7 Ways That Real Estate Agents Can Turn Sellers Into Life-Long Clients

In the work I do as a writer/consultant/strategist, I get to work with a lot of real estate agents to help them grow their businesses. And I just recently sold my house so I got another glimpse into the business from a slightly different angle.

I think real estate agents are missing out some on some key opportunities to get more clients. They may THINK they’re doing everything they can but there are several ways they can do more. If you’re a real estate agent, I want to share with you 7 simple things you can do to turn sellers into life-long clients.

Aaron Hoos

Here’s what I mean…

When a seller signs a contract with you, you get to work to sell their house. In your mind, the home sale is the ultimate measurement of your success. However, your seller needs something more from you if you want to lock them in as a lifetime client and get referrals from them.

Your seller wants you to spend 24 hours a day, 7 days a week pouring over lists of potential buyers who might be interested in their house. They want to believe that you are rolling up your sleeves and working ONLY on their unique situation.

While that’s obviously asking more of you than you can realistically give, there are ways that you can appear to be prepared and hard working, which will create a more positive experience for your client, which will lock YOUR NAME in their minds for the future.

7 Ways That Agents Can Turn Sellers Into Life-Long Clients

#1. Give A Clear Timeline.

As a real estate agent, you are the expert, not your client. Clients have weird, broken ideas about how long it will take to sell or buy a house. I think their view is often skewed by unrealistically short timelines on those house-buying TV shows, as well as by optimistic word-of-mouth reports given by family and friends who bought or sold recently.

s the professional, you should come in with a clear timeline that says, “many houses in this price range are on the market for X days.” Yes, you’ll need to include a disclaimer that there’s no guarantee but you should give your clients an idea of what others are experiencing, if only to dampen expectations slightly.

#2. Give Clear Steps.

Again, you’re the expert. When you tell your client “we’re going to list your house and show it and maybe do an open house,” the client doesn’t really know what that means.

Give them a clear breakdown of the expectations, how often you do an open house, when you’ll revisit the price, how they’ll know when you get an offer, etc. These are things you deal with every day so you take them for granted, but your clients have no clue and if you don’t hold their hand, they’ll get worried. But if you do walk them through the process up-front, you’ll put them at ease and give them positive feelings about the service you provide.

#3. Checklists.

I wish my real estate agent gave me some checklists! I could have used some for before he showed up to take pictures, then for what to do before a showing, what to do before an open house, what to do when an offer is made, and what to do if I accept the offer.

These simple checklist documents would have alleviated many questions and reduced the number of times I called or texted my agent with follow-up questions.

#4. Market Analysis.

People who have lived in their house for years, as my wife and I did, are not really dialed into what the local market is like. Is it hot? Is it cold? All I had to go by was what my neighbor sold his house for (more than I thought he would) and how long it took (longer than I thought it would).

If your clients are hiring you to sell their house (or even to help them buy), a short one-page Market Analysis report will help them understand what to expect. For example, mine might have said: “we’ve finished the busy spring season and are entering a slightly slower summer season when many potential buyers are on summer vacation. There are still plenty of buyers and there are not a lot of houses in your price range right now so that’s a plus.” Like the timeline (see #1, above), you don’t have to make any commitments or promises but you can manage expectations and help the client know that you have everything under control.

#5. Regular check-ins.

This was probably my biggest complaint with my real estate agent. He was a good guy and he sold my house so that’s awesome but I occasionally felt like I needed to follow up with him because I hadn’t heard from him in a couple of weeks. We had a lot of showings, so I heard from his assistant a lot as she was setting up the showings, but I want to feel like my agent is working hard for me, and the only way I know he’s doing that is with a quick text that says, “Checking in; hope you’re doing great. We’ve had several showings but no offers this week but keep your chin up… we’ll keep pushing!

#6. Contingencies.

Sellers want to sell now for top dollar (of course). As an agent, you want that too (of course) but you’re also experienced enough to know that it might not always happen that way. When you talk to your client about listing their property, you should assure them that you are prepared for contingencies, such as lowering the selling the price or making some other adjustment to the offer.

Telling your clients this might seem like you are admitting defeat and already thinking of lowering the price but if you do it right you’ll assure them that you are prepared for every eventuality and you understand how important it is to sell the house… plus you’ll also address any skittishness they might feel if they get discouraged after not receiving offers after the first couple of showings. (Guilty as charged.)

#7. Acknowledgement of the significance of the event.

When the property sells, you’ve done your job and you deserve to get paid. Your client is probably relieved and excited as well. But remember: chances are, they’ve just sold their HOME… a place of memories and love that they are now moving away from. This is a significant event with many mixed emotions. If you really want to connect with a client and lock them in long-term, the best thing you can do is acknowledge the significance and experience it with them.

