Customer Service – Do We Suck At It?

I recently took a break and visited my eldest son in Canada. He is half way through a working visa and we thought a trip to British Columbia – Whistler, Vancouver and Victoria (Vancouver Island), with a quick stop over in Seattle (USA), was quite in order.

Without boring you with details and inviting you over for slide night, it was a great trip.

Even though we were on a holiday, relaxing and discovering new places, it was a case of ‘you can take the man out of the business, but you can’t take the business out of the man’.

The ‘Customer Service Experience’ was something I was acutely aware of in every place we stayed and visited. Hotels, restaurants, cafes, markets, bars, places of interest, transport hubs, shops…everywhere I was considered a ‘customer’.

According to Turban et al. (2002), “Customer service is a series of activities designed to enhance the level of customer satisfaction – that is, the feeling that a product or service has met the customer expectation.” – Wikipedia.  Across the board, the North American ‘experience’ reached my expectations and at times exceeded it. They are the masters of customer service. Almost all the service people we dealt with were interested, courteous and appeared to be happy to be in their job. I probably spent more money while we were away because these people made me feel comfortable wherever I was, and they made me feel welcome.

“There are no traffic jams along the extra mile.”  Roger Staubach

Tips? You bet. And I will stick my neck out and say that the lower wage/tips system makes perfect sense and engenders enthusiasm as well as outstanding service experiences.

Twenty years ago a friend of mine went to North Carolina in the US for a working holiday and found herself waiting tables in a popular seafood restaurant over there. When she told me that she was earning ‘five bucks an hour’, I nearly fainted. But then she gave me the whole story, and most nights she would finish with her five dollars an hour plus $200 in tips. Some nights, $350-$400 wasn’t out of the question.

How did she earn it? She knew the product (food), she was happy, she made her customers happy and ensured the night was a great experience for all.

This is what I found when I went to North America. Good to great customer service experiences everywhere.

All holidays must end, so home we came. Back to the best country in the world, with some of the most mediocre customer service in the world.

Have I opened a can of worms? Maybe, but our customer service skills in general don’t compare with our friends on the other side of the Pacific.

We’ve all experienced it, poor customer service, but there does not appear to be any concerted push to improve it. Four out of five business don’t make it to see their second birthday and I’ll bet London to a brick that 50{5be8b5650852dcf96a34828ba5a88d9285f6c7439f02c8133f6b05e7d943eaff} or more of those failures are because these business had little or no concept of what customer service is or what it even looked like.

“Make a customer, not a sale.”  Katherine Barchetti

So how surprised do you think I was when I was perusing some Real Estate information online the other day when I saw this headline, “Franchise boss sounds alarm about terrible service”?

What I basically knew about the industry I worked in was being made public by a Manager from well a known nation-wide Real Estate Franchise. You can read the article and her blog here.

Was I surprised by what the manager had revealed? No.

Are real Estate Agents delivering value for money to sellers in relation to the commission they are paid? I’ll let you answer that one.

Is the alternative to sell your own home with support from genuine experts, without commission, a viable alternative? You bet it is.

“In the world of Internet Customer Service, it’s important to remember your competitor is only one mouse click away.”  Doug Warner

It’s really time for many service industries to lift their game or customers will find alternatives that are willing to disrupt the ‘old guard’ and welcome those customers with a smile, convenience and real service.

Photo credit: Rotary First 100

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Trust Remains an Issue, yet Old Habits Die Hard

In an earlier post, I discussed the problem of trust in real estate agents. More recently, Brendan Wong from Real Estate Business Online reported that in a recent survey of 1700 people, 53% indicated they did not trust what the real estate industry said about the market. 27% said they sat on the fence when trusting the same news and only 20% said they trusted agents. That is a tough audience by any stretch.

A big contributor to this distrust is the commission structure.

Each year in Australia, around 350,000 residential properties change hands – sell. About 97% of these sales are ‘facilitated’ by traditional Real Estate Agents. Based on the RP Data-Rismark Daily Home Index, the Five Australian Major City Aggregate Price sits at $592,000 (as at 6/9/13).

So, with the average commission being charged by agents, Australia wide, sitting around the 2.6% mark, a sale of $592,000 would see a commission of $15,392 being paid by the seller, and that does not include any advertising expenses. You would have to admit, that is a reasonable chunk of money that any home seller will never see again.

Mr Wong’s article goes on to mention that media, especially print, contribute to the non-trust conundrum because they need to sell advertising space, and the general public could be lead to believe that commentators associated with property advertising publications embellish the true position of the market to ensure pages are filled with properties for sale.

And, one of the Real Estate Industry’s greatest and ongoing ‘trust-killers’ continues to be practiced; the over quoting, by agents, of potential sale prices to get listings.

