Real Estate Professionals are in the Business of Serving – Not Selling
If you are in the real estate business, even as an investor, take a moment to consider what you really do. Many come to the conclusion that they are selling real estate or real estate services such as providing property for tenants. Many look at real estate as a way to make a living or earn a return on investment and over-look a key element to any successful business. If you are not providing great service, your business is limited and the chances of reaching your true potential are very slim. Now I know many readers are rolling their eyes wondering how customer service ties into rentals or property flipping. In some cases I’m sure there are agents reading this article convinced it has nothing to do with them. I challenge you to not be so dismissive of customer service as nothing more than a catch phrase and really good marketing tool. Spend a few minutes reading and examine your business for missing opportunities to blow away your competition and help your “customers” rave about your service and company.
Who is the “Customer”?
One of the biggest mistakes made in business happens when defining who the customer is as it relates to customer service. In my business, we operate a Turn-Key company and many would assume that we sell real estate to investors. So the investor must be the “customer”. While that assumption is correct, we also have many other “customers” as well and we are not selling any real estate to them. Everyone we come in contact with is a customer and the same goes for your business. Consider these other relationships in the real estate business:
- Contractors – Contractors are an essential part of most real estate businesses. For an investor or a company providing investment opportunities, the relationship you have with contractors is vital for your success. Contractors control big pieces of the budget for investors from the actual work done to the time it takes for the work to be completed. Often they are tasked not only with the actual renovation or work on a property, but they are also tasked with keeping a job moving toward completion in a timely manner. While it is vital to keep the proper perspective and make sure contractors do not forget who pays the bill, those bills can be reduced and completed faster by a company that knows they are valued. Treat contractors like they are part of the TEAM and help them understand the long term plan for everyone winning. Show gratitude and thanks for a job well done and they may very well play a huge role in reducing costs and increasing profits on future deals. A great way to improve that relationship is to pay contractors on time – EVERY time! A great plan would be to pay contracts every Friday on invoices turned in on Wednesday. The effort to insure they are paid consistent can absolutely be used to leverage lower costs.
Contractors are also a great source of leads! Not just property opportunities, but investor buyers as well. A great relationship with a contractor can lead to savings and profits in multiple areas!
- Tenants – I get a kick out of reading some of the advice columns I have seen on managing units because they are almost always written from a perspective of how to avoid the problems, the headaches, the swindlers and the professional tenants. What is almost universally missing is advice on how to serve your tenants. Actually viewing them as a customer who is paying you to provide them housing instead of simply a tenant who owes you money each month! Most investors and management companies get stuck when trying to come up with ways to serve tenants while still keeping the proper relationship. In reality, there are many ways to provide customer service to tenants. First and foremost would be education. Financial literacy is a great thing to offer tenants and demonstrates your willingness to improve their lives beyond housing. A more financially secure tenant is always a better tenant and financial literacy programs can be offered for little to no cost. Another idea is to offer classes on a couple of Saturday mornings each month on topics like changing air filters. Its a free demonstration and the tenant takes an air filter home to change it. Because you offer such great service to your contractors, you should be able to easily get an heating & air company to spend their morning giving the demonstrations at no cost!
I have to confess that in our business which is owned by my family, none of them let me go near the property management company. I have a habit of being a little too nice – they call me the softy! Having thought it was a good idea to send flowers when a tenant closes and give out thanksgiving turkeys and other gifts almost got me banned for life from the property management company. I had to re-think how we can serve our tenants so that it fit in with providing service but also fulfilling the mission of keeping properties efficiently operating and producing cash flow for investors.
- Clients – This is the easy one right. So how come so many professionals get customer service wrong? In the real estate business, a client is any buyer who purchases properties from you or hires you to provide services. Customer service is more than simply being available to return phone calls, sending nick-knack junk with your name on it twice a year and a thank you card during the holidays. An investor recently commented that we had won his business because the young lady who answered his original call, actually called him back at the exact time she said she would and emailed him information that he requested in a timely manner. Yes, that is how low the bar has been set for customer service! This is an opportunity to wow clients with anniversary cards, birthday cards, unique thank you baskets, gift cards to Starbucks simply “because it’s cold outside”, monthly updates or even a monthly phone with the simple question of “how are we doing?”. It is often said that the easiest sale to make is to an existing client. The second easiest sale to make is to a referral. Keeping this group of people happy and touching them in as many unique ways as possible is one of the best business builders around.
In today’s busy world there are opportunities around us everyday to wow those that we work with. Providing great customer service is not only a way to set yourself apart form competition; not only a way to build a close bond with a client; but it is also a way to create job security with clients, customers, partners and even tenants that tell everyone within ear shot about your company. If they believe that you are the best at what you do and you prove it by providing great service…well that is the best job security I can think of!
Photo: Steven Depolo