Everyone wants their clients to say good things about them and their business. So what does it take to create an evangelist, as opposed to a vigilante?

In today’s Web-based world, the best way to market your business is still through word of mouth. There’s nothing better than having someone who loves your services singing your praises to everyone he or she meets.

There are various levels of positive word-of-mouth testimonials in the real estate industry. The most basic level includes those who like your services and will use you again. These people, however, don’t actively share information about you with others.

The second level includes clients who will tell others about their experience with you when asked, but don’t go out of their way to share that experience unless someone else initiates the conversation.

The third level includes raving fans, those who willingly tell others about the great experience they had with you. Raving fans, however, differ from evangelists.

A dictionary definition of "evangelist" is "any zealous advocate of a cause." The word "evangelist" originates from the Greek word meaning "bringer of good news." The key difference here is that an evangelist actively goes out of his or her way to recruit people to use your services. Evangelists are not only raving fans, they actively seek to play a role in helping you succeed.

On the other hand, negative word of mouth usually travels more quickly and can easily go viral online. In terms of negative word of mouth, there are those who won’t say anything unless asked a direct question.

The second group may be unhappy enough to post a negative review about you, but won’t make an effort to turn it into a full-blown campaign.

The third group is the most dangerous. According to Jackie Huba in her book "Creating Customer Evangelists," the worst type of word of mouth comes from what she terms "vigilantes." While evangelists actively seek to play a part in helping you build your business, a vigilante actively seeks to harm your business by making multiple negative comments about you in as many places as possible.

What can you do to create evangelists for your business and to avoid run-ins with vigilantes? Here are some suggestions.

1. Have standards about clients with whom you work
Have you ever felt that twinge in your stomach that made you feel uneasy about a particular client? Have you ever worked with someone who criticized everything you did? Did you ever hear that little voice in your head say, "Don’t work with this client?" In each of these cases, you are increasing the probability of working with a vigilante rather than an evangelist.

Most agents will work with anyone who will work with them. An important point to realize is that not everyone is your client. When you have standards about the clients you work with and refer those who are not a good fit to other agents, you increase the probability of having raving fans and evangelists who will actively help you build your business. If someone lies, bends the rules or asks you to compromise your standards, walk away. Let someone who has lower standards deal with this person.

2. Avoid procrastinating about transaction issues
Many agents are reluctant to address difficult issues directly. Instead, they procrastinate and hope that the problem will somehow take care of itself. A better approach is to be direct with the client: Describe what happened; outline any options you can think of for coping with the problem; ask if your client has any ideas that are better; and then ask, "What is the best way to fix the problem?" Clients usually don’t get as angry when the agent is willing to listen and to jointly help them find a solution for addressing the issue.

3. Conduct a post-closing survey
There are a number of reasons for doing a post-closing survey. First, agents and companies that conduct these surveys generally have an approval rate of 92-97 percent. Second, if there is an issue, you can contact the client and ask what you can do to fix the issue before it grows into a lawsuit or the person creates bad press for your business.

If your company doesn’t already do a post-closing survey, you can create your own by using the questions below:

  • What was the most important reason that caused you to hire me?
  • When you think of my representation during your real estate transaction, what are the first things that come to your mind?
  • What could I have done better?
  • Do you know anyone who may be thinking of buying or selling property?
  • May I use you as a reference?
  • Would you mind doing a video testimonial for me?

4. When you do encounter a vigilante …
If you are attacked online, there are several ways you can defend yourself. Companies such as StepRep.com and ReputationDefender.com assist their clients in pushing negative posts about them off the front pages of the search engines.

Another strategy is to post at least 10 video testimonials from past clients over a four- to eight-week period. It’s particularly important that these are posted on as many sites as possible, especially sites such as Yelp.com.

When you do find a raving fan or an evangelist, treat that person like gold. Do everything you can to support him and express your gratitude often. He likes you enough to help you grow your business. Be sure you reciprocate in every possible way that you can.

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