If you don’t think you’re in the customer service business, you’re probably wrong.
Unfortunately, the real estate investing industry does not always have a great reputation when it comes to customer service. A common perception among the general public is that real estate investors and property managers are addicted to profits and lack compassion for their tenants and/or customers. We all know this blanket statement does not apply to an overwhelming number of investors. However, all too often these negative judgements are perpetuated by slow response times, shady business practices, and a refusal for investors to advance beyond the outdated status quo.
Whether we like it our not, our industry is changing. This evolution (like the evolution in many comparable industries) involves the adoption of new technology and the acceleration of customers’ access to information. Prospective customers often know a great deal about us before they pick up the phone to respond to an ad or a vacancy listing. While “Yelp for property managers” might be years down the road, it won’t be long before tenants will heavily consider the quality of prospective managers when making their rental decisions.
It’s time we acknowledge this fact and take a proactive approach toward providing top-notch service to our customers.
Focus on these three attributes to ensure your business stays ahead of the customer service curve:
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Are you tracking your response time for incoming leads? Is your property manager tracking the average time it takes to address and close maintenance requests?
Even when just starting out, we should all be treating our real estate investing as a business. Good businesses have tools and systems to track clearly defined goals and benchmarks. One extremely important benchmark is your responsiveness to your customers, tenants, and industry colleagues.
Many of us have been guilty of the following: We receive a lead from a motivated seller, analyze the property to find it’s not a good deal, and completely ignore the seller moving forward. We decide that because we can’t profit from the deal, the seller doesn’t deserve the simple courtesy of a call back!
It’s important to understand exactly who you are serving as a real estate investor. If you are a wholesaler, your primary customer is the motivated seller. You are providing the valuable service of helping the seller out of a difficult situation so that they can move on with life. We know that most leads do not end up being solid deals. But this doesn’t mean you should ignore less attractive leads and leave the seller hanging out to dry. They are sure to walk away from the situation with a sour point of view of the real estate investor who couldn’t find the time to simply return a phone call.
I was guilty of this exact scenario on several occasions early in my investing career, partly because I was still fighting off the nerves associated with talking with real sellers — and partly because I was just plain lazy. Luckily, I came to the realization that my reputation was at stake, and I took steps to ensure this bad habit was put to an end.
The same mentality applies when serving your tenants. You should have systems in place to respond to maintenance requests and keep your tenant informed of a planned solution. Our business has a target turnaround time for all maintenance requests. We inform our tenants of our targets and our plan for addressing the problem. We don’t always hit these targets, but having a goal allows us to continuously work on improving our processes.
If you don’t respond, it shows your customer you don’t care.
The Difference Transparency Makes
Real estate investors offer a valuable service to the marketplace. If business is conducted with honesty and integrity, the services of a real estate investor can solve problems for countless homeowners and prospective tenants.
Let’s revisit the example above: A wholesaler ignores a less attractive lead and does not return the call of a motivated seller.
How difficult would it have been for this investor to simply return the phone call and explain why they would not be able to make a deal? Your explanation may save the seller countless hours of trying to track down an investor who will take their deal.
We all get bad leads. They’re not fun. However, look at your bad leads as an opportunity to exceed the expectations of your prospective customer.
I always make a point to at least guide a motivated seller in the right direction. Even if I can’t buy their house, I have years of real estate experience, and I know their market. I may be able to introduce them to a real estate agent or even another investor who might be better suited to address their specific issue.
There is no reason to try to deceive your customer. Most sellers understand that you are not in the business of charity work. If a deal doesn’t make financial sense, you can’t be expected to move forward. Be forthcoming and honest with your customers as to how your process works.
Technology Adds Organization & Professionalism
Fact: The majority of real estate investors use too much paper.
I still cringe every time someone asks for my fax number. It’s 2016 — I have an email address and a free scanning app on my phone (I don’t like it, but I will reluctantly send faxes using an e-fax service!).
Unfortunately, our industry is still filled to the brim with paper. Contracts, leases, move-in checklists and paper bank statements seem to drown our offices. Things are moving in the right direction, but we should all take a proactive approach in eliminating paper from as many business processes as possible.
Not only will it help to keep up your sanity, but you will look more professional in the eyes of your tenants. Your tenants expect the use of apps, email, and electronic signatures. These are all amazingly simple technological advances that make all our lives easier. Having a cloud-based document management system allows you and your tenants to rest assured that all documents are accounted for and filed in an organized manner.
Of course, this doesn’t apply to everyone. Some of our customers are a bit older and feel more comfortable with paper. More and more, this is becoming the exception as opposed to the norm. These situations are fine. Accommodate with paper when needed, but make it a goal to get your business 97.5% paper free!
It can be difficult to see the potential benefits of practicing strong, consistent customer service. But it’s also impossible to ignore the obvious: It’s only a matter of time before the real estate industry gets caught up to similar retail industries. We are living in a world where the customer is more informed than ever before. This access to information is not only growing, it’s accelerating.
Make a commitment to running a proactive real estate business that acknowledges the importance of your customers. It’s the responsibility of all of us to lead by example and work to uphold the reputation of our industry.
Investors: What specific steps do you take to ensure your customers stay happy?
Leave your comments below!