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How Customer Service Can Create Brand Ambassadors

For any type of business looking to sustain itself past the honeymoon period (when venture capital or buzz ends), the ratio between new customers to retuning customers must favor the latter. Brands that are able to lead with quality customer service and innovating products are able to retain customers and turn them into brand ambassadors.

Talk to any Apple Mac user and ask whether or not they would recommend Apple and you’ll witness the power of having brand ambassadors on your side. So if having brand ambassadors is good business and all you have to do is offer quality customer service, why doesn’t every business do it? Well, first unfortunately few brands understand the awesome power of leading with customer service as a business objective and secondly in addition to leading with customer service a few conditions must be observed.

Under what circumstances can quality customer service lead to the creation of brand ambassadors:

  1. Having Desirable Offer: The first condition is offering a product or service others will likely need. Even the most loyal brand ambassador will find it hard convincing you to buy a fax machine in this digital age rather than using a piece of software. on the other hand, if the product is inferior to similar products in the market, but is more than made up by quality service the condition is still met.
  2. Engagement Level strategy: The idea is to openly accept and engage in communication with the customer base. Some brands only see generating revenue from customers as engagement others on the other hand also value communication. Open communication will contribute to brand loyalty an important step to create brand ambassadors.
  3. Encourage Social Sharing: Brands should not shy away from asking and encouraging customers to share legitimate brand messages. Those messages are not necessarily sales pitches, but could also be fun and creative (I’m a Mac I’m a PC) as long as they serve a business goal. The web now days offers a selection of social applications such as Twitter and Facebook where brand ambassadors could be heard.
  4. Customer-Centric Objectives: Many brands may say they are led by customer service, or that their customers are all treated equal etc but in most cases the execution is lacking. A successful customer-centric strategy should be build around a customer service culture where every discipline of the brand understands its importance and does its part.

If you are looking to create brand ambassadors, I hope this post will point you in the right direction.

Today’s post was written by Joesph Eitan, Founder and MD of Photo Paper Direct. Joesph has over 20 years experience managing brands and engaging with customers.

Is customer service commensurate with price in real estate sales?

If I shop at Walmart for a pair of denim jeans priced on sale at $19.95 and then go to a boutique and pay $150.00 for designer jeans, chances are that my customer service experience is bound to be more personalized at the boutique. No one is going to tell me how those jeans look on me at Walmart, and if they don’t fit me, I have to get dressed again and  go back to the rack and find another size or another style. At the boutique however, the sales person goes back and forth honoring my requests and  even throws in a critical opinion on the fit. Does that then serve as a correlation that most consumers think the more you spend, the more service you expect?

In real estate transactions, we receive commissions based on the price of the home at an average of 7% per selling price. If, for instance, I sell a home priced at $100,000 and the following month I sell a home priced at $500,000, will I be giving the customer purchasing the more expensive home better service because my commission is more?

In the real estate business, sales agents are independent contractors. Accountability is expected because an agent is licensed by a particular state. Local, regional, and national organizations require agents to follow a prescribed code of ethics. On the other hand, customer service includes more than just accountability. To be an excellent real estate agent as opposed to an “order taker,” one needs to hone in on those special skills that sets one agent apart from all others.

There should be no difference in the quality of customer service given to any buyer or any seller regardless of the final commissions paid to the agent. Whereas manufacturers can gauge the quality of a product by accountability and reliability, industries involved in service need to focus more on professional courtesies and what consumers expect from their agents. Awards are given to agents who produce top revenues for their companies each year, but more recognition needs to be given to those agents whose customer service skills far exceed the norm so that agents are motivated to go that extra mile for their customers regardless of the size of the sale.

Statistically only 60% of the listings sell with the original listing office. Sellers most often change offices because the quality of service has decreased, but there isn’t much customer feedback. The client has simply moved on to another listing office. Training agents to provide consistent and excellent customer service could change these statistics.

All agents want to improve their business. Professional courtesies extended to all buyers and sellers will ultimately make a huge difference in the long run.

photo credit: kimubert

How to be a service oriented real estate agent

If you’re a successful real estate agent, you have more than likely built your client base from repeat business and word of mouth; real estate is a service profession.

Buyers and sellers are mostly interested in results, but along the pathway to achieving either the sale of their home or the purchase of a house, they want the Golden Rule followed; do unto others as you would want someone to treat you. Sellers want a realistic and accurate market analysis done. In today’s challenging market, the price may not be what a seller hopes to see, but honesty and integrity go a long way to credibility and service. When the agent plots out her plan of action, the Seller wants the agent to commit to that plan which most often will include open houses, broker participation, and advertising. They will want you to be available when they call with questions and expect you to return their calls.

Buyers will expect the same quality of service. They will want the agent to be realistic with price suggestions, and be knowledgeable about areas, home prices and services offered that will help a buyer complete the purchase.