Summary

As a real estate agent, your job is to serve your seller by listing the house and trying to find a buyer for it. But in reality, you have a much bigger responsibility than that: you need to make them feel like they are at the top of your mind and you are doing everything in your power to sell their house. These 7 tips can help you create a loyal, lifetime client from every seller you serve.

Price and service: The two worst things to compete on

As a seller of things, I’ve tried to compete on price or service in the past. (“We’ve got the lowest prices” or “We’ve got the best customer service”). As a buyer, I’ve had other companies try to sell me on price or service.

It doesn’t work.

STOP TRYING TO COMPETE ON PRICE AND SERVICE

Competing on price is a dangerous game because your margins are so low that you aren’t very profitable, you can’t invest in in marketing and growth, and you attract the least loyal customers who only care about price and will leave you in a heartbeat as soon as someone else offers a lower price.

Competing on service (I mean: customer care, not the services you might sell) is just as bad but for different reasons: It’s so easy to SAY that you offer better service than your competition. However, everyone is saying it so it lacks meaning, especially since most companies that claim to offer “better” service are actually offering the exact same quality of service that everyone else is offering (even if they think they’re offering something better). And to make matters worse, customer expect flawless service from all vendors all the time as the default requirement of doing business with them. You can say you offer better service but you only truly do when you have metrics that prove it and when you make your service so ridiculously awesome that people are left weeping at how wonderful you are.

In both cases, you might be able to compete on price and service for the short term but someone will come along and out-do you.

SO WHAT SHOULD YOU DO INSTEAD?

There needs to be something else. It needs to be a competitive factor that only you can do. It needs to have a moat around it.

I like the “cluster approach” to competing: That is where you compete on a cluster of things rather than on price and/or service. You should cluster some of the following things together:

  • A target market that is more narrowly defined than your competition. For example: If you can’t sell to all the business owners in your city, why not sell to those who have started a business 5 to 10 years ago, make $100K to $320K, and are looking to expand. See how that’s different? You’re narrowing the market and that allows you to compete on expertise. (Hey, if you want to read more about this, why not check out my blog post 55 questions to answer when defining your sales funnel’s target market).
  • A great offer. Yes, your competition will probably tell you that their offer is just as great. However, the value of your offer is far more measurable (and there are far greater opportunities to innovate) than when you try to compete on service. That measurability can give you an edge if, indeed, your product is better. And the more unique your offer seems, the better.
  • Compete on the relationship (but there’s a catch). This is probably the closest thing to customer service, although there is a difference in my mind. Customer service has more to do with how you handle a customer before, during, and after the sale. A relationship is far more intimate. Your customer truly feels that you have their best interests in mind and they’ll invite you to their kid’s baseball games. (For more about this, check out my blog post Customer service and customer relationships are similar but different. Customer relationships are better). Okay, I said there was a catch and this is it: You SHOULD NOT promote yourself as offering better customer service or customer relationships. This is one of those “show don’t tell” situations. Since every business SAYS they offer great service, you can compete and succeed by being the one company that truly connects in a meaningful way to your customers.
  • A shocking guarantee. Lots of companies offer guarantees. But most of them are lame. 100%, no questions asked. Whatever. Give your guarantee some teeth. Make it a no-brainer for someone to do business with you.
  • Measurable marketing. This one might surprise most readers because we tend to think of competitiveness as being a “customer facing” aspect to our business. But you can become far more competitive by turning on the metrics and making every marketing effort more effective. It feels arduous to do, and some marketing efforts aren’t as easily measured but there’s an added bonus: You’ll sell more and save money.

Are there other things you can compete on? Of course there are. I’m only getting warmed up here. But if you start with these five, you’ll see

Customer service and customer relationships are similar but different. Here’s why customer relationships are better…

A lot of my blog posts are just my thoughts about business; my reflections about what business could and should (and shouldn’t) be.

And lately I’ve been thinking about the difference between customer service and customer relationship.

I suspect that too many businesses think they are interchangeable. But I don’t think they are.

Customer service: I tend to think of customer service as how you handle the customer before, (but especially) during, and after the sale. In many ways, customer service is transactional; it’s built around the transaction of a purchase: A customer experiences your customer service when they interact with your business — when they try to buy something, when it gets delivered to them, when they have a problem. Let’s measure customer service this way: How easy is it for a customer to get their money back when they ask for a refund?

Customer relationship: I tend to think of customer relationship as a more interactive/intimate connectedness. It’s how much your customers think of you outside of the times when they need whatever you’re selling. Customer relationship is what you do all those other times when you’re not selling. Customer relationship is not transactional at all (although it can certainly lead to more transactions). Let’s measure customer relationship this way: When was the last time your customer invited you to a barbecue or their kid’s baseball game?

