore offering a bundle of “other services” is the path to improving overall enterprise profitability.

The real underlying problem here is more basic and more insidious

Service delivery remains an unmanaged process. Systems, standards, reporting and performance assessment are common to customer acquisition (prospecting), sales, productivity and financial management. These same disciplines and resources are essentially non-existent in the business of the delivery and execution of service – keeping the promises of sales.

Service delivery, what happens between agent and customer after the relationship is underway, remains the invisible domain of the sales/service professional.

Broker/owners abdicate responsibility. Therefore the service and each service experience are unique outcomes of the preferences, practices and idiosyncrasies of each individual service professional. It’s a “mom and pop” business mentality in what has become a big business arena.

Consumers seek to maximize value at the lowest cost. Consumers find greater value through price, through quality or through combination of the two. Where quality is uncertain, price increasingly becomes the deciding factor. The foundation for quality in professional services is based upon five key variables: convenience (accessibility), reliability, consistency, accountability and responsiveness.

Controls, measurements, higher accountability

Without processes, systems, standards and accountability, service quality relative to reliability and consistency cannot be achieved. A serious commitment to customer care demands managing the service process and managing service results… consumers expect it!

But can controls, measurements and higher accountability realistically be implemented in businesses with a long tradition of high independence of their service providers? Perhaps the more important question is, “Can any business survive if it ignores the needs and interests of consumers or places the needs of anyone ahead of consumers?”

Customers want more than being captured and expect more than being sold. According to an ongoing study by Leading Research Corporation of San Clemente, CA, conducted after the closing of home purchases and home sales, fewer than one in three consumers “given the need and opportunity” are “highly likely” to seek the services of their previous sales associate. The likelihood for selecting the same company for service is significantly lower.

Customer care is the next frontier and the next great opportunity

A true ‘quality service experience’ is a powerful potential point of differentiation in facilitating new and future business opportunities. Quality service is the most effective means of protecting commissions and a company’s pricing strategy as well.

Managing customer care, looking beyond customer capture and making the sale, will also reap significant benefits in risk management and professional liability. The vast majority of threats, claims and suits are service issues that escalate into legal actions.

Measurable results and economic benefits can be achieved through the implementation of service processes, standards, performance feedback and assessment, and service excellence recognition.

Service is serious business. Great service requires more than good intentions.

#NextFrontier

Kevin is a Co-Founder, President & COO of Quality Service Certification, Inc. (QSC) and earned an MBA from The University of California – Irvine. With over 20 years of Real Estate experience, his primary focus is on consumer research, developing better service management systems, and sharing the importance of consumer-centric service standards, transparency and accountability to create measurable and meaningful differentiation and long term advantage for those professionals that put customer needs first.

Op/Ed

Tips to become one of those people who is good with their money

(EDITORIAL) In real estate, it’s difficult to anticipate which years will be the busy ones and which will be eerily empty. So how do you manage money?

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money for transactions

I’m a firm believer in making mistakes. Specifically, the all-out, crash-and-burn kind. You know those people who say “own it” – yeah, that’s definitely me. That’s the sort of high-risk, high-reward mentality that leads to really thrilling moments onstage and in life. And when the reward is that intense, so is the loss. It’s the same with money.

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My formal background is as a professional opera singer. The level of training for a full-time career in the field includes Olympic-level physical, emotional, and intellectual training. Opera singers don’t use microphones, which means they must use their bodies in a perfect, practiced physiological balance to become a human megaphone.

They learn several languages, with enough facility to jump into rehearsals with colleagues who are relative strangers, singing about passionate love, and infuriating politics while maintaining that physical balance in a foreign tongue.

Unlike the Olympics, regular opera singers don’t get endorsement deals. (Okay, famous tenor Plácido Domingo is sponsored by Rolex, but that’s a particularly singular example.) So despite its extreme training, opera is a medium that requires its artists to manage themselves as freelancers. Freelancers and be-your-own-boss types, I know you feel me:

It’s difficult to anticipate which years will be the busy ones and which will be eerily empty.

Preparing for financial uncertainty

So how do you manage finances with so much up and down?