Real estate agents use customer service as their competitive edge. There are plenty of agents who promise to call and never make the effort if the sale does not just “plop” on to their laps.

How to set yourself apart as a sales agent:

Everyone  now a days  seems to have a real estate license, and even if they don’t use it much, most licensees will always attempt to sign up a new listing. So how do you as a real license set yourself apart from other agents?

  • Always be prepared to show potential sellers references of other properties you have successfully marketed and sold. Think of a selling presentation as a job interview and come prepared. The old saying that you only get one time to make a good first impression is especially true in the real estate market.
  • Even if you are a new agent, show the Seller how you are growing. Be very familiar with the location of the listing you want to procure, and know everything about the area including schools, restaurants, shopping; show the Sellers you have the potential and enthusiasm to make the commitment.
  • Be realistic with price, propose intelligent marketing plans, and advertising.

Above all show professionalism. Remember the commitments you have made to your customers and clients. Always return phone calls, keep appointments and treat everyone with respect and kindness.

photo credit: TheTruthAbout…

When someone complains in the real estate business

There’s going to be a time in one’s real estate career that someone is going to be unhappy. The important key here is not to react instantly and be able to listen to the exact nature of the complaint, because it very well may help us in the future.

Initially, you will need to listen to the entire story without trying to come up with an instant resolution. The complaint may require extensive research or the solution to the complaint may simply lie in better future communication. When someone makes a complaint it is really a two-fold subject.

– The customer wants to feel someone is listening.
– The complaint can help the agent from making the same mistake again.

    It is important when listening not to get defensive. You never want to blame the client, even if it is their fault. Thank the person for giving you the opportunity to identify the problem and work on rectifying it. Chances are you will keep that person as a future client or at least reap the benefits of a referral. The purpose is to please and satisfy the client. If it wasn’t important, chances are the customer would not be complaining, so one must always recognize the validity of any complaint. Every complaint should be handled as a learning experience.

    Always have a resolution for the complaint. If one person thought it was important enough to call and complain, one might have to consider there might be others who have not taken the time or even bothered to call you. These may have been future clients, so it is always very important to take each complaint seriously.

    photo credit: iluvrhinestones

    How to diffuse an angry customer

    A friend of mine purchased a pair of shoes from a popular discount shoe store in our local area. Whenever she buys a pair of shoes, she never takes the shoe box home with her because she makes a mad rush to her closet and hides the purchases from her husband (he always complains she buys too many pairs of shoes).

    The shoes were so uncomfortable; she had numerous blisters on her toes, so she went back to the store to return the shoes. The customer service representative would not honor her return, even though she had the receipt; he told her it was store policy “no box – no return.” Of course, she tried to explain her situation and even showed the customer service agent her blistered feet, but the representative insisted the customer did not follow the rules pertaining to returns. The customer got loud because she was frustrated; the service representative ignored her outburst, and so the customer walked out obviously never to return.

    The unfortunate part of the above scenario is it sent the customer packing, and we all know that in today’s market and economy, merchants have to be flexible and literally bend over backwards to satisfy customers; thus the importance of good customer service.

    How could this entire situation been avoided and the customer’s anger diffused?

    If the customer came into the store, she still thought something could be done which meant she still thought of herself as a customer, and the customer service representative’s job is to keep her as a customer. Here are some suggestions that might have changed the outcome of this situation:

    • It is important to hear the person out and thank the customer for bringing the problem to your attention. Let her know you will be researching the problem and you will get back to her. Do not offer a solution immediately since you do not really have a solution yet. (It would be time to research if exceptions have ever been made to allow returns under special circumstances when customer did not have the original packaging.)
    • Call back the customer because it is important to preserve the relationship and keep her as a customer. Thank her for giving you the opportunity to help her and apologize for her dissatisfaction, even if she is wrong. (In this case she didn’t keep the box in case she needed to return the shoes.)
    • Look at each complaint as special since each customer can amount to more business and be prepared to modify standardized procedures when exceptions present themselves as practical and realistic. (In this case, the proof of the blisters on the customer’s feet provided the real reason she wanted to return the shoes.)
    • Explain to the customer what can be done to rectify the situation. In this particular case, at checkout the clerk did tell the customer no returns with out the original box, but the customer service representative needed to  resist telling the customer she was wrong. Consumers do not want to be scolded; they want their problems solved.

    When there is such keen competition out there, exceptional customer service is going to make a huge difference, especially in the small, local market.

    photo credit: michale

    Homebuyer tax credit provides customer service opportunities

    The U.S. has extended the First-Time Home Buyer Tax Credit program to further stimulate the economy and the housing market. The new legislation now provides for a tax credit of up to $8,000 to first time home buyers until April 30, 2010. It’s a phenomenal program since the buyer does not need to repay the tax credit as long as he lives in the home for at least three years.

