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IS CUSTOMER SERVICE AND SALESMANSHIP A VANISHING ART?

I have had a couple of personal experiences in selling and buying real estate this past year; one where I was personally involved in selling and buying a home, the other with a personal acquaintance.

In both instances I was surprised with the manner the REALTORS® conducted themselves. There was no question they were well prepared and knew the market very well.  Each instance however, had situations that surprised me, especially since I heavily promote our overall membership’s sales skills and professionalism.

In summary in both my experiences, sales associates are relying heavily on technology and using social media as a crutch to replace face to face relationship building and negotiation skills.

There is no question social media is great for prospecting and staying in touch with past clients. It is also critical that technological tools are used to create efficiencies and improve overall customer service. A successful sales career is all about relationship and salesmanship skills. Nothing will ever replace face to face meeting and consultation services. Yes the initial contact is great with social media or email, but the ultimate customer service experience can only be achieved by face to face, belly to belly meetings; answering questions, providing feedback and giving advice one on one. This is the only way to develop the rapport needed to build a long lasting relationship based on trust and confidence.

This is even more critical when dealing with an offer. All too often we hear from unhappy consumers and from my own personal experience, where sales associates call with the offer, then email it to the client to review and respond. This is completely unacceptable and certainly flies in the face of good negotiating skills. Further to this, the consumer really questions the value they are receiving for the commission being paid.

It has become all too common to use technology as an excuse to not meet face to face. Ultimately your success ratio on closing sales will be determined by your ability to read body language, listen and watch between the lines and help the client make the right decision with the all the information. There is no way this can be accomplished effectively over the phone or by email. Naturally, there are times when there is no other way; I believe presenting offers over the phone or by email is only a choice of last resort.

If you are looking for a way to sharpen your overall sales skills, the best program widely available is the Dale Carnegie sales course. I took it many years ago and still find it as the best method to really sharpen your negotiating skills.

I look forward to reading your comments and hearing about your own experiences on this topic.

Elton Ash ABR CRES
Regional Executive Vice President

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8 comments

  1. Gigi Green says:

    I have to agree that face to face communications is a must. Although once I have presented an offer, I give my clients the option of doing counters over the phone or in person. I do not even like to pass counters to my clients via text as you cannot get a feel for how they are taking it. Even voice inflection on the phone can help you tell if you need to support, difuse or clarify. We all live in a busy fast paced world. My clients have stated many times that the like my personalized service and availablity.
    I love technology but I believe that nothing beats a face to face service.

  2. Keith Schultz says:

    An excellent letter Elton. You make some very relevant points.

    Selling real estate is a face to face business. This is important for our careers as we want to make sure we continue to enjoy doing what we do for many years. And getting to know our clients and what they are all about makes for every day being a fun day. Plus it’s good business. Dan Sullivan, an emminent mentor coach, tells us to focus on our top 20 and to really get to know them. To me communication is about credibility. Face to face with clients, and realtors, has the highest credibility, telephone is next, then email, and everything drops off after that. I disabled sms or text messaging on my cell phone as I think it is inane. Phone me on my direct line, it will find me anywhere in North America, if a client, customer or realtor wants to talk with me.

    An issue you point out, Elton, is perceived value. What exactly is the value of a realtor in the eyes of the public? Maintaining a strong in person relationship increases our perceived value. Texting, presenting offers both to clients and cooperating realtors by email, refusing to meet in person with a cooperating realtor, signing documents electronically, relying too much on assistants and team members: these all decrease our dollar value in the eyes of the public.

    A couple of my experiences this year in attempting to sell another realtor’s listing were notable. Both agents were experienced high income earners, one very high. One realtor refused my offer of hand delivering the purchase contract. He said he “just doesn’t do business like that”. I did sell the property, the buyers took possession, and I have never seen the cooperating realtor. Another example was dealing with one of the top teams. The listing agent had instructed his team that he (the lister) will not speak to other agents. So when an issue arose I had no recourse but to deal with a fairly new realtor or an assistant with no vested interest; in other words they don’t care.

    I don’t deny that using technology to extremes can make an agent money. If you are good enough you never have to see anybody, even to pick up your commission cheque. Is an overreliance on technology good for our industry? No.

