EPMEPM: Customer Service

The “Where” and “Why” of Customer Service

It seems to confirm what a lot of real estate agents may have known all along; that good old fashioned ‘word of mouth’ or ‘referral’ business is the key.

In the last issue, we defined the overall concept of great customer service. With an understanding of just ‘what’ customer service involves, we now move on to the ‘where’ and ‘why,’ beginning with a closer look at where great service lives in your business. Story by Steven Brett.

As a business owner, you need to be acutely aware of these contact points because your customer may only ever see you through one of them.

Get the ‘kissing points’ in your business right

What do I mean by ‘kissing points’? Nautically speaking, the point at which a ships keel touches or ‘kisses’ the bottom at low tide in a river or harbour is historically called the kissing point. As you would imagine in early maritime days, knowing the location of this point before you hit it was very useful information. Likewise for your business, it is very useful to know the points where your business touches your customers. The kissing point then is every single point of interaction that your business and/or your staff has with a customer or potential customer. These kissing points form the perceived attitude of your business, its personality if you like.

As a business owner, you need to be acutely aware of these contact points because your customer may only ever see you through one of them. Begin by compiling a list of every point where interaction between your business and your customers occurs. It should include the obvious – receptionist answers a rental enquiry, sales person shows a property, etc. and the not so obvious – tenant calls to report a maintenance issue, property manager does the arrears calls, and many more. After compiling the list, you can begin to rank your performance at each point, taking note of who in the business is involved in each interaction, which type of customer the contact is with and what impact you feel the kissing point has on the customer.

Mapping and understanding the true impact of each contact in your business will allow you to identify those that have room for improvement. It will also uncover those that you may not have really seen as client-facing contacts. Highlighting the impact each of these interactions will lead to a focus on the more important client interactions occurring within your office.

However, identifying or mapping your business’ kissing points will only get you half way. We all know that it is the people in your business that create the interactions, positive and negative, that translate into the customer experience offered by your business. Knowing that your business development officer should be projecting the professionalism and customer-focussed attitude of your property management department to prospective landlords is not enough to actually make it happen. When we hear or read examples of great customer service they always include an individual, a person who delivered the service, not the company. Furthermore, it is almost invariably the case that the person responsible for the great customer service experience was going outside the customer’s perception of that individual’s role. So, how do you encourage individuals in your business to give great service at all the kissing points?

John Tschohl, acclaimed business author says in his book, Achieving Excellence through Customer Service, “You must give your employees the authority to bend and break company rules in order to take care of your customers.” It follows then, that real estate business owners that wish to encourage great customer service in their teams need to empower their people to think for themselves when it comes to the kissing points. They should encourage their people to act independently and be flexible in providing customers with a great experience. It is the individuals who feel confident to step out of their ‘normal role’ and go the extra mile that will build your business’ reputation for great customer service. Remember great customer service is never an accident. It takes a formal plan and some hard work to achieve as well as dedication and commitment to maintain it. Accept the challenge, become an exponent of great customer service.

Understand the value of the happy customer

Studies done by the London School of Economics have found that ‘word of mouth’ marketing in your business is a significant predictor of annual sales growth.

In the modern business environment, the value of the ‘happy customer’ is rising at an ever increasing rate. The more recent use of the internet for third party opinions has added fuel to this fire. Studies done last year in the UK have shown that people are far more likely to believe the opinion of a third party source than advertising or marketing done by a business. It seems to confirm what a lot of real estate agents may have known all along; that good old fashioned ‘word of mouth’ or ‘referral’ business is the key.

We all know that a bad customer experience can lead to an unhappy customer who will go forth and tell others of their bad experience but it does not necessarily follow that the happy customer will go forth and tell others of their good experience.

It is important then to build ‘word of mouth’ and grow referrals yourself, but how can you do this? There are some mantras of customer service that say “under promise and over deliver” or “go beyond their expectations”, and there are many more, but studies have shown that even the best customer service teams only generate advocacy in 15% of their clients. How can you grow this in your business to get as many happy customers ‘working’ for you as possible?

Here’s a few tried and tested methods:

Firstly, identify or locate the ‘happy customers’ in your business. They could be landlords, tenants, buyers, vendors or others. To find them, you need to look for them. Sometimes they will identify themselves, but often they are silently impressed with your services. You could use a client service questionnaire or customer survey.

Secondly, find out what triggers or triggered their contentment. It may be your team’s professionalism, or the systems you use in your office. It may be the quality of the information and reports you provide them. Whatever it is, identify it and quantify it as best you can. You can do this with a customer feedback session, essentially talk with your customers and get testimonials.

Thirdly, amplify their feedback. They won’t go out and tell everyone in your marketplace that your business has impressed them or made them a happy customer, so you have to do it for them. You can do this with the marketing tools already in your office. If you are using REST Professional you can add global comments to statement runs, you can mail merge to letters, bulk email and even sms/text from within the system.

Knowing that there is a direct correlation between ‘word of mouth’ marketing and annual sales growth, should empower you to use all the systems and tools available to you in leveraging your happy customers and growing your business revenues.

Steven Brett, National Sales Manager, Rockend is a well respected real estate practitioner and highly regarded industry trainer. He has worked in residential and commercial sales, strata and property management and is known for his expertise in business management and sales practice. Steven currently leads the new business team throughout Australia and New Zealand tasked with driving Rockend’s continued growth.

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