Jay Thompson is a former brokerage owner who spent six years working for Zillow Group. He retired in August 2018 but can’t seem to leave the real estate industry behind. His weekly Inman column publishes every Wednesday.
It was a dark and stormy night.
So cliche, but that’s really how this story could start.
Last week, it was a poor customer experience that spawned the weekly column you find yourself reading yet again. Truthfully, I was hoping to have a great experience this week that I could tie-in with that piece, to bundle up and bookend some masterfully crafted construction of thought that leaves you walking away with a head full of not just knowledge, but enlightenment.
Yeah, you’re not getting that.
Logical as it may have been to hook a good experience with the bad, the simple fact is there wasn’t a good consumer experience to draw upon. It’s not that I wasn’t looking, believe me. But even with some big giant reaches, nothing stood out. There was no moment of, “Yeah! That is the kind of service that makes me sit up and take notice.”
Too bad, I like those sort of experiences. Maybe soon …
What I did experience this week, while not directly related to customer service, has much to do with human nature. Let’s face it, pesky human nature is what drives customer expectations, relationships and service.
So what, you ask, was this glimpse of human nature I experienced? Let me explain.
When weather imitates real estate
I live about 20 miles north of Seattle, Washington. Although geographically we’re about as far north as you can get in the lower 48 states, winters here are surprisingly mild. The surrounding mountains get a lot of snow — nearby Mount Baker has the highest average annual snowfall (53 feet) of any resort in the world — those mountains do a good job of shadowing and blocking the snow from falling in the Seattle metro area. Usually.
When the weather patterns fall a certain way, cold wet air gets funneled between the mountain ranges, and Seattle gets a few days of sub-freezing temperatures and snow can fall in the city.
It’s a stunningly beautiful sight. That is until you look at the streets and freeways.
You see, because of the rarity of snow at lower levels here, there is a dearth of snow plows. A few exist, but it’s not remotely enough to keep the roads clear. The same can be said for those tools normally applied to help de-ice streets: salt and sand. In other words, Seattle sucks at clearing roads of snow and ice, and the smallest amount can literally shut down the city.
Heck, it doesn’t even take actual frozen precipitation to cause carnage. Merely the threat of ice and cold sends the city toward panic.
Witness the last few days: The dreaded “polar plunge” was headed our way, making its way from the arctic, across Alaska, to be funneled down the Puget Sound to the teaming, yet woefully unprepared, metropolis of Seattle.
As snowflake icons first began to appear in weather reports, the shelves of local grocers, hardware and home stores began to empty. Lines grew at gas stations. It was time to prep for the soon to be frozen hell of an oncoming winter siege.
Admittedly, it’s mostly a “first-world problem,” but being trapped in your home for three or four days is a big giant hassle. So is fighting the insane crowds of people who are in the beginning stages of socio-economic panic.
It was a madhouse out there. I’m fully convinced that as the city slips into anarchy, it’s only a matter of time until liquor, cigarettes and bullets become currency.
Understand the fear of uncertainty and loss of control
A significant driver of this insanity is the feeling of uncertainty and the loss of control over your life routine. No one likes to feel they have no control over their surroundings. Not knowing what might happen in the next few hours or couple of days is uncomfortable. It puts people in a place that people don’t like to be.
It’s that way with your real estate clients, too.
If a rare winter storm causes feelings of uncertainty and loss of control for a few days, imagine how those uneasy feelings are amplified over the weeks and sometimes months-long process of buying or selling a home.
For most people, a real estate transaction is rarer than a Seattle snowstorm. They don’t understand the process at all. That leads them to feel hopelessly out of control. Much like the weather, it’s a feeling of, “What can I do but sit back and see what happens?”
So how does the real estate pro fix this? How do you minimize your clients fears?
Assuage concerns with education
It all goes back to education. That same education that started from your very first contact with this client. That education that continued in your first consultation. That education that really should be happening every time you engage with your client.
I think at least half the job of being a real estate agent is educating your clients. It’s that important.
Critical as educating your client is, it’s remarkably easy to forget to do it. You see “real estate things” every day. I won’t say you’re jaded, but more like desensitized. It’s become routine for you.
Like the native from Minnesota who wakes up to sub-zero temps and blowing snow, all winter long. That guy just gets out the shovel, blower or plow, digs out and moves on with his life. He’s desensitized to the hassle of winter weather, and he’s prepared for it.
Way more prepared than me over here in Seattle. I can’t even scrape my car window.
Educate and prepare your clients for what is happening, and will be happening, throughout the process they are going through. You’re going to have to repeat things over and over. Keep in mind what seems routine to you is a mystery to them.
Don’t assume they have an ice scraper in their trunk — hand them an ice scraper. Don’t assume they have a snow shovel — go help them shovel their driveway. Don’t assume they know how to drive in the snow. Take them where they need to be.
Jay Thompson is a real estate veteran and retiree in Seattle, as well as the one spinning the wheels at Now Pondering. Follow him on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. He holds an active Arizona broker’s license with eXp Realty. “Retired but not dead,” Jay speaks around the world on many things real estate.
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