True, not all agents should be painted with the same brush, there are some very good operators out in property sales world, yet the stigma of distrust and pain felt by sellers when that chunk of a sale price heads off to an agent lingers, as it has done for decades.

Then why, with this atmosphere of distrust and perceived lack of value for services rendered compared to the amount of commission paid, do such a huge proportion of Australian home owners gravitate, somewhat reluctantly, toward agents when the time comes to sell?

In my latest eBook, The Eight Biggest Myths of Real Estate, I reveal why the vast majority of home owners gravitate toward agents when the decision is made to sell up and move on.

One of the myths is that many people still believe that agents have almost exclusive access to ALL the buyers who are searching for property in any given suburb, town or region. Sadly, for agents, and happily for home owners, this IS a myth. Why? Because buyers follow property, not agents.

It is a tough pill to swallow for an industry where it may be the case that only one in five people actually like them. As an agent, I understand the frustrations of home owners, and in some cases buyers, with the level of service and professionalism that is lacking in some quarters of the real estate industry.

But, whilst ever the income of agents is derived solely from the successful completion of a property sale, self-interest and perceived desperation to ‘earn a quid’, there will always be doubt in the minds of home sellers that will prevent a break out of trust that many agents crave and a large number of home sellers find hard to embrace.

So what is the solution? If you are going to use a traditional agent on commission, do your homework. And whilst important, don’t just base your decision on how many properties they have sold. As I have discussed in a previous post, there are different types of agents. Some agents with high turnover simply spend more on marketing themselves to get more listings and have teams working for them to handle your sale along with many others.

Talk to friends and family and learn from their experiences. And meet at least three face to face before making a decision. Don’t rush it.

Alternatively, engage a fixed fee agency online and sell it yourself for a fraction of the cost. Who better to trust than yourselves? There is plenty of support online these days to help you get a great result. If you think you can’t do it yourself – think again!

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‘Tis the season to be selling

The 1st of December fell upon us, almost unexpectedly.

“Where did that one go?” “It’s December already?”

Time seems to tick away a little quicker each year, especially when they are eventful and things aren’t quite the way we may have gotten used to them.

Recently Property Observer posed the question of property experts that often pops up this time of year: “Should you consider putting your property on the market now or wait until after Christmas? And if so, when is the best time in 2014?” My invitation for commentary must have been lost in the mail, so I thought I would provide my thoughts here.

2013 saw some notable changes. With hand on heart, being involved and as immersed as I am in the world of property, the change of sentiment in the market, particularly property buyers, was as tangible and as real as the nose on your face.

Although the big two – Sydney and Melbourne had been bubbling away since early 2013, the rush of buyers to the starting line commenced in August/ September as the Federal Election came to its inevitable result on the 7th of September.

Never have I seen such a pent up supply of consumer and buyer confidence waiting for the Starter’s gun to go off around 8pm on the 7th of September. And when the ‘Bang’ came, the sprint away from the starting line was something to behold, and thankfully, many of the original participants are still in the race with fresh legs joining in everyday.

The one thing that we all must acknowledge and be acutely aware of is that ALL markets are driven by sentiment, not numbers. Fear and Greed are the drivers – and fear, for the time being, has been stuffed away in a big bag in the cupboard, ready to be unzipped and worn as a shield if any economic blip emerges on the radar.

So for now, the going is pretty good. Consumers have loosened their wallets and purses and business are investing in growth strategies and hiring.

When it comes to selling your home, whether in a For Sale By Owner situation or by hiring an agent, I’m going to let you in on a little secret that may dispel any misconceptions home sellers may have about being on the market during the Holiday Season (PC for Christmas time).

Yes, in the week or so leading up to chook, turkey, prawn and crownie/XXXX/VB day – yes I mean Christmas Day; property buyers who are actively searching for their next home or property, may just take a breath from their quest and buy that present for Auntie Marge and Uncle Barry, or pack the car for that visit to Mum and Dad’s; but nothing is surer that come the 26th/27th of December the internet will cop an almighty bashing from current potential buyers and those who decided over another crownie or glass of charddy, on the 25th, that it was time to move or dive in a get that investment property.

This has been the pattern for the last four or five years, even in the soft, fear driven market we saw in the post GFC period. So what will the Holiday property buying season look like this year with a serious shot of confidence coursing through the veins of property buyers, who will have the time to browse online? Mmmm.

Could it be a good move to get a jump on your competition and put your property out there before the usual influx of new listings come on board in early January?

If that little voice has been saying “Well, I could sell my own home” or “Better call in an agent”, taking action and being prepared for the holiday ‘search and buy’ season may be the best move you ever made.

Happy Holidays to all. (PC is really not my thing)

For the non PC’s – Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

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