HERE’S HOW CUSTOMER SERVICE AND CUSTOMER RELATIONSHIP SHOULD PLAY OUT IN YOUR BUSINESS

You should have good customer service — of course. It should be easy and enjoyable for customers to transact with you. But too many companies brag about the quality of their customer service yet never really make it special. Worse still, they don’t realize that every other business out there is also bragging about customer service (and to a customer, it all kind of looks the same). And too many companies put too much of their focus on creating positive customer service experiences and they forget about the broader customer relationship experience.

Guess what: Your ability to deliver the product or service with a smile seems exactly the same as your competitor’s ability to deliver their product or service with a smile. Your toll-free troubleshooting line seems exactly the same as your competitors’ line. Your no-questions-asked 100% money back guarantee seems exactly the same as your competitors’ guarantee.

If you want to compete on customer service, you need to be absolutely amazing in a zany “I can’t believe they’re doing that” way. You need to give the CEO’s cell-phone that she or he answers 24 hours a day even on vacation. You need to give a 200% money back guarantee. You need to not only deliver the product with a smile, you have to also deliver another free product, set them both up, and then cook the family dinner. That is the kind of customer service that you need to offer if you are going to focus on customer service: Ridiculously crazy customer service.

But likely you won’t offer that (it’s expensive and few companies do). That’s okay because you should be doing something else instead: You should be…

BUILDING A CUSTOMER RELATIONSHIP

A customer relationship is how much your customer thinks of you when they are not buying from you. It’s how often they invite you to their spouse’s birthday party or kid’s ball game.

A customer relationship is intimate. Interactive. Mutually meaningful. Sacrificial. Generous. And it needs to expand beyond the narrow confines of the conversation about your product or service.

A customer relationship looks like this: You’re a real estate agent who sold a house to a client. You also show up to help them pack boxes and put them in the back of the truck, and you pick up the tab for pizza. You send them a newsletter every quarter that doesn’t talk very much about you and your accomplishments, or even spends a lot of time talking about new houses on the market, but rather talks about the kinds of challenges and opportunities they face in their lives — raising kids, getting promoted, saving for retirement, buying a car. You stop by their house on the anniversary of their purchase every year and give them flowers or a bottle of wine. You send them birthday cards. You pay attention to their lives and call them up when something good or something bad is going on. You share your own personal challenges and wins with them. You ask a lot of questions and you savor every answer. You ask about their kid’s baseball games and you show up and cheer.

THAT is a customer relationship.

It’s the kind of interaction businesses want (although they are too busy focusing on service to realize that they’re aiming for the wrong thing).

It’s also the long game with a higher up-front cost but a very significant long-term pay-off.

Confession time. As I write this, I think of my customers and my brands. Do I have this in any of my brands? Absolutely not. I know a few things about my customers — important hobbies or spouse’s name or the number of kids… maybe. But I don’t do anything to build the relationship. So don’t read this blog post as someone who has it all together and is now meting out wisdom from atop a mountain. I’m an amateur who is chewing through my own thoughts and sharing a major failing with you.

On that note, I think I’ll sit down right now and chart out some changes in my business. I hope you’ll do the same in yours.

Case study: Dealing with the problem of rapid business growth

Business growth sounds good, doesn’t it? But rapid business growth can cause problems — perhaps more problems than you realize. There was a year in my business when I enjoyed rapid business growth. It was awesome! But the next year brought a tax bill that caught me completely by surprise and I spent the rest of that year struggling to make ends meet because most of my income was flowing to the government to pay off that tax bill. I learned my lesson: While rapid business growth is good, you should expect and prepare for challenges.

Rapid business growth brings another problem, as well…

One client in the automotive space had grown rapidly in a very short time. Through new company offices, acquisitions of competition, and a new franchise model, they went from a regional success story to a multinational one in just a few years. Times were good. But one “cost” of rapid business growth is that their customer experience started to falter.

When they were starting out and growing steadily, they were able to train staff and control the customer experience closely, and, in fact, it was that very customer experience that helped them to continue to grow so well. However, once they started opening new offices and acquiring other companies and franchisees, that customer experience was no longer consistent from one office to the next. In company-owned offices, the customer experience might be one way, in franchise offices, the customer experience might be another way, and in acquired companies (especially long-established ones!), the customer experience might be completely different.

This client hired me to help them develop training that could take them to the next level. There were three other challenges that I faced in this project:

  • The company already had computer-based training and web-based training that they delivered to their staff, and that training worked when they were smaller and had more control over each office. But now, their company had grown and out-grown their training, but they still wanted to use some of it.
  • The company was now located in multiple jurisdictions, which changed some aspects of their customer experience based on the laws and business environment of each different jurisdiction.
  • Additionally, they wanted to shore up their income by integrating more sales into their customer service experience.

