As a consumer I have learned to accept lousy service, and most of the time I don’t even notice it. Complaining is a waste of time. I just keep my expectations low. Companies that claim to provide excellent service are often the biggest disappointments. They raise my expectations and then fail to deliver.

Sometimes the reason for poor customer service is because the company or "brand" has decided what it stands for and what constitutes customer service, and it isn’t always what I am looking for.

One example of that is the local office supply store, where there seem to be employees offering to help me in every aisle, whether I need help or not.

But when I go to the cash register there is a long line because most of the staff are scattered throughout the store and there are not enough employees operating the registers. I hate going to that particular store, but it is close and they usually have what I need.

I can almost imagine the conversation in the boardroom when the people who manage the stores decided that customer service is about stalking shoppers and offering to help when they don’t need any help — and then making them stand in a lengthy line to pay.

There was probably an expert present advising the decision-makers on how to make it better. That’s not my idea of customer service — more likely it’s the idea of someone who has never had to shop in one of the company’s stores.

Customer service becomes a string of broken promises. Don’t tell me how great you are — show me.

Some classic examples:

  • The item that is supposed to be delivered in the four-hour window comes a day late because of some unforeseen problem.
  • The item on sale that brought me into the store is no longer available.
  • The plumber with the speedy service guarantee has never seen a faucet like mine, and it will take at least a week to get the part.
  • At the electronics company that brags about its warranty, call center employees sometimes put customers on hold for an hour so that they can carry on a personal conversation. And when the caller gets to a human, the caller is asked to recite a 30-digit serial number that is in tiny lettering on the device, and in a place that can be found only by reading instructions.

After going through all of that, the call is dropped and the customer receives a satisfaction survey via email.

I am not making this up, and the company that does it insists that it is customer service. It’s enough to make you cry.

I am amazed and blown away on those rare occasions when I experience great service. Last week I had some carpet cleaned in a rental unit. The cleaners showed up at the beginning of the four-hour window but called first to say they were on the way.

They quickly cleaned the carpet, and when they were done it was actually clean. All a carpet cleaning service has to do to get rave reviews from me is to clean a carpet — which is what I hired the service to do.

There is a lot of talk about customer service but so few good examples anywhere. When I ask recent homebuyers what they think about the homebuying process they are far more likely to complain about inaccurate information on the Internet, or agents who do not answer their phones, than the quality or availability of apps that they can use in their search or how tech-savvy their agent was.

I don’t want to be like the people at the office supply store who have lost touch with their customers. So much of the advice I read on how to serve real estate clients comes from people who have products and services to sell.

They may not have much, if any, contact with buyers or sellers, or any numbers to back up their claims.

My goal is for each client to be so happy with my services that the client recommends me to others. And sure — if they buy another home in their lifetime I would love to work with them again. I want them to feel the same way about me as I felt about the carpet cleaners.

The direct contact we have with consumers as real estate professionals is invaluable. As agents we can learn from our experience with each and every one of our clients.

We just have to ask the right questions and listen carefully to the answers. We also have the opportunity each and every day to provide outstanding customer service in a world where the bar is mighty low.

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