Invest time instead of money. I rethink how I’m approaching my everyday needs. I’m talking about what methods of transportation I use and how often; I’m talking about regular doctor’s visits or self-care; I’m talking about any payments that you owe regularly. Is there any way to reassess seemingly non-negotiable expenses? Can you refinance a mortgage? Can you drop the gym altogether and commit to really learning and developing an exercise routine? Find something convenient you can replace with a free education; the Internet is an insanely abundant resource and should be milked for information.

Develop multiple interests and invest in them. I am a professional singer, but I also love to cook and am serious about it. I write frequently and across a wide spectrum of interests. I read avidly. When you invest in other ideas and interests, you make yourself a more powerful candidate for the workforce, and you give yourself more ability to seize opportunities. Who knows – you might find yourself pivoting careers.

Design a financial contingency plan before you need it (but go broke at least once). Do you have a place to crash if you can’t afford your own place? How much money do you really need to get through the month? How far can you stretch $50? If you can’t define your limits, you’ll never be able to develop a plan with thoughtful security.

What’s life without risk?

The freelancers who truly succeed are the ones who failed. It’s that Oscar Wilde quote, right? “Experience is merely the name men give to their mistakes.” And so have I before, and so will I again. The only way forward is up. I’m going to take my experience along with me for the next chapter. I hope mine will help color yours a little, even if with a passing thought. Dare to lose it all — and see where it leads.

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Op/Ed

Tips to combat lack of participation in virtual meetings or online events

(EDITORIAL) Even after the pandemic, virtual meetings and online events have no end in sight. But how do we get people to participate?

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Online conference call on skype, without Meet Cam widgets.

Online meetings are here to stay and increasing participation is key to making them fun and inviting for everyone involved. Those little icons of our faces and initials showcasing the fact that cameras are off-strike dread in the heart of the presenter. Or even worse, the camera-on view of the ceiling fan or mic-on sound of the smoke detector that needs a new battery.

Instead of leaving the success of an online meeting to chance, presenters can help make their meetings more fun for everyone with a few easy practices.

Send out an agenda with meeting expectations early. If attendees know the time investment, expectations, and what will be covered, it’s easier for them to be involved. Do you want cameras on? Share that. Be specific with what that means. If you don’t make that expectation clear, be prepared for bookcases instead of people, ceiling fans instead of people, and other distractions. Do you know specific questions you will be asking? Include those in the agenda so people can be thinking about them ahead of time. Often people don’t talk because they don’t understand what you want them to say or they’re not sure you really want them to participate.

Ask participants to help create the agenda ahead of time. What questions do they want answered? What do they need from you?

Let people know you will be asking questions regularly and answers are appreciated either on the mic or in the chat. If you can, include when you will be taking questions or opening up for conversation in the agenda. The chat feature can run seamlessly throughout the meeting. Allowing and encouraging the use of the chat feature regularly increases participation and leads to a more conversational feel for the session. If you can have a co-facilitator who can answer questions on the chat so they don’t get lost, that helps. If you don’t have one, consider asking an attendee to watch to help make sure questions are answered throughout the meeting.

Break the meeting up into sections. Don’t throw all the information out at once. Instead, make sure you pause regularly for feedback and questions and answers. If the group is large consider breakout rooms where smaller groups can answer questions, work through agenda items or participate in roundtable discussions, then come back to the large group with their ideas and answers.

Know your end destination. What’s the purpose of the meeting? What do you want or need to accomplish? Make sure everyone involved knows what that is and why. That helps keep everyone focused.

Set a time limit for responses if needed.

Be prepared. It’s even more important to be prepared for your online meeting than in-person meetings where you have multiple resources at hand and the energy of the crowd to bounce off of.

If these online meetings are a regular occurrence, consider adding a fun element like bringing your pet or plant to the meeting day. If it’s a brainstorming session, consider creativity ice breakers. And again make sure attendees know the expectations.

Use the poll feature to help encourage participation. Then follow up with participants to go deeper with those answers.

Instead of asking are there any questions at the end, ask everyone to either tell at least two things they learned or share two things they still have questions about. Again utilize the chat feature here. Some people are more comfortable chatting than speaking on the mic.

