John Cunningham: In service of others

It is well known that all great achievers, no matter the endeavour, have one common trait: they have a clear purpose. The same thing applies to real estate. But do we really understand what purpose is all about in a service industry, or are we just considering our own purpose? John Cunningham says putting the consumer’s interests first must be non-negotiable.

At our core, we are a service industry and that means we are here to serve the interests of our principal: the people who pay for our services. And the most effective way to serve that purpose is to take care of our customers.

But do we individually and collectively have the guiding principles in place necessary for that outcome to be achieved? The answer, in my view, is that we do not.

A true professional, no matter the vocation, has a set of core values; the guiding principles that apply to everything they do in their daily life, both personal and business. These values set up how they function and behave, and determine the lines in the sand they do not cross. The best way they achieve this is by stepping into their consumer’s shoes and taking a good hard look at themselves from the consumer’s perspective. What impressions are they leaving, what impact are they having and what value are they adding?

We talk about this frequently in the real estate industry, but are we really stepping into our customer’s shoes – or are we still seeing our own perspective and justifying our behaviours and performance accordingly? There is no better example of this than the recent Victorian Underquoting cases, where alleged justifications for certain behaviours were all about a methodology for a means to an end that had become an industry standard system, regardless of whether it was right or wrong.

One thing I have never been able to understand is how many in our industry have failed to see the connection between the manner in which we perform and the longevity of our careers.

The greater the service and connection we provide, the greater our success; the greater the clarity of communication, the greater the confidence there is in our advice; and the greater our integrity, the greater our reputation grows. It is fundamentally the simplest form of common sense and ethical business practice that leads to a Trusted Advisor status for the person involved.

When trust is in play it instils confidence in the consumer, and that confidence creates engagement and commitment to your product and service offering.

To quote Mark McLeod, “If an industry loses connection it loses its future”, and it is our future that is at stake.

In this industry, we are so focused on the next deal, the quick gratification and the dollar that we forget our true purpose. GCI appears to be the current goal and, being a competitive bunch, we strive for this goal, often at a huge personal and professional cost. Trails of destruction can be left in our wake; train wrecks and burnt bridges are the results of dissatisfied consumers, who may have got the result or secured the property but were left wanting by the manner in which it was achieved.

As Chris Hanley says, “Good people doing good works is what I look for”, and they are the ones who don’t leave trails of destruction. Instead, they leave a trail of advocates, and that surely must be our preferred goal. And when you consider the personal damage that comes in the form of no balance in family and work life, poor physical and mental health and poor business relations, either way, it is not healthy for anyone.

Imagine a world where awards were given out based on Net Promoter Scores and client reviews that determine not only the efficiency of an agent but their effectiveness and their ability to connect and deliver. In my own business, for example, our major quarterly awards are based on three principles: Service to Clients, Service to Community and Service to Team, with the top annual award being Team Champion, as voted by our peers. Top performance is, of course, also acknowledged but it is not the main focus.

There are a number of rating agencies out there, with REIWA adopting the ‘Real Satisfied’ rating system for its Agent Finder platform, and others are starting to gain some traction so change is in the wind.

So, what needs to change? What needs to happen for our purpose to become clear?

I believe the answer lies in leadership, and in particular empowering leadership, where we are amplifying rather than diminishing those we lead and influence. Nothing changes unless the leadership forges that positive change.

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John Cunningham

John Cunningham is the Principal of Cunninghams in NSW, and Chairman of the Professionalism Committee REIA.