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Realtors could school retailers on customer service

Realtor Notebook

I’m not sure why people like to pick on real estate agents when they talk about customer service. Great or even good service is rare everywhere.

In some industries, getting help — or what they call "customer service" — often involves being put on hold forever, and then having your call transferred a few times before talking to somebody who can solve you’re problem. When it’s all over you’re asked to fill out a customer satisfaction survey that appears to have nothing to do with the service sought or provided. 

Real estate agents can’t get away with that. We don’t get paid just for showing up at work — we have to sell real estate, and it has to close. We can’t afford to just let clients that we’re able to serve walk away.

In the world of brick-and-mortar retail stores, customer service is hard to find. Last week I went to local chain-type department store to buy shoes. As I made my way to the shoe department, I was accosted by a young woman who asked me if I owned my own home. She offered to have a sales person come over and give me some free estimates on various home improvements.

When I got to the shoe department, it took me quite awhile to find shoes that fit. I was afraid that I would be late for my next appointment. I waited in line at the register and when it was finally my turn, I told the clerk I was in a hurry and that I just want to pay for the shoes and leave. 

She moved at a glacial pace and asked me if I wanted to put them on my store credit card. I said no, I just want to pay and leave. She asked me if I had a store credit card. I said no. She said I would save 15 percent on my purchase if I opened one today.

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She rang up my purchase. I swiped my card in the card reader and a short survey appeared on the card swipe thingy. Eventually I was able to pay for my purchase, and was sent on my way with about 23 feet of paper cash register tape advertising everything under the sun.

There was a survey on one of the sheets with questions about the service I had received. I honestly don’t recall receiving any service — unless they count the two employees who were standing in the way when I wanted to look at the shoes, and who moved away when I said excuse me.

It is nice to shop local but I plan to order my next pair of shoes from Zappos. There I can select the shoes, find the size and just pay for them. I can return them with the greatest of ease if my color or style preferences change before they arrive.

Last month I tried to buy a jacket from a local specialty store that carries a well-known brand. I went into the store because I saw the "sale" signs in the window. I was the only person in the store shopping, and there were two clerks.

I could not find price tags on the jacket I liked. I asked a clerk how much. Apparently, even though it is a small store, she did not know the price. She told me that the price tag was in the pocket.

I still wasn’t able to find a price tag. I asked if she could tell me if the jacket was less than $200. She laughed, and told me that I would not be able to find a jacket in the store for less than $200. I can not imagine treating someone who asks me for the price of a home that way.

I left the store and took the time to write a review on Yelp, which is something I rarely do. I found the same or a very similar jacket on the Eddie Bauer website for less than $200. I had no problem finding the price or the right size and color and I never had to deal with a condescending human being.

I am looking forward to long hikes in subzero weather in my new jacket. OK, I made that last part up. But I am very pleased with the quality of the jacket, and how easy it was to buy because there weren’t any annoying people getting in the way.

It makes me sad when I see empty storefronts, but I hate going into most local stores. There might have been a jacket in that store that would have worked. Who knows, maybe I would have spent more than $200 if someone explained or showed me that the jackets they were selling were somehow worth it.

Do they last longer? Will they keep me warmer during a brutally cold Minnesota Winter? Is it a brand that the cool kids wear?

As an agent I have to compete to get clients. Then I get to work for free until they buy something or I sell their home and it closes. If everyone had to work the way I do, customer service would take on a whole new meaning. If we real estate agents do not do a good job, consumers will find a way to work without us and around us.

Consumers have a zillion choices. If they are wise, they will move on quickly if an agent is not responsive. They won’t pay the super high commission of the big brand agent just because of the brand. 

There’s more to being an agent than unlocking doors for home buyers or putting a home on the multiple listing service.

There isn’t a computer yet that can replicate the services of an experienced real estate agent or even correctly price a property. Each transaction is a little different, and each client has slightly different needs. I can add value by listening when my clients tell me what they want, and using my experience and expertise to help them get it.

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