Consider offering prizes and give-aways to those participating. It’s not always necessary, but it’s fun when you can.

If you can, run the meetings live instead of recorded presentations with the leader in front of a slideshow. The sit and get PowerPoint and speaker presentation leads to bored participants who aren’t invested in the content. However, if that’s not possible, make sure you have a real-time chat session available for participants who are watching and make sure your slides are light on text. That chat session can change “sit and get” boredom to excitement, fun, and learning for all.

As always remember the meeting needs to last long enough to cover what’s essential but should be short enough to keep people engaged. Use surveys to gather meaningful feedback throughout the meeting and at the end. You can’t get better without feedback from your participants.

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Op/Ed

Social media addiction is 100% real, but whose responsibility is it?

(EDITORIAL) Social media addiction is not only real, but it is proven to be real. The question is who is to blame for it – the users or the providers?

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Man giving out phone number using his phone representing addiction.

I’m not on Facebook. I don’t have a Twitter account. You won’t find me on Snapchat, Pinterest, or any other social media platform.

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It may seem hard to believe that a Millennial – one who reports at an online news network, no less – would forgo participation in social media entirely. But it’s true. I deleted all of my social media accounts several years ago.

Cold turkey

When I was a Facebook user, I obsessively checked my newsfeed multiple times a day. I thought I was staying connected to friends, entertaining myself, keeping up with the news, and distracting myself from loneliness. Yet, the more I used Facebook, the more anxious and depressed I became.
When I read a study confirming that social media does, in fact, correlate with a host of bad feelings, I took a daring leap and left the platform, never to return. My life improved tremendously.Let me repeat that: My life improved. Tremendously.

But choosing to cut oneself off may be a lot more difficult for folks who have a genuine internet addiction.

While the American Psychological Association has yet to acknowledge addiction to the internet or to social media as an official disorder, they have published literature describing some of the negative effects of spending too much time online, and have acknowledged Internet gaming disorder in patients who spend so much time gaming that it affects their ability to work, go to school, or maintain healthy relationships.

Addiction wears many hats

Addressing addiction to popular (and profitable) products takes time. Undoubtedly, people were suffering from emphysema long before science proved that cigarettes were unhealthy. Cigarettes used to be ubiquitous; you could smoke in your office, in restaurants, even on public transportation.

It has taken decades of activism to create a culture wherein smoking is confined to designated areas, and where smokers are warned of the health risks by labels on the pack.

These days, folks can be found checking Facebook on their smartphones in all of the same public places where smoking used to be the norm. Nowadays, the idea of someone smoking a cigarette at the dinner table seems pretty gross. Will we one day look back at Internet-enabled devices at the dinner table with the same disgust?

Easier said than done

Cigarettes, truth be told, are far more easily avoided than social media. If you don’t want to be tempted, don’t buy a pack, and don’t go to the smoking patio. However, most of us require internet for our jobs and basic communications, making social media almost unavoidable.

Some jobs even require you to have social media accounts to apply.

So, who is responsible for social media addiction? Are people to be expected to cut themselves off, as I did? Or should the tech companies themselves try to intervene?

Helpful or harmful?

Nir Eyal, author of Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products admits that the strategies he wrote about in his book “intended to help product designers build healthy habits in their users… are the same tactics used by some to keep people un-healthfully hooked.”

Eyal believes that tech companies, who have a wealth of data to keep track of their customers’ usage habits, have a responsibility to help customers who exhibit signs of addiction, offering to limit their hours on the platform or blacklist their credit card. Eyal says that “tech companies owe it to their users simply to reach out and ask if they can be helpful, just as a concerned friend might do.”

Unfortunately, social media is not your concerned friend.

Tech companies have no particular incentive to limit use from addicts, and with just about everyone constantly glued to their smartphones, it will take a larger cultural shift to acknowledge that a smartphone between you and your dinner date is about as sexy as puff of tobacco smoke in your face.

In the meantime, I suggest that addicts take matters into their hands and do what I did: quit cold turkey. Delete your accounts, and never look back.

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