No matter how good you are as an agent, sooner or later even the best of clients can go ballistic. Whether your clients are being cranky or have completely blown a gasket over an issue, here’s how to cope.
Several years ago there were two multimillion-dollar properties in our market that had been listed with a number of different agents. The seller’s pattern was to list for about 45-60 days and then dump the listing agents. Fortunately, when my partner and I won the listings, we sold the smaller of the two houses for $2.5 million. The larger house was brand-new, and in order to pay off the construction loans, the seller needed about $1 million more than the property was worth. We were hoping for a short-sale offer on the second house, but the lender was more interested in foreclosing.
After six weeks, I received a call from the seller. He was irate over something my partner and I had no control over. After politely listening to his diatribe, I said to him, "Mr. Seller, it was never my intention to make you angry. What can I do to fix it?"
His response: "Well, uh, I’m not mad at you — it’s your partner I’m mad at!"
The bottom line was he wanted out of the listing. Given the foreclosure was only weeks away, our brokerage agreed to release him. Ultimately, the foreclosure went through.
Being able to handle cranky clients is a skill every Realtor needs to develop. In most cases, the underlying cause of cranky or obnoxious behavior is fear. Becoming angry, arguing or trying to prove your point with a cranky client normally does very little to improve the situation. A better approach is to use the strategy suggested by the conversation above. Notice the following key points that are essential in coping with any type of cranky client.
1. Listening is critical
When someone is angry, the most important thing you can do is to listen. Neurolinguistic programming (NLP) practitioners suggest that when someone is angry, it’s smart to use a "pattern interrupt." This means politely saying, "Would you mind pausing for a moment? I would like to get a pen and paper so I can write down everything that you are saying." When you write down what your client says, you send a nonverbal message that what your client is saying is important to you. …CONTINUED
As you write, pause periodically and read back what the client has said, just to make sure you haven’t missed anything. The trick is to read back your client’s words in a calm, soothing voice. As you listen and repeat what your client says, the anger generally winds down.
2. Never say, "I’m sorry"
Notice that in the example above, there was no "I’m sorry" or "I apologize." An apology requires an explanation. When we try to explain why something went wrong, the net effect can be to escalate rather than to calm the situation. This results because most explanations become excuses. As you try to justify your part in what went wrong, even if it wasn’t your fault, you’re now adding more energy to the situation rather than diffusing it. When you try to explain away what happened, it’s as if you’re saying to the client, "Look, I know I goofed, but there’s no reason for you to be angry about it."
3. "What can I do to fix it?"
Rather than apologizing, the best approach is to become proactive about fixing the problem rather than trying to dodge the blame. This is especially true for American clients.
According to Clotaire Rapaille, a marketing consultant to dozens of Fortune 100 companies and author of the book, "The Culture Code," expectations in American culture differ greatly from expectations in countries such as Germany, Switzerland and Japan.
Americans don’t expect things to work perfectly at first, while cultural expectations may differ in other parts of the world, the book reveals. What Americans do expect, however, is that if something does go wrong — it is fixed. In fact, Rapaille’s research shows Americans actually value someone more highly when that person has fixed a problem rather than if the person got it completely correct the first time.
What does this mean for your real estate business? First, if one of your clients gets cranky, remember that in most cases, the underlying cause is fear. If you become angry or upset, you will aggravate the situation rather than improve it. Second, if your client becomes angry, you have the perfect opportunity to actually improve your image in your client’s eyes.
Listen to your client’s concerns, write them down, and do your best to figure out a way to rectify the situation. Finally, don’t be surprised that by fixing the situation, that cranky client may suddenly become a raving fan.
Bernice Ross, CEO of RealEstateCoach.com, is a national speaker, trainer and author of "Real Estate Dough: Your Recipe for Real Estate Success" and other books. You can reach her at Bernice@RealEstateCoach.com and find her on Twitter: @bross.
What’s your opinion? Leave your comments below or send a letter to the editor. To contact the writer, click the byline at the top of the story.