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What real estate sales has taught me about customer service

Join me at my open house Sunday 3-5My real estate partner, Erika Atkins and I work very hard on our customer service skills. We know how important it is to be able to listen to what our customers want, how to understand what they need, and then  how to help our clients and customers achieve their real estate goals. Some of our expertise has been gained through education, knowledge of our product, and having the ability to gauge the ever-changing real estate market so we are always on top of our game. There are, however other skills we have developed which have also helped us to make significant strides towards our success.

Let us begin with smiling. No matter how bad your mood is when you wake up, going to work is where the bad mood has to stop. People want to associate with happy people, and just through body language, one’s mood is identified by a customer. How many times have any of us called an organization and the person who answers the phone – that first contact – impressed you with a true lilt in her voice; a genuine expression of happiness even though you had no idea who she may have been? Bringing happiness to one’s business is a learned behavior, and one that pleases customers.

Another customer service skill, not always so well publicized or discussed is our ability to work well with our coworkers. In a real estate office, where everyone essentially competes against everyone else, there is still the need to be able to help each other. Maybe there comes a time when you need extra help on the computer for a new program; maybe there is a time you need your floor-time covered, or maybe there is a time you want to work hand in hand with your coworkers for a humanitarian project. In my office, we often work together for the benefit of the Quantum House – a home that lessens the burden for families whose children are receiving treatment in Palm Beach County for serious medical conditions. It’s another “feel good” activity where one actually joins in the camaraderie of  their coworkers – getting to know other people better, and making a difference to someone in need.

And finally there is the positive outlook that each and every one of us need to pursue in order to promote what we do and love outside of the office venue. It is the way we share our knowledge, whether it means giving someone a name of a reputable moving company, a phone number for a reliable babysitter, or spending a Saturday morning cleaning debris off one of our neighborhood beaches. It is the positive approach we have toward life that makes each one of us individuals who really want to do something good for others without having always to be compensated.

photo credit: The Miami Story

Don’t call them complaints – call it “feedback”

Friendly neighborhood in CACustomer feedback should be revered by business owners. What better way to find out if you are continuously meeting the needs of your customers in the most efficient and best respected ways? It’s a rare business that never has a complaint, but the negative connotation of the word tends to bring down our spirits, so why not use the positive spin and label it “feedback?” After all, it’s not to be taken as a criticism; it’s meant to keep us informed and help us improve.

Of primary importance is not to get defensive. Take notes and ask questions. Find out what frustrated your customer because if you don’t, how will you ever be able to elicit more positive feedback? Of course, you don’t want to offer excuses or blame. Customers really don’t care why it happened; they just want you to fix it. Start with apologizing, and take the responsibility for moving past objections by finding a solution. You want to recognize the customer was hurt, and you want to assure someone you will do all that is possible to correct the problem.

Recently I asked some of my colleagues for examples of what not to say when dealing with customer “feedback.” See what you think:

  • Don’t ever say, “I’m sorry that you feel that way.” According to Rebecca S., manager of The Limited, a clothing store, that kind of statement translates into telling a customer you don’t care they’re unhappy. Rebecca changed that statement to say, “I’m very sorry this happened. I will correct this problem for you.”
  • Don’t ever say, “We’ve seen worse.” You might as well be waving good-bye to your customer. Address the problem immediately, and make sure you have apologized. How you are going to remedy the situation is the solution; not that your staff has done worse.
  • Don’t ever say, “This has never happened to us before.” Margie M., owner of a shoe boutique received an Italian designer shipment of expensive shoes. She sold a pair to a new customer, and within a week the customer was back because the entire side of the shoe had separated from the platform.  “It never did happen before,” Margie said, “but I told the customer how sorry I was, went into the back and gave her a replacement pair. I didn’t want to make excuses; I just wanted her to be happy. My boutique is extremely upbeat, and I actually love that designer. Mistakes do happen, but I thought discretion was the better part of my sales presentation.”
  • Don’t ever say, “I can’t do anything about it.” Again, just wave good-bye as your competition greets your previous customer at the door.

In the end, thank your customer for the feedback. Since 90 percent of customers never complain, and just don’t come back, feel privileged someone has taken the time, and let them know you appreciate how they have gone out of their way to help you do better. If you want to keep your customers and build customer loyalty, don’t let your customers down.

photo credit: La Citta Vita

How to establish a customer service culture

Chase BankCustomers frequently offer feedback; sometimes it is solicited, and sometimes it comes back as a complaint or a question. No matter how the delivery, it comes down to what you do with the feedback that keeps customers and affords an organization the opportunity to build customer loyalty.

More often customers are displeased with a company’s service than with the product. When an organization disappoints a customer, it becomes personal. For instance, my recent experience at Chase Bank in Palm Beach Gardens is an excellent example of what went wrong and what should have been done to correct the problem. Briefly, I needed to see a banking representative to move one account to another. There were six personal representatives; two were involved with customers, and the other four were doing something else, but definitely not serving customers. It was during my lunch hour; there was a general attitude of indifference. I couldn’t wait any longer, and notified a teller I wanted someone to call me to make an appointment for the next day. No one ever called; no one ever apologized, and I wound up at another branch of Chase a few days later and closed all of my accounts.

Analyzing what went wrong with the bank, it seems someone lost sight of customer importance. Customers should not have to wait while representatives are doing work at their desks. In order to establish a customer service culture, the emphasis needs to be placed on the customer. All departments need to attend to a customer so their problems can be solved and someone is not getting shuffled back and forth within the company or just left sitting in a chair wondering about the cavalier attitude of the employees. By that time, customer frustration has grown; surely not a positive experience for anyone.

Someone should have come over to me and explained why I was not being served. Someone should have come over to me and introduced themselves and worked on my customer needs. There should have been trained staff members available that could have addressed my growing frustration before I became a disgruntled customer. After all, statistically 90 percent of dissatisfied customers will not return, and one unhappy customer will tell nine others.

Here are a few basic rules to help establish a customer service culture that can lead to success:

  • Make your customer the most important part of your work. That means put the other work away when a customer is waiting.
  • Train all personnel so they can attend to a customer.
  • Staff members need to have resources and the training to be able to resolve customer problems. Employees need the training so they are equipped to take action when others are engaged in business.
  • Bring customer service to a personal level by greeting people by name.
  • Have resolutions and compromises available. It’s not always just “yes” or “no” and be flexible. Picture yourself as the customer and how you would feel if placed in a similar situation.
  • Reward staff members for outstanding service.
  • Ask customers what you can do to improve customer service.

The ultimate reward for companies that provide excellent service is that we keep coming back. Today I was at the Wachovia Bank in Jupiter, setting up a new account. The staff provided efficient, friendly service; exactly what you expect from a well-run bank.

photo credit: paulswansen

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