So, Just ASK Already!

Do not underestimate the power of asking for that which you desire. In business, it is generally expected that after the “pitch”, comes the “ask”. It must be in that order, too. Why would a buyer or potential client do business with someone else, without knowing all the facts first? As Realtors, we rehearse our presentation and practice eliminating objections, but we give little consideration to actually getting the ink on paper. Too often, business people sit back after we have shown all the graphs, answered all the questions, and simply STARE at the prospect. The prospect finds this really creepy, by the way. Without asking for the order, the default answer is always “No”. Perhaps worse than not actually asking for the contract, we may give the feckless “so, what do you think”?

Asking also plays a big role in charities, recreation, and civic organizations as well. Years ago, I was curious as to why there wasn’t more participation in the annual Chili cook-off in my real estate office. The Managing Broker of the company told me, “Some times, people just want to be asked”. That really struck me as odd. This was something we did every year in the Fall, and everyone always partook and had fun. So, it’s not like people didn’t know to enter the contest, especially since it was posted, mentioned in a meeting, and followed up in email. After all, if an opportunity was available, or a position open, such as “Snack Chairman” for the high school volleyball team, wouldn’t people just raise their own hand, and say; “yes, I would relish the opportunity to be the Snack Chair this year”. I followed her guidance, and sure enough, we were able to double the participants, and everyone enjoyed the party.

Some time later, that same real estate broker needed to fill an Office Manager position at the firm. She must have had over a dozen applicants. She selected three or four potential hires for an interview. After the process, she confided in me, her decision came down to the one interviewee who actually ASKED for the job. I was under the assumption being grilled for twenty minutes on what animal you would be if you lived in a forest, WAS asking for the job. Apparently, not. The lady stated how much she really needed the job, and actually vocalized the words; “Will you hire me?”. Turned out, she was a really good fit for the office, and she never for a second indicated she took the position for granted.

Seeking a favor puts us at a disadvantaged position. When negotiating, we want to come from a position of power and strength, but in asking, we admit the ball is in the other person’s court. Many times, the ball IS NOT in our own court, and coming to that realization puts a knot in our stomach. Nonetheless, formally requesting the business is where the rubber meets the road. Even being denied your request is certainly a better position to come from than; making your presentation, dodging objections and being grilled for half an hour, only to toss out “So, what do you think” in the end. My advice; swallow your pride, and just ask!

Does Your Customer Service… Suck?

I’ll be blunt, customer service in the 21st century, pretty much sucks! Like small children, we have become a self absorbed society, and lost touch with the idea that the consumers of our product or service are ultimately responsible for our paychecks. In a word, our “BOSS”. But in a world filled with selfies, web addresses that begin with the word “MY…”, and an ever increasing use of unidirectional communication, i.e. texts, our focus has shifted from the true money makers. Large businesses, it seems, are more concerned than ever about taking in more than they give out. You can imagine the strain that would create on their relationship with the public.  Where is the pride so many companies use to tout when it came to their customer follow up? Do we understand the public’s expectations of us? Do we care?  Are we conceited, or have we just forgotten HOW to talk to customers?

The other day, an associate of mine commented on how great the customer service experience was with Amazon. To which, I replied how shameful it is that an “upstart” organization online, or over the phone can deliver better service than someone across the counter. It seems each year, dealing with a breathing body at the point of sale is becoming less, and less enjoyable. In fact, it’s more and more one directional. Do you hear that sucking sound too?

A month ago, I needed to get a new cellphone, so it was just a good time to change carriers altogether. I knew the headache I was in for, but felt assured someone at one of the world’s largest department store would be able to educate me as to the proper service that would fit my lifestyle. Typically, I go for the face to face transaction, though I am starting to rethink that. I looked at the in-store map for Plan A, and my entire State appeared to be covered in bright orange. That’s a good thing… I think. However, after waiting two days for “coverage to kick in” at my home, I took the product back to the store. I was informed though the coverage map was correct, it apparently just didn’t reach my home address, which, by the way, is in the geographic center said State. Really? Yes, they implied that the problem was somehow with me.

Undeterred, I switched to Plan B, however none of the four employees including a member of management could easily facilitate me in the switch since I was so newly in the system. Something about a vendor policy that would not allow them to manually fix the problem. Their solution; dial a toll-free number and hand ME the phone. Pathetic, but true. I first spoke to a man who explained the clerks earlier actions at the register deleted the phone number I had for the past decade, and he asked if I wanted him to see if he could retrieve it again. Obviously, my answer was “yes”. Why he even hesitated solving what was an apparent problem, I don’t know. Two hours later, after speaking to several voices, including Mary, who informed me she would need “two minutes of SILENCE” on my part while she typed in everything we discussed. Apparently, she was using pen and paper before. “Yes, Mary, I will grant you two minutes of silence”, I responded. Anything to get it over with. A college buddy of mine told me I should have done business with a company that specializes in cellphones. He’s right of course, but nonetheless, this mega corporation had forgotten what I was told the first day of business school; “If you cannot service the product you sell, don’t sell it”.