So here’s what I did to help them…

  1. I outlined the training that their staff needed in order to be up-to-speed with the company’s preferred way of serving customers.
  2. I carefully reviewed the training they had and, when possible, plugged pieces of that existing training in where possible. (Some of it could be used verbatim; some of it needed to be revised).
  3. I wrote extensive new content where their training needs were not being met, providing specific best practices and scripts, as well as integrated sales material.
  4. I worked closely with their team, not only to ensure that it met their needs but also to ensure that the training material was accurate for each jurisdiction they now did business in.
  5. I wrote this content to be deployed in computer-based and web-based training and supported with a manual and workbook.

The company started their training with a single course covering the high-level points that their staff needed to be reminded of. When the project was complete, they had a thorough training package that delivered their must-know information through multiple modules covering different aspects of sales and customer service.

How one magazine lost thousands of dollars in repeat sales

A couple of months ago I advertised my services in a magazine. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a great experience working with the sales department and it’s enough to make me think twice about working with them again.

What’s surprising, though, is how small and easily fixable their problems are. So I won’t name them here because it’s not my intention to shame them but I’ll describe m experience with them as a sort-of case study to show you how a bunch of little things can really add up when it comes to customer experience.

Let’s start with…

WHAT THE MAGAZINE DID WELL

When I called them in July to place the ad, the guy who took the call was really helpful and gave me a great deal because it was my first time advertising with the magazine. He was friendly and pretty easy to work with. He sent me the advertising contract right away, which I paid the same day. Deals, communication, and high responsiveness. That’s great!

But after that interaction, things started to go downhill:

WHAT THE MAGAZINE DID POORLY

They never spelled my name correctly. That’s kind of a little infuriating. (Disclaimer: I’m guilty of doing this from time to time so I fully recognize that this street runs both ways).

When I sent my ad into the magazine, I never received a confirmation that my ad was received.

I paid promptly for my ad but got an invoice about a month later with my name misspelled and a lower amount, and the invoice gave a somewhat clear warning to “please pay this within 7 days or your ad won’t run”. I suspect what happened was that my higher payment plus my misspelled name meant that the accounting department didn’t correctly match up my payment with the receivable. When I tried to rectify the situation with an email (both with the person who sent me the notice and with the person I originally worked with) but never received a reply of any kind.

I followed-up about the payment again, a week or so before the ad went to print, just to ensure that the invoice was now marked as “paid” and my ad would run. Again no answer. In fact, as I write this months after the fact, there has never been a reply.

After the date the ad was supposed to run, I sent another email to just check and see whether or not the ad ran. That email was never returned. I did a small spike in traffic to my website so I’m assuming that the ad ran. Unfortunately, the results of the ad were disappointing as well. (Note: I don’t blame the magazine for this. Advertising is an ongoing process. I did receive some results but no where near the results I wanted and I take responsibility for that — advertising is a process of tweaking and modifying and adjusting).

Then, about 3 weeks after the ad was scheduled to run, I got a call from a different guy from the sales department. He tried to sell me some additional ad space. He also mentioned in passing that my ad hadn’t run yet and I said, “I thought it had.” He put the phone down for a moment then came back and said that it had.

As you can see, it wasn’t anything major but it was a bunch of little things that made them appear that they just couldn’t get it together. I guess I’m kind of surprised because this is a decent-sized magazine company with offices around the globe and several publications. They’ve been in business for a while and supposedly have a decent subscriber list.

SIMPLE FIXES FOR A LONG-TERM CLIENT

So what could they have done better? Here are some tips — that not only apply to them but really these tips apply to any business:

  • Spell the client’s name correctly.
  • Answer emails. Even if there is no question in the email, or even if it will take a while to find out the answer, just acknowledge that you received the email.
  • Equip sales people to sell more effectively on the back end. If they were trying to communicate with me as a client, they should know what my ad was and when it was published.
  • Bonus tip: Why not also create a resource for first-time advertisers like me that educates me about the process and maybe gives me tips on how to create a better ad.

These seem so simple as I wrote them out. And they’re things we take for granted and don’t even notice… unless they are missing.

I’m purposely not naming the company because I’m not here to shame anyone and I may yet choose to do business with them again. They know who they are and if they happen to read my post then I hope that my recommendations will improve their clients’ experience as well as the magazine’s bottom line. But this experience is a great reminder for all of us that no matter who we are and what industry we’re in, we need to make sure to focus on even the little things in the customer experience because those little things can add up to some big things.