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The simplest customer service lesson you may ever learn

(BROKERAGE NEWS) This is one of those things that you might think we don’t need to talk about, but we do. We really do.

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This is one of those things that you might think we don’t need to talk about, but we do. We really do. We’re going to talk about answering the phone in your business. The template is very simple. Feel free to use it at no charge.

“Company name. This is your name. How can I help you?”

That just took four seconds, and those four seconds can tell the caller – a potential client or customer for life! – all they need to know about you and your business. Is the person answering the phone in a hurry? Do they want to help me? Is it even a real person or could this be a voicemail message? Again, this is simple, but let’s break it down.

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The easiest client-grabber in the world

1. Include your company name when you answer the phone.
This lets the caller know they’ve actually reached the business they’re hoping to reach. Say it with purpose and enunciate.

Though you may say it a million times in your head every day, taking the time to slow down so that the caller hears you correctly is very important.

Speaking too quickly could make the caller feel like you really don’t have time for their call, when your goal with each interaction is probably the opposite: Make each customer feel like your only and favorite customer!

2. How can I help you?
Have you ever walked up to the hostess at a restaurant only to be stared at and finally have to tell her “table for four, please” because she didn’t proactively ask? Yeah, it’s awkward. Don’t make your callers tell you they need something, be proactive and ask what you can do for them. It’s just good customer service.

3. Say your name.
I saved this one for last because it may be the most important part of that four-second first impression.

This immediately puts your caller at ease because they’ve gotten a real, live human being and they already know your name. It immediately takes this call from customer to business and makes it a person-to-person interaction.

Do some of your own A/B testing

I encourage you to do some testing of my advice here. Try it with your next two phone calls.

For call 1: “CompanyNameAsFastAsYouCanGetItOut.”

For call 2: “Company name. This is your name. How can I help you?”

I bet one caller is a little taken back and maybe even fumbles when telling you why they called, and the second one is immediately at ease with your business and thankful that you’re taking the time to make them feel like your favorite caller of the day.

#AnsweringThePhone

A native Texan, Summer Huggins serves as Account Manager | Client Support for Small World Labs, a Personify company. She is also an animal advocate, active in Austin's animal rescue community, and an amateur photographer. She wants to be a Rockette when she grows up.

Real Estate Brokerage

Pocket listings: The key to success in hot housing market?

(REAL ESTATE BROKERAGE) Despite NAR’s attempts to shut the door on pocket listings, the reality is that premarket sales are almost a necessity for buyers in hot markets.

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Dark house at dusk, a possible pocket listing to be snatched up.

Hot housing markets are like the “Hunger Games” right now – and the odds are definitely not favoring home buyers.

In fiery markets like Austin, high demand and low inventory are juicing prices and sometimes bringing an unprecedented number of offers. A home in the desirable, centrally located neighborhood of Crestview recently drew 27 offers, says Lisa Boone, Realtor, GRI, with Waterloo Realty. “Everyone is fighting over the same properties.”

For some buyers, that competition makes tapping into the robust, but controversial, “pre-MLS” private-listing ecosystem feel almost like a necessity. “My job has gone from trying to get people a deal on a house to getting someone a house, period,” says Anna Uliassi, associate broker with Compass in Austin. “I’d say it’s gotten crazier in the last six months.”

That private, or pocket, listing ecosystem is shifting, too.

Well-connected agents who find or sell off-market properties through friendly phone calls to their networks and tapping into private online forums have been told to cut it out. In a bid to level the playing field, the National Association of Realtors has essentially banned pocket listings with its “MLS Clear Cooperation policy,” As of May 1, 2020, agents must list properties on MLS within one business day of “public marketing,” which includes phone calls, forum posts, and even the buzz-building “coming soon” signs.

“There are no more private listings, unless the listing is kept private within your own brokerage,” Romeo Manzanilla of Realty Austin told the Austin Business Journal in August. “It keeps the integrity of the MLS from the data perspective. It also allows all MLS participants to have access to the same listings and not necessarily have to go fish through, ‘What Facebook group am I supposed to join to get these under-the-radar listings?’ “

But there are rules… And there is reality.

With tight inventory and rising concerns about privacy, demand for off-market transactions simply is not going away. Especially when it comes to luxury properties listed on places like Austin Luxury Network.

Now savvy buyers want to check the pocket listings. They’ve read articles on how to head off competition with off-market homes. Or they’ve had their hearts broken too many times by losing out on too many properties.

Also, buyer wish lists are becoming more and more specific based on lifestyle changes, says Gray Adkins, Realtor, GRI, with Waterloo Realty. “As a buyer, if you’re looking for something really specific, you’re just waiting. You’re sitting on your hands checking MLS every morning wondering if it’s going to get listed. We’re only seeing a handful of things getting listed in each market area per week, so it can be a long, drawn out process.”

For sellers, the pandemic has added a new twist. Many want to avoid the showing frenzy’s disruption to their schedules. They’re working from home and helping their kids with virtual school, and the idea of COVID-status-unknown strangers walking through their house is not appealing.

Still, what might slow the use of pocket listings in Austin could come from the seller side rather than policy.

“It’s not really the best route for the seller unless that’s really what they want to do for personal reasons, because the market is so excited about every new listing that comes up, and that’s what tends to drive things into multiple offers,” Uliassi says. “So I’d say that finding off-market properties now is harder and harder.”