    When I am not shopping or writing, I am selling real estate, and this first time credit incentive provided another avenue to sell a house, but realtors are a dime a dozen so distinguishing myself from other competition is important, but it does work.

    Last month I was in a craft store wading through the hundreds of choices of dried flowers, and overheard a store clerk lamenting the fact that she still did not buy a home despite the first tax credit that had expired on November 30,2009. I saw that as an opportunity to give her information and supplied her with the details of the extended program. She told me how tired she was of living in a small apartment and having no closet space, no garage, and no privacy. The next day that she wasn’t working, I showed her some houses and after a month or so found her a home. She qualified for the $8,000 tax credit, and her new house now has three bedrooms, a garage and a private backyard; all for less than she was paying in rent, and she is extremely happy and grateful.

    Not surprisingly, it was a few customer service basics that helped me achieve my goal; that is of selling a home. When I met her, I indicated interest in her plight immediately. We spent time talking about her lack of closet space and especially her need for privacy, and I was able to form a relationship with her and recognized her as an important person. Her previous experience with an agent  made her feel unimportant because she was only shown two homes in her price range, and the realtor never followed up with her again, and she told me she had felt intimidated. From the beginning, we formed a customer service bond that worked well and brought me a loyal client and a commission.

    photo credit: Vagabond Shutterbug

    Delta Gets Proactive

    About a week ago, I received a letter from Delta Air Lines with some surprising news. Because a flight I took on December 14 was delayed close to five hours due to weather issues at the airport, the airline was giving me a fairly large amount of SkyMiles as a way to apologize. The letter, which was signed by the company’s General Manager of Customer Care, said the gift was a way for Delta to “demonstrate its committment to service excellence and as a gesture of apology for its service failure.”

    Needless to say, I was impressed with Delta’s proactive approach. The letter, which arrived less than two weeks after my flight, came without any prompting from me. I didn’t complain to Delta in any way about my delays – no letter, no blog post, not even a phone complaint. They just noticed that my flight was delayed significantly and decided to act on it. Despite having experienced some pretty horrific airline delays in the past, I have never received any sort of proactive apology from an airline, so this was especially interesting to me.

    The letter was well written and apologized profusely for an issue that was not Delta’s fault without providing any excuses. The company thanked me for my business and told me how I could check my SkyMiles balance to ensure the credit was added and what I could use the miles for.

    When a business goes out of its way to provide proactive credits or some other form of compensation for an outage, failure, delay, etc., customers usually appreciate this gesture. Given the fact that only a small percentage of customers actually complain about something that annoys them, acting proactively can go a long way towards earning a lot of loyalty from customers who might be upset and just not saying anything. Giving something equivalent to frequent flier miles doesn’t really cost anything and encourages customers to continue using your company in the future, so it’s a win-win.

    To provide some context, I fly Delta regularly, but not enough where I have frequent flier status at this time. In other words, I’m not an especially important customer to them from a financial standpoint.

    Small stores survive despite department store mindset

    I do like to shop; after all the diverse economics of South Florida attracts the entire gamut of shoppers from extremely budget conscious to the flamboyant and creates an interesting  buffet of department stores and small boutiques all vying for shoppers. So how do specialty boutiques compete with some of the giants of the industry?

    In my Palm Beach County community, stripmalls have popped up quicker than tulips, and a few have successfully survived by providing customized, personal services that stores such as Bloomingdale’s, Macy’s and Dillard’s are unable to provide. The first thriving boutique I visited, the owner asked me what kind of fashion I like, browsed with me as I nosed around the store, and poured me a tasty latte while she chatted me up. She then took down my email address, and now sends me photos and updates of new items arriving in her store she thinks I will like as well as the latest trends she finds at Miami fashion shows.

    Another fashionable boutique I visited offered to come to my home and visit my closet! Oddly enough, I was not offended nor did I feel she was being invasive because the owner specializes in planning outfits for daily life and for working women too. The prices in her store may have been a bit more expensive than I normally would spend, but the thought of her coming to my home and helping me coordinate the clothing I already own would probably balance out purchasing a few designer pieces to make me shine.

    Customized services as in “closet consultations,” working wardrobe planning, hand-picking unusual items to personalize someone’s wardrobe, and even event planning help the specialty stores to survive the economic downturn especially when the giants of the fashion department stores are all reporting less sales.

    And one additional boon for the small retailer of women’s clothing are the “trunk shows.” A designer is selected to present their line of fashion; personal invitations are sent out to individuals asking them to bring a friend, upscale refreshments are provided and the evening turns out to be fun, lucrative and more potential clients are found.

    There is room for everyone, and great customer service can help us all survive these tumultuous times.

    photo credit: jfgornet

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