Should agents say ‘thank you for your service' to military service members?

In advance of the Fourth of July, let’s explore this topic and talk about how you can appropriately show gratitude for the military community

I was recently interviewed for a real estate podcast, and the fact that I’d served in the Army came up.

During one of the outtakes, the host remarked, “And of course, thank you for your service!” Then, acknowledging his ignorance of the military culture, he asked if that was the right thing to say.

We at MILLIE, a trusted source for military families on the move, understand the general public and many Realtors might not have frequent contact with the military community. Nevertheless, they would like to show appreciation and better understand the lifestyle or provide tailored professional advice.

So, what can real estate agents say that is authentic and helpful?

Background

I completed my service commitment long ago and separated from the military before the events of Sept. 11 occurred. So while I’m a veteran and have worked with the military since, I’m just fine not being thanked.

Prior to the attacks, we were generally considered to be maintaining a “peace-time” military. After Vietnam, through much of the ’80s and ’90s, with the exception of the Gulf War, we were fortunate that despite millions of men and women in uniform, there were relatively few conflicts, and those that did occur were short in duration.

Post 9/11, we became a nation at war, and veterans of this era have likely deployed in support of the numerous campaigns over the past 18 years. While everyone who has served is a veteran, older veterans from the World War II, Korean War and Vietnam eras can attach entirely different experiences and meaning to their service.

Depending on where veterans or active-duty service members fall on the timeline and how they served, they might have mixed feelings about hearing “thank you for your service”.

In true military style, the community has even given it an acronym — TYFYS. Some will accept the statement with grace and pride. Some will hear a rotely spoken platitude. Others, like myself, feel it “unearned” compared to what more recent generations have experienced.

When someone finds out that I am a veteran, I’d rather they ask a specific question, like, “What did you do?” or “Why did you join?” or “Where were you stationed?”

Questions like that are clearly out of interest rather than obligation or courtesy.

Agents can make an effort to acknowledge our military audience in a deeper way than just making a casual statement.

Holidays like Memorial Day (reserved for honored those who have died in service), July Fourth (celebrating America’s independence) and Veterans Day (honoring all who have worn the uniform) are often thought of as opportunities to proclaim one’s patriotism, post TYFYS messages and memes on social media, or even market sales or promotions to mark the days off work.

But agents can do better by making a personal connection with the military communities and veterans they serve.

8 tips for agents wanting to show appreciation

Here are a few tips for how to appropriately convey your gratitude to our nation’s military, in addition to saying “thank you for your service.”

  • Please, please, please leave Memorial Day out of your content marketing strategy unless you plan to specifically honor the lives of fallen service members.
  • If you’re a Realtor who is also a veteran, phrase your marketing as “I understand you” instead of “look at me!” (A good rule for agents to follow in all marketing, actually).
  • Do not use the phrase TYFYS for advancing any political agenda (this mostly applies to social media!)
  • Do not assume all veterans are comfortable with their service. Everyone experiences their time in the military differently. For some, there could be painful or complex feelings that come up when asked to reflect on it.
  • Do not rely on the simple phrase to encompass all that you want to say. Try to convey your appreciation in a conversation. It’s the difference between an oftentimes trite phrase and “I see you … ”
  • Make an effort to support organizations that help service members, veterans and their families, instead of just making a passing high five.
  • Be sure to acknowledge military spouses for their support and sacrifice as well. They give up a lot by way of employment, stability, personal agency and more to stand with their active-duty or veteran partner. Also, not all service members are men, and not all military spouses are women.
  • Ask questions about their service to learn more about them! Try out these questions:
    • What do you do?
    • Where have you traveled?
    • What was your favorite duty station?
    • How many times have you PCSed (permanent change of station or military relocation)?

Often, military service is just a chapter in someone’s life, albeit a significant one! Always remember there is more to people than their uniforms, and they’re just like you in most ways. They value action and intention, which speak louder than words ever can.

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Alison Wisnom is MILLIE’s Agent Intel Director, owner of West + Main Transactions and broker with Coldwell Banker Pacific Properties. Connect with her on LinkedIn or Facebook