As information becomes more and more widely available, real estate becomes more and more a game of great customer service. And great customer service can be learned, but it cannot be faked.
This insight came to me this morning as I stood in my local Starbucks — dripping with the remains of a tall coffee the counter girl had just spilled on me. It was one of those terrible accidents — she fumbled the cup with her hands, and it just went sploosh — all over my laptop (possibly the most expensive thing I own) and, of course, me.
And, yes, I was wearing white linen shorts.
So the people at Starbucks corporate offered me a $30 gift card — five hours later. The people at Starbucks local didn’t apologize. They handed me dry paper towels, but not wet ones. They refused me access to a phone to call my husband. They made an incident report, and wouldn’t give me a copy.
Honestly, if they’d just offered to pay my dry cleaning bill and looked sympathetic, I would have been fine. But you know what? They didn’t — and they weren’t sympathetic.
Am I Cruella de Ville? I tip sometimes, I thought.
And then I thought: if I were a guy in a pinstriped suit they’d fuss over me.
But the point is, you can’t fake sympathy. And some of great customer service is just having that warm, human reaction. If the big city has inhibited you, maybe you can learn ways to uncover it again, but you have to have the kernel of it somewhere.
I just closed my first deal, with my celebrity (one of them was in one of the top 10 movies of last year) renters. At the first meeting, I brought homemade lemonade. Because I was kowtowing? No. Because I was hot. The temperature was in the nineties, there were four apartments to see, and I wanted lemonade. And the warm, human part of me thought: everybody likes lemonade.
I had a referral call me the other day. A renter; a thousand dollars on the hoof.
“Janet said you’d be great,” he said. “Now we already have a line on a small one-bedroom in our preferred neighborhood, with outdoor space.”
“I can’t beat that,” I told him. “Grab it.”
Of course that rental didn’t really exist, and now I have a new client as loyal as a collie. All I did was think at the time, “wow, it would be cool to have outdoor space.”
Past couple of weeks I’ve been running around with a Canadian client. She’s relocating to New York for a job, and she’s in a hurry; she’s ready to buy anything with a closet.
So last night we saw a condo that was OK. It was sort of an eight, you know? On a scale of 10. It had closets and a nice kitchen.
But she wasn’t sure about the block. I wasn’t sure about the block — we were out of my home pond, and in Brooklyn.
And so I said, “well, if you like it, you have to go back at night.”
She protested. Couldn’t she just buy the thing? She’s in a hurry, right?
And the warm, human part of me thought, no, your parents wouldn’t let you buy an apartment without checking out the neighborhood thoroughly, I can’t either.
Friends of mine who live in the neighborhood have since reported the block is anchored by a little café/performance space. When I told her that, my words carried total authority — because I hadn’t just made up a song-and-dance before. And all I was doing was golden-ruling it.
There is so much that I am bad at: my realty business is half-time, and I hate mornings. New construction bores me; I get lost wandering the Internet; I don’t have great organizational systems; and I am probably mean at the wrong times.
But at least I think looking for a home is stressful, and I want only my enemies to feel stress. I am aware that people don’t have to give me their money, and I’m grateful when they do (or even intend to).
At one of the first office jobs I ever had — a summer internship in Boston — one of the managers handed me David Ogilvy’s “Confessions of an Advertising Man.” And I still remember that line: “the customer is not a moron, she is your wife.”
What can I say? It was the fifties, and he was a man you wouldn’t spill coffee on. Still, his words hold out hope for the small-business person: “You make the best products you can,” he wrote. “And grow as fast as you deserve to.”
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