Customer service isn’t just about giving customers and clients surveys, collecting ratings and constantly sending out marketing materials reminding customers about all of the wonderful services your brokerage provides.

The real estate industry can learn what not to do from other businesses, and do customer service better instead of worse.

When I go to one of my favorite restaurants, I just accept the fact that the server is going to interrupt us several times during the meal to ask, “How’s the food tasting?” I know that food cannot taste, and I just hate being interrupted. But I keep going back because I like the food.

Many restaurants use the same model — interrupting us while we eat and calling it customer service.

When I leave the restaurant, I may receive a slip of paper encouraging me to go to a website and take a survey. Those surveys will ask if I was asked how the food “is tasting.” I answer “yes” or give them a “4” most of the time. Everyone is happy except for me, because I hate being interrupted and I don’t like filling out forms of any kind.

There are some stores I shop in where instead of a receipt I get a cash register tape that is 3 feet long. It contains surveys asking about the service I got, and a bunch of coupons and messages about how wonderful the store is.

Each time I slide my credit card to pay I am confronted with a screen that gives me all sorts of choices. Eventually it even lets me pay for my purchases — but only if I am persistent and lucky.

They make it so hard to pay, that a few times I have felt like walking away and just leaving my stuff at the checkout counter. It’s all about the brand, not the customer.

Even if I did tell the stores and restaurants how I feel about their service, most of the companies have rules they can’t and won’t change simply because I asked. I don’t spend that much money. Losing my business is no great loss.

The only reason I can see for customer satisfaction surveys or asking customers how the food “is tasting” is to give people the impression that you care. But if businesses really cared, they would leave me to enjoy my meal, or let me check out without having to wait for 3 feet of cash register tape to print. It can’t possibly be about me. It must be about them.

We recently ordered some new doors for the ancient money pit we call “home.” The first step in the process was for an installer to come out and take some measurements and test for lead-based paint.

Once the appointment was set, we received a couple of emails asking us to confirm that we wanted the installer to come out and measure. We confirmed twice and were thanked for using the company. There was verbiage in each email about the high-quality workmanship and excellent customer service they provide.

On the day of the appointment, no one showed up. I called and was put on hold. I was instructed to press “1” for this and “3” for that and be transferred so they could better serve me, only to find out that someone had made a mistake.

They sent someone out later to measure. Wasn’t that just wonderful customer service? They probably think it was.

As a real estate agent, I can disappoint people with an empty brochure box in front of a listing. The empty box is like a broken promise — which is why in some cases, I no longer provide a brochure box. I can’t prevent it from being emptied, and I have decided that I am better off not having the box than having my name on a sign with an empty box.

The other customer service crime many of us commit is not answering the phone. It’s very rare these days that a business answers the phone. But in the real estate business, we advertise our phone numbers and ask people to call us. There is an expectation that if someone sees a listing on Zillow at 1 a.m. they can call us, and we will answer or get right back to them.

Some agents are getting around the whole phone-call thing by putting callers in an automated system that gives details about the house via voice or text. The system also captures the phone number, so that the caller can become a lead. Agents call this automated system “service” when they mention it to home sellers.

There are probably other things I may not even be aware of doing — or not doing — that are perceived as poor customer service.

Most of the time I find that if I do my job to the best of my ability, my clients have a good experience. In fact, responding quickly to emails or phone calls usually exceeds their expectations.

Glowing reviews and testimonials about real estate agents are easy to find on the Internet. So is finding a server who will ask us how our food “is tasting.” There isn’t anything at all remarkable about either. But great or even good service is pretty rare.

Teresa Boardman is a broker in St. Paul, Minnesota, and founder of the St. Paul Real Estate blog.

Show Comments Hide Comments
Sign up for Inman’s Morning Headlines
What you need to know to start your day with all the latest industry developments
By submitting your email address, you agree to receive marketing emails from Inman.
Thank you for subscribing to Morning Headlines.
Back to top
Only 3 days left to register for Inman Connect Las Vegas before prices go up! Don't miss the premier event for real estate pros.Register Now ×
Limited Time Offer: Get 1 year of Inman Select for $199SUBSCRIBE×
Log in
If you created your account with Google or Facebook
Don't have an account?
Forgot your password?
No Problem

Simply enter the email address you used to create your account and click "Reset Password". You will receive additional instructions via email.

Forgot your username? If so please contact customer support at (510) 658-9252

Password Reset Confirmation

Password Reset Instructions have been sent to

Subscribe to The Weekender
Get the week's leading headlines delivered straight to your inbox.
Top headlines from around the real estate industry. Breaking news as it happens.
15 stories covering tech, special reports, video and opinion.
Unique features from hacker profiles to portal watch and video interviews.
Unique features from hacker profiles to portal watch and video interviews.
It looks like you’re already a Select Member!
To subscribe to exclusive newsletters, visit your email preferences in the account settings.
Up-to-the-minute news and interviews in your inbox, ticket discounts for Inman events and more
1-Step CheckoutPay with a credit card
By continuing, you agree to Inman’s Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.

You will be charged . Your subscription will automatically renew for on . For more details on our payment terms and how to cancel, click here.

Interested in a group subscription?
Finish setting up your subscription