That tight inventory means Austin agents are working harder and harder just to find properties. Prospecting agents are calling, texting, emailing, mailing and even old-fashioned door knocking. Some are using companies offering “predictive analytics” to identify owners who are more likely to sell fairly soon.

They’re also looking at sources outside of MLS. “There are companies that are trying to compete with Zillow and MLS and have their own private listings,” Adkins says, as well as iBuyer programs uncovering homes. But there’s still no substitute for developing hyper-local expertise, keeping your ear to the ground and networking.

“If you’ve been in the business in Austin long enough – everybody knows everybody, and you can get a lot of information just by making a few phone calls,” Adkins says. “Word gets around, especially if you want it to.”

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Real Estate Brokerage

Customer satisfaction feedback comes best from your own service

(BROKERAGE) How you collect feedback can determine whether your service actually improves or not. #science

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Woman looking at laptop reading customer satisfaction surveys.

Every significant endeavor utilizes measurements and scorekeeping to record activities and progress. The most trivial of human pursuits often involves record keeping and statistical analysis. While the sales and production side of real estate services are measured in-depth, the service and customer satisfaction side of the business enjoys less measurement, scorekeeping, and analysis than one might find associated with the performance of a neighborhood Little League team.

What does this truly say then about the importance many brokers, owners or managers place on service delivery, customer satisfaction, consistency, and service performance?

It’s true that a few organizations do attempt to measure service performance by means of a customer satisfaction survey. Most of these programs are produced and administered internally. The surveys are sent under the company banner and the company tabulates the results.

First, when a customer is asked directly by the professional or the company for performance/satisfaction feedback, that feedback is always more positive than what is obtained by an independent, third-party asking the same questions.

This is known as the halo effect. Consumers are more diplomatic in their response to the person or company that provided the service.

Second, internal service/satisfaction assessment programs typically develop standards and objectives to validate the belief that good service is already being delivered. Thus this positively biased feedback data suits the objectives of the internal program just fine.

It’s just that measurement of those areas of service performance that sellers and buyers feel are important is not taking place.

For those more serious about customer service satisfaction and service performance assessment, there is recognition that the halo effect lessens the value of the data for internal use, and that keeping score of one’s own results has less credibility externally.

Instead, they seek the objectivity and credibility that third party validation of service assessment can provide.

Ironically, even without expert resources and objectivity the attention that measurement brings to the organization will effect positive results and performance improvement. This phenomenon is known as the Hawthorne effect.

The effect was first noticed in the Hawthorne plant of Western Electric. Production increased not as a consequence of actual changes in working conditions introduced by the plant’s management, but because management demonstrated interest in such improvements.

Unfortunately, this phase of initial improvement is not sustainable. Sustaining improvement requires more than measurement and leadership interest. Action steps that result in the actual improvement of the situation must follow collection of data.

Measuring service results and satisfaction in the real estate organization is an important first step. It will certainly gain the attention of the organization and send a serious signal.

Sustaining organizational interest and performance improvement requires more.

It requires systematic and timely feedback, objectivity, systems and service delivery processes, coaching and recognition/awards. But it really all does start by keeping score.

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Real Estate Brokerage

7 red flags that could scare off potential home buyers

(BROKERAGE) While houses are selling quickly right now, there are some things that will almost definitely turn a home buyer off.

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Open home and kitchen that home buyers will be considering.

The process of buying a home is incredibly overwhelming – as is the process of selling a house. There are so many aspects that potential home buyers are investigating when they enter a spot that’s for sale.

Without realizing it, many sellers can be hurting their chances of selling by overlooking simple things. The Ascent recently determined seven things that scare away potential buyers. Let’s dive in.

We all know the market is hot right now and houses are selling like crazy, but there are certain things that just cannot be ignored.

  1. Listing an unrealistic price: Be realistic about what your house is worth and don’t be misleading. People can easily search the worth of the houses around yours and do some digging to find out if what you’re listing is representative of what the house is worth.
  2. Skipping the deep clean: This is never a good idea – especially this year. The cleanliness of your house is akin in the buyer’s mind to the overall upkeep and maintenance of the house. They assume that if you don’t clean, you don’t care.
  3. Personalization: Since you’re moving, try and pack up some of your family photos and leave up less “personal” items (or color choices) to better help the potential buyer envision themselves living there.
  4. Expecting payment for features that are high maintenance: Things like pools and hot tubs don’t always return their value. Many home buyers aren’t interested in keeping up with that maintenance and it’s unreasonable to charge them for the assumption that they’ll keep up with it.
  5. Believing “It’s okay if this doesn’t work”: If your shower head is broken, the A/C is messed up, or a ceiling is cracked, you should do all you can to replace or repair it before listing your house. If you can’t, don’t expect anyone to pay the full listing price.
  6. Being nose-blind: Like those Febreeze commercials tell us, it’s common that we go nose-blind to our surroundings simply because we’re so used to them (i.e. a smoker doesn’t notice their house or clothes smell like smoke). Go back and check off deep cleaning, and then ask someone you really trust to come in and tell you how the house smells to an outsider. Trust me, this will be one of the first things a buyer notices.
  7. Leaving pets home during showings: Due to the unpredictability with strangers – or the potential allergies the strangers may have – it’s best to make arrangements for your pets to be elsewhere during showings.

At the end of the day, you have to look at your house from an outsider’s perspective. Getting feedback and opinions from friends and family can help this process.

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