Preemptive, step-by-step customer education will avoid potential conflict.
James R. Carter
Chapter 60 - Anticipation
Chapter 50 - You're Glowing
Mountains will go into labor, and a silly little mouse will be born.
Three of the twenty chapters included in the section called OPERATIONS.
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A SUCCESS GUIDE
for real estate lenders, real estate agents and those who would like to learn about the professions.
We need to make the process smooth for the customer. Aristotle said, “The aim of the wise is not to secure pleasure but to avoid pain.” Aesop said, “It is thrifty to prepare for the wants of tomorrow.” I’ll blend and modify the two for real estate: It is wise to prepare for customers’ wants and thoughts of tomorrow to avoid pain and deliver a good customer experience.
“Mr. Customer, you are going to be receiving something called a good faith estimate. Nothing to worry about, call me when you get it and we will review it.”
“Mrs. Customer, we will be placing your home on the market on Wednesday. I will be calling you on Monday to provide you a status. Now, during that five-day period we might get five people looking at the home or we might get one hundred people looking at the home. In either case, it’s nothing to worry about—we only need one good buyer. Talk with you Monday.”
The dictionary says that to anticipate is to predict, to foresee, to expect, to be prepared for. There are unexpected things that happen during a real estate transaction. Is a real estate transaction a process, however? You bet. And as professionals, we know the process (i.e., step one, step two, step three, etc.). Based on that next step, can we predict what the customer might be feeling or thinking? Almost without a shadow of a doubt—yes. The client goes through very predictable emotions and thoughts as we move through the process. It’s part of our job to recognize that and smooth out the bumps (for the customer).
“Mr. Client, you will be receiving the inspection report shortly. Remember, the inspector is there to do a job; he or she is going to find and list those items that are not up to par. Every home, even a brand new home, is going to have some items listed. In fact, in my experience, there are usually about two to three pages of items that the report will define as Immediate Recommended Improvements. So don’t worry, we will review all those items together, as a team, but expect there to be some items nonetheless.”
What would happen if I didn’t prepare Mr. Client for the inspection report?
“Jim, this house is a wreck. Did you see all these items under the section where it says Immediate Recommended Improvements? There are three pages of stuff that is broken on this house. Get me out of this deal.”
Lead or follow. Lead (educate and anticipate) the process or follow (react and watch your customer take over). Be in control or be a punching bag. When you anticipate and lead, you are in control of the process. “Mrs. Seller, the next step is X; don’t worry about anything else other than X, got it?”
“Yes, Jim, I got it.”
Great. Lead the process; anticipate what is coming and explain it to your client.
When your customer is asking a million questions, that is a sign of a leaderless ship adrift in the ocean. It is our job to anticipate, to lead, and to educate. When you are anticipating and communicating, you are leading and therefore doing your job.
Let’s look at the time and work involved with anticipating and leading versus reacting and following. Let’s say I have ten deals going right now.
Here is the story on the Anticipating and Leading Team. I spend an hour in the morning planning what needs to happen that day on each deal. I make a few notes. I arrive at work and work on each deal one by one. I take action on what needs to be done through e-mail, phone, text, or some other means. And then I communicate that to my client; again, through e-mail, phone, text, or some other means. How long did that take me? It took me about one hour to plan and one hour to execute. I’m done by ten to eleven o’clock. The rest of day is relatively quiet because my vendors and staff know what to do and my customer knows what to expect—for that day.
Now, let’s look at the Reacting and Following Team. I wake up (whenever), have some coffee, drive over and get a few (seven) donuts, fill up the car, and roll into the office at nine fifteen. Then I talk with some colleagues, daydream about what the day may hold, check my e-mail, go to the bathroom, daydream a little more, talk to some colleagues, and run an “emergency” errand. Now it’s eleven fifteen and the phone starts ringing.
“Jim, the inspector is late, can you call him?”
“Jim, did anyone see my house yesterday?”
“Jim, what do I do with the paperwork?”
“Jim, do we need to lower the price?”
“Jim, did anything new come on the market?”
“Jim, how do I do this electronic signing thing?”
And on and on. I’m in panic mode now and it’s only eleven thirty in the morning. I will be spending the rest of my day reacting and scrambling because I didn’t anticipate.
The score is two hours for the Anticipating and Leading Team—and six hours for the Reacting and Following Team. Low score wins.
When we anticipate what the customer may be feeling or thinking and do something about it, we are providing a good service. They don’t know the process, we do. “Mrs. Customer, when you arrive at the title company, you may find the stack of paper to be slightly intimidating. Don’t worry, it’s normal, and I’ll be there to help you.” Rather than Mrs. Customer arrives at the title company and reacts to the stack of paper. It’s part of our job to make the process smooth. If the customer knows what is coming, he or she will be fine. If he or she doesn’t know what is coming, you are asking for a train wreck. Anticipate and educate.
If you don’t have the instincts to anticipate, then work to get the instincts to anticipate. Anybody good at his or her job or in business has the ability to anticipate what is coming. Sometimes it’s an instinct and sometimes it comes from experience and sometimes both. If you don’t have the experience yet, then create the habit by planning for an hour every night or every morning. If I simply take five minutes to explain to the customer what will be happening that day, I save myself thirty to forty minutes later in the day reacting and fixing. Multiply thirty by my ten deals; that’s practically my whole day wrapped up in reaction mode. You can’t effectively run a business that way.
And one final quality-of-life note. There is a direct correlation between anticipation and customer service; customer service and happy customers; happy customers and referrals; and referrals and your enjoyment of the business. Draw a direct line all the way from anticipation to your enjoyment of the business. Anticipate! It’s good for the customer, it’s good for you, and it’s good for the real estate industry at large.
Go get ’em!