Corporations are at fault as much as individual employees. In the “me” generation of business, we tend to think once a product is out the door, or contract signed, we are done with our part of the sale. However, we need to wake up, grow up, and recognize the establishment of a business relationship that will carry on for several days, if not years. A distance transaction may go smoothly, because management has empowered their employees to make certain decisions. Of course, they are being closely monitored when there are electronic means being utilized. So, why are the counter clerks not empowered at the brick and motor storefront? Perhaps it’s a trust issue on part of the company which might not be able to eavesdrop on every conversation.  More than likely, it just goes to poor training. It’s no doubt, the mega store was running scared during Amazon’s recent attempt at a “Christmas in July” promotion. It’s assurance. Even if they get it wrong, Amazon will fix it.

So, who are customer reps? Anyone who deals with potential customers on behalf of the business itself. Whether you are an independent contractor, sole proprietor, or just one cog in the spokes of a billion dollar machine, if your interaction has the ability to put a smile or frown on a clients face, you are a customer service representative. That being the case, you are the eyes and ears of business. You also have the power to effect whether that business thrives or dies. Oh, did I mention your actions effect your paycheck? Payroll departments tend to stop issuing checks when their companies go belly up.

Customer service is not easy. But neither is business itself. It never has been, which is why so many fail. Last century’s giant could very well fall to next year’s upstart which fills a void; delivering or surpassing customer expectations. A third-world country may surpass America in overall sales of widgets and thingamajigs! Though, it may not be too late if we train, empower, and promote a higher standard of customer satisfaction among those who have the ability to raise it. With a shift from “me, me, me”, to “the customer is always right” (remember that?), a business just might survive. We might make the process “suck” a little less. In fact, we could BREATHE new life into an organization that was almost on life support.

MomentumSeminars.com

Professionalism Begins Online

We have all had bad days, but is that a license to blab to the world about how much you hate your job because we’re just not “feeling it” that day? SPOILER ALERT; the crux of this article is that no one cares! Nonetheless, there will be teachers, CPAs, Realtors and even doctors who will spill their guts on the internet through social media. The individual may feel a little better after a purge, but his or her audience is aghast.

A couple of weeks ago, I was with about a dozen veteran real estate agents who were mortified by some of the recent posts of fellow Realtors. Things that apart from just being in bad taste, could actually get the licensee in a lot of hot water. Of course, I immediately pulled out my smartphone to see who was doing what. Oh yes, you will get reactions, but will you get business? I will confess just when I think no one is reading my feed, I may drop a quick comment about an elected official or some new government policy and inadvertently start a firestorm controversy. Right there on MY page… YIKES! Well, if you are alright with that, than that’s your business decision to make.

It really is a business decision. Most people with a professional license are independent contractors. That being said, they are small business owners. To which they are THEIR OWN boss and responsible for taking measures to avoid liability. If one agent tweets out their own resentment toward a fellow Realtor, the overall process or heaven forbid, their own client, repercussions are soon to follow because literally everyone on the planet can read it. As in the case of Realtors, the NAR Code of Ethics, Article 15 reads…

“REALTORS® shall not knowingly or recklessly make false or misleading statements about other real estate professionals, their businesses, or their business practices.” 

The supporting standards go on to state the professional could be made to remove the post and, essentially, apologize. In the case of clients, they could sue over a careless post as it is a breach of agency. So why would someone want to air their dirty laundry online in the first place?

Rachel Albertson, with InfoRule Social Media, a Murfreesboro based marketing firm states; “You do not have to be friends with clients on social media. In fact, I do not recommend it.”  Apparently, Disney thinks that’s a good idea as well. Their employees are NOT permitted to mention they work for Disney. To violate this policy could be grounds for termination. So, be mindful of how you intermingle your private life with business.

Legal issues aside, remember what your mom told you about “conversation in mixed or polite company”? Do not discuss sex, politics or religion. Mom was right! Yet, here is where a lot of people miss it. To spare you the details here, MASHABLE has compiled a list of people who were let go over social media posts. I am not suggesting we have no opinions or never share our ideas, that’s not my place. Though I will offer a friendly reminder if you post something political, you stand the chance of alienating half of your audience.

Professionalism begins online. In the 21st century, the majority of consumers start looking for an insurance agent, mortgage broker, Realtor or dentist through the internet. The search is actually a funnel. The buyer asks a question of a search engine, follows the answer to an industry publication, then a geographic company and then YOU! They already have a vague idea of what a professional is suppose to be before they ever click your name. When they ask a serious question, they anticipate a serious, coherent answer. If what they find instead is an agent posing with a sock monkey, they may not take that professional as one who is serious or would be responsible with their money. In short, the agent appears UNprofessional. Don’t get me wrong, I love sock monkeys as much as the next guy, but if there is no marketing tie-in or a picture of a give away at a children’s hospital, no one would take me serious. They certainly would not trust me with their biggest financial investment. Time to take down the cutesy avatar.

Blaine@realtracs.com