Last year I was a brand. This year I am supposed to offer an experience. "Customer experience" is this year’s meme.
My clients will have an experience no matter what I do. So my take on it is that I am supposed to make the experience of working with me even better than it already is, and maybe that will make the homebuying experience better.
We can learn a lot from other industries about the kind of customer experience we don’t want to provide.
One example is the 18-digit serial number in two-point font on the bottom of cable modems and computers. If you don’t give them that number, you don’t get service. If you don’t have a magnifying glass and a flashlight, you won’t be able to read the number.
There isn’t anything the person answering the call can do about that number. By the time we connect, I am already having a bad experience.
Another example: After pressing buttons on the phone like crazy, listening to a recorded message telling me how important my call is, and answering 20 questions, I reach an actual human being. This person thanks me for being a premiere customer and, after asking 23 more questions, tells me the problem is on my end.
They call that customer service. I call it a bad experience.
I don’t understand the value of that service at all. No matter how hard the person who answers the phone tries, he or she cannot make the service a great experience.
There are some companies that have decided what a good customer experience is, and they give me something I don’t want. I get free bonus apps on my phone that I don’t want, and that cannot be deleted. As a result, my expensive phone does not have room on it for all the apps that I want.
I can almost picture the meeting where the customer experience expert tells the customer experience department that it has to put bonus apps on phones for a better customer experience. The expert probably doesn’t use a smartphone, but maybe has some contact with those who do. Or maybe he or she has been successful in unrelated businesses and has decided to take a stab at the whole customer experience thing.
There is no doubt that I am an experience for my customers. But when I look at the big picture I do not have enough control over the homebuying or selling process to change the experience.
I can’t loan my clients money to buy a home. If the lender doesn’t come through with the money, there is no homebuying experience — just a bad experience for which I can’t really do anything to make better.
I have no control over how much snow there is on the ground, or how cold it is when I show my buyers the two homes on the market that match their criteria. They may experience frostbite, which is a bad experience not a good one.
There isn’t any way I can control the housing stock. I don’t build the houses myself, or have any control over what is available when my buyers are looking.
Since I don’t build the house I don’t have any control over the quality of the homes or the decor. If I did, the world would be a better place. There would be no carpeting over hardwood floors or broken window sashes.
Buying or selling a home isn’t like buying an app at the app store, and it isn’t like buying a pair of shoes.
No two homes are the same, and no two buyers or sellers are the same. There isn’t any experience quite like buying or selling real estate, and I doubt there is anything we can do to change that fact.
Each of my clients will have a unique experience, and many of them will experience me differently depending upon the situation. Each will need something a little different. Each will have several agents to choose from.
Some will be relocating and will need extra help learning the city and the neighborhoods. Others will want to know more about condo associations or the city living program.
Experience, knowledge, problem solving skills, flexibility and communication skills are what I would look for in a real estate agent. Someone who could understand my needs and my goals and help me achieve them, and perhaps mitigate some of the bad experiences.
If that is what providing a better experience is about, then I am all in.
If it is about changing the homebuying or selling process, I’ll let someone else work on it — but would be happy to provide some input.
Teresa Boardman is a broker in St. Paul, Minn., and founder of the St. Paul Real Estate blog.
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