Woo hoo! You just listed two houses or took three loan applications. You’re back from the bottom of the ocean and unstoppable! On a roll. Look at you…yeah! You’re lead dog and this time you’re going to remain the lead dog! You have this unbeatable bounce to your step; a golden glow around your helmet; and a fearless mind-set, the envy of all your office mates. And then two months later you’re dead in the water, flat on your back. Why? Because we sometimes confuse the signing of the deal with the completion of our job and forget the process. High as a kite is no good: bad plan, lumpy income, poor service.
In many ways, the job of real estate agent or loan agent is a very dysfunctional business model. As producers, we are required to wear many hats: CEO, CFO, VP of advertising, VP of operations, and of course the front-line salesperson, getting deals signed. In the above example, the front-line salesperson got the deal signed. Good job on that piece; you don’t have to go crazy, however, it’s just a step in the process. Now that deal needs to be handed off to the operations team, which in most cases is the same person that signed the deal—you! Just remember the simple functions of the business: marketing, operations, finance, and attitude. All pieces need to be working for your income to work.
I hate to admit it, but there was a time in the mid-1990s that I had over ten signed loan applications sitting in my desk drawer, and they had been sitting there for a few days (okay, maybe a week). I was glowing, taking roughly two to three applications daily, intoxicated with the “getting deals signed” part of the business. I could hunt with the best of ’em but was not prepared to deliver that volume of service. I was too young and scared and uninformed to realize that it was a process. Things had to almost fall apart for me to finally install some simple systems/personnel around marketing, operations, finance, and attitude.
Like the coach says, “Keep your emotions between the lines.” The higher we get, the harder we fall. Pace it out, enjoy the wins, but don’t forget the process. Any knucklehead ding-a-ling can get high as a kite for an hour or a day or a minute, but professionalism is maintaining a steady pace day in, day out—that’s toughness! That’s being a pro in real estate.
Go get ’em!
I went to a seminar when I started in real estate given by a hot-shot, bigger-than-life real estate guy from another state. He was talking about this, talking about that, mainly how great he was. Then he talked about service. He said, “If you are not providing exceptional, over-the-top service, you might as well quit.” As I sat there as a young person starting in the industry, listening to this guy, I felt defeated before I even started. How in the world can I compete in an industry in which everyone else is doing it at such a high level? I have heard this same/similar kind of statement a thousand times over the years. “Oh, you have to give amazing service. You need to ‘wow’ your customer. Your service has to be an unbelievable experience.”
I like what President Lincoln had to say above: “I do my best.”
Now that I have been in this business for a couple of decades, there are not a lot of things that bother me, but this is one of them. It drives me up the wall when I hear that kind of “perfect service” talk. It’s akin to a coach saying to a player, “You have to be perfect or you might as well quit—you loser!” I hate hearing that, and I hate hearing the knuckleheads that talk about perfect service in real estate. Don’t make it complicated. Service is simple. The customer hired us to do a job, so do it to the best of your ability. Okay, that might be a little simple for some—so here it is expanded: 1) Run the project, 2) Tell the truth, 3) Be reliable, and 4) Do your job.
Run the project. We are not running a company or a long-term venture. A real estate transaction is a short-term project with many moving parts. Every project needs a leader. There can only be one leader. So lead. Run it. Take the reins and go. That is what we have been hired to do. That is the expectation.
Tell the truth. If you want to be looking over your shoulder for the rest of your life, then fine, lying is an option. But if you want a good life and business, then simply tell the truth. What is there to lie about anyway? “Mrs. Customer, there are a lot of moving parts to a real estate transaction, and at times it may get a little bumpy, but honestly, don’t worry, we’ll get there nonetheless, as a team.” Look, things happen during a real estate transaction, unexpected things. I recognize there are possibly people reading this that have done over one thousand real estate transactions of some shape or size; me too. I have never had a twin transaction or an exact look-alike in all those deals. They are all a little different. There are bumps in the road. Things happen. Over time and over our careers, we are able to see the curves in the road before they appear. But variables exist nonetheless. Tell your customer the truth. Tell them that it is a process and that you will successfully get to the other side of the river. Word it however you want to word it, but be forthcoming and work through the bumps.
Be reliable. I am going to overlap reliable and responsive, because in my view they are cut from the same cloth. My friends that are supersuccessful are some of the most reliable and responsive people that I know. I could send them an e-mail right now, and they would get back to me within the hour. If you ever want to guarantee failure, then be superunreliable and unresponsive. This is a career killer. If you ever want to really make your customer mad, take two days to get back to them on an e-mail. The more reliable we become, the more money we will make. The more people that count on us, the more money we will make. Can I count on Jim to get back to me in a timely manner? Can I count on Jim to do his job? Can I count on him to run the project? Can I count on him for this, count on him for that? Over time, the more people that honestly can count on you to be reliable and responsive, the more successful you will become and the more money you will make.
Do your job. Ultimately we need to complete the job that we have been hired to do. If we don’t, no referrals, no growth, no income, no life. Sometimes the customer will be really happy with us and sometimes he or she will not. But that should not affect our responsibility of doing our job. I have had deals where I have literally worked like crazy and the customer was so, so happy; I have also had deals, however, where I gave myself a C grade and the customer was thrilled. Go figure. We need to do our job in spite of the current emotions of our customer. Emotions have a tendency to change over time. If we don’t do our job, however, that will be the only thing the customer remembers. He or she will remember that we fell down on the job and didn’t get it done.
Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.” And if you forget everything about service, just remember what President Lincoln said: “I do my best.”
Go get ’em!
Chapter 42 - The Fallacy of Service
I do the very best I know how—the very best I can—and I mean to keep on doing so until the end.
President Abraham Lincoln