Real Estate: Customer Service
Being in real estate doesn’t mean just helping buyers and sellers with property. There is so much more that goes into being a realtor and creating a good experience for the client. Caring for your clients should be a top business priority as the business of real estate is built on repeat customers and referrals. It’s important to understand the mindset of the buyer and seller in order to figure out what each party needs from you in order to consider the transaction a success. Obviously everyone wants a closed deal but you can’t be so focused on getting the deal closed that you forget about listening to the client and what their needs are.
Any company aiming to stay in business must make its customers happy. In the real estate industry, this can be a thorny process, because selling or buying a property means big bucks, legal intricacies, and often lengthy client-realtor relationships.
Even so, the basics of solid customer relations haven't changed much over the years. The difference is, today's realtors can enhance client service with a few high-tech tricks. The most successful real estate operations consistently employ key strategies blending both cyber and personal elements.
- Use CRM software. While customer relations management software has been around for a number of years, some products specifically target the real estate profession. The best of these gives brokers everything they need to know about their customers in easily accessible databanks. The goal: To enhance client service by increasing an agent or broker's accuracy, efficiency and productivity. Functions may include asset and lease management; client contact information, financial records and transaction history; correspondence and document generation; automated telephone and electronic communication; and synchronicity with hardware such as desk and laptop computers. As is the case with most software genres, prices fluctuate widely - starting under $100 for off-the-shelf programs and running into the thousands for Web-based, subscription and fully supported systems.
- Go for a customer-friendly website. The great majority of real estate companies own websites, but not all achieve the same standard of customer service. In addition to full information regarding agents and listed properties, some of the most effective pages give clients (both existing and potential) free, value-added benefits. Some leading companies, for instance, allow registered users to review, critique or comment on any of the properties listed on their websites. Besides providing valuable feedback to the realtor, the input also serves as bargaining leverage (and sometimes, a reality check) for the potential buyer or seller. Other firms offer a free downloadable tool designed to display property information directly on a computer's desktop. After entering specifications on exactly what type of real estate they're looking for, buyers receive the latest listings without the bother of time-consuming Internet searches. Certain real estate firms even offer mortgage payment calculators, weekly real estate tips, loan status updates, neighborhood and school district information, community calendars and local government resources. Web page content providers usually offer these sorts of upgrades on a subscription basis, with prepaid annual fees starting around $50 for single components, and more for partial or full packages.
- Be courteous and professional. Industry research has identified several characteristics clients seek in their realtors, brokers and agents. These are reliability, assurance (that is, trustworthiness and competence), empathy and responsiveness. Customers want to be comfortable with their real estate company's image, as well. Company representatives, office space and PR materials should always reflect the business in a positive manner.
- Require that staff build customer satisfaction. The biggest producers in the real estate business enlist their staff in improving client relations. This isn't hard to do when bonuses or other rewards are the incentives. But sometimes, sharing client feedback, good or bad, is what it takes to improve the bottom line. Some of the more successful firms, for example, distribute comprehensive surveys to all customers at the end of every completed transaction. After reviewing the findings with managers, the results often are passed along to the sales force. By seeing the responses firsthand, agents know exactly how to gear their performance for optimal client satisfaction. Other firms use survey results to cultivate positive client relationships. When feedback is unsatisfactory, the firm's owner personally reviews results with the appropriate agent. Then, the two collaborate on strategies to either improve the situation, or to make sure it doesn't happen again.
- Handle irate clients graciously. In a perfect world, business carries on without a glitch, and the customer's always happy. The truth is, however, even the best companies must deal with disgruntled clients from time to time. The key to navigating these situations unscathed lies in a few simple tactics:
Never ignore complaints. Even a minor grievance from a single client may indicate a habit or behavior the realtor needs to address.
Take the client's perspective. Some customer complaints lack validity from the realtor's point of view. Nonetheless, clients wouldn't be griping if they didn't think they had a point. Rather than react defensively, the savvy realtor will try to see the issue as the client does.
Listen. Clients appreciate a sympathetic listener, even if their complaint is unfounded. When the customer is right, an open mind and a closed mouth can help a realtor learn from mistakes.
Promise carefully. Too often, realtors dealing with angry customers promise solutions impossible to deliver. Thorough research of a problem or complaint before taking action allows more focused, realistic and effective corrective measures.