What business are you in? If you said "real estate," or "customer service," I understand. But — how can I say this kindly? — that thinking is so yesterday.

Today is the day you will remember as the day you finally understood your role as a real estate agent. What a great way to close out 2011 and bring in 2012!

For years, I thought my business was brokering real estate. After all, I am called a "real estate broker." Plus, since I was not paid until my real estate deals closed and the checks cleared, I considered myself a "salesperson."

Then one day I started a survey on LinkedIn asking other agents what they thought was the No. 1 thing needed to learn to be successful in real estate. I thought they would tell me to be a good closer, or learn scripts, or learn to prospect.

Not so. Almost to an agent, more than 100 of them said — in one way or another — that I was in the customer service business. Excellent customer service is our game. What?!

I stumbled over this idea because of the prospect of trashing my large inventory of sales books, tapes, CDs and videos. And forget about being a one-time closer. This was not easy for me.

Plus, being from Orlando, Fla., I am aware of the thousands of customer service workers, most of whom are paid an hourly rate or — worse yet — work for tips. I couldn’t see me selling homes for tips, so I was slow to accept the idea that I was in the customer service business. I even wrote a column about my resistance to the customer service idea.

But as of today, I have — after 35 years in real estate — come to grips with the real business I must be in. If you are under 30, you already know the "truth" I am about to share.

I learned this at a recent WordPress event: The presenter discussed website visitors’ need for a great experience within nanoseconds. I must admit it was compelling.

Customer service vs. visitor experience

The business we must be in today, first and foremost, is not customer service — it is about "visitor experience."

The fact is they are visitors first, prospects second, buyers third, and customers fourth.

It is about visitors’ experience at your website, then their experiences with you before the contract is effective.

Anywhere along the "experience" line, the prospect may emotionally "click out" from the experience you are providing, on or off of your website, and then physically click out.

So there you have it: Customer service is the second step of the process.

If those real estate prospects — ready, able and willing ones — are landing on your website and don’t like the experience, they will leave. Possibly forever.

You may never have the opportunity to provide any level of customer service to this group.

Why not? Because they are not going to become a prospect, much less a customer.

Think about this from a commission standpoint. Suppose just one of these visitors liked the experience, contacted you, liked the experience on the phone, worked with you to view a home that met their needs (they liked the showing experience), and ultimately purchased a home?

How many potential buyers might you be losing at your website, because — as well-designed as it might be — you are not getting a high rate of non-first-time visitors, and your bounce rate (the rate at which folks are ditching your site after the first page they peruse) is much too high.

Actually, I did not figure this out by myself. Jane Wells, director of customer experience for WordPress, helped me understand this, as did Christopher Lauzon, director of customer happiness for website-hosting firm WP Engine, who joined our conversation. Just their titles give them away.

Do we see a trend here?

"Yes, but that is about technology," you might say. True. But, it does not matter. We all know how fast we leave a website if we do not find it useful and easy to navigate. We are not looking for customer service at that point — we are looking for the experience.

Once we like the experience, we become much more likely to become a customer.

Lets’ bring this home.

Does your website offer "great customer experience"? How do you answer your phone or answer your email? What can you do when showing homes to make the day a "great experience" first?

You cannot provide customer service until your prospects become customers. Until then, we are in the prospect experience business.

Once the contract is effective, customer service beyond the buyer’s expectations must raise its beautiful head and become the fundamental reason your business blossoms. Until then, experience matters.

What do you think?

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