    By the way, Elton, I like your thoughtful letters you post.

  3. Excellent article Elton. Seems like face to face deals are becoming “old school”.

    For my buyers, I like to present the offer in person to the sellers with my clients outside waiting in the car. It shows value to your clients demonstrating the negotiating process. Sometimes, the listing REALTOR will even let ME present to their sellers. I can bring points forward to the sellers that the listing REALTOR® (days on market, list to sell ratio, other solds, expires in neighborhood, etc) that the lister may not pass onto their clients. Sometimes, their body language will give me a better idea of what the bottom line is. Of course, I do this tactfully and with respect . I find I get a higher success of closing then thru the “scan/fax then call/text me” type of negotiating.

    On the selling side, I love offers presented in person as again, it clearly demonstrates you working for your clients. A great question I ask is “Who are your buyers qualified with & have you seen a letter of financial introduction?” as most deals fall apart for finances. Again, deals usually come together when offers are personally presented. It takes away from the “I want to sleep on it” for both parties. Of course, it’s different kettle of fish with foreclosures or clients out of town as we must then use our technology.

    Hoping you add these points to your upcoming speech at the Canadian RE/MAX conference in Quebec City. I’m looking forward to it!

  4. Elton—Great article. Very well presented and much needed in this so called Modern Tech Age that we find ourselves in. We were talking today, in our office, about the lack of personal Social skills with-in the Real Estate community in our small town. I can only imagine what its like in the larger cities. I was taught by Stan Penny, the in-house trainner, when I joined Realty World years ago, that in order to succeed in anything in life you must first be able to communicate and negotiate. I was fortunate that when I started Real Estate I was a competing Toastmaster, past politician(Alderman for three terms) and ex businessman. Plus I have been married for 40 years so I know how to communicate and especially know about negotiating.

    Over the years those skills have made me and mine very wealthy but not necessarily the way you would think. I have over 1374 new friends through Real Estate dealings and in every case I know that I can drop in for a beer or coffee when I’m in the area or grab a round of golf. By personally meeting, talking and negotiating with them we have become friends. By the way, quite a few of them do not even own a computer or if they do, they do not e-mail or if they do e-mail they do not have a scanner. A lot of them do not even have a fax or have cell phone service. Many people in the rural area’s of the province have dial-up which is very slow and frustrating and some of my clients can’t even get on the fancy web sites that some of the techie’s have. Too long to load. I have had to scale back my web site so that a lot of my clients can access it. Does it hurt my business. I would imagine it does with the clients from the bigger centers looking for “The site” and not just a Realtor. To compensate for this I verbally contact them more or touch them by mail and greater signage in the area.

    By the way I make it a point to personally present all my offers or counter offers whenever I can. I do not send it in an envelope to the other Realtors to present like so many do nowadays.Imagine, missing the opportunity to possibly gain a client from your competitor by demonstrating your social skills. Did the other Realtor mention there were two offers? Are you missing the chance to maybe gain a sale by giving a great presentation of your offer directly to the Buyer or Seller. You can never replace body language with a computor no matter who you are. And yes, I do scan and e-mail contracts when I have to as we do live in a brave New World.

    On the tech side, yes, we do need and must have all the new tools in order to do business nowadays and the knowledge to use it. But we must never, never, lose the skills to openly communicate and negotiate with our clients. The one thing that I enjoy most about this business is the friends that I make through Real Estate.

    I really enjoyed the article. Hope everyone reads it and understands that yes we need to embrace the new technology and use it but in order for the general public to appreciate and respect us we must present superior communication and negotiating skills. After all, isn’t that what they are paying us for?

  5. Bruce Pollon says:

    Thank you, Elton! Excellent points to remember in this fast paced business world. Nothing can replace face to face communication, follow up and courtesy.

    I agree with with you and the others that the art of communication is slowly being lost because of technology. Technology certainly has it’s place. We personally use it extensively, however, when it comes to client decisions whether in a listing, sale, referral, inquiries or getting the keys to move in, I always want to be there in person for the client.

    Another area that falls down quite often is realtor to realtor communication and courtesy. Touch base can be effective but has it’s limits when a unique situation for showings or information is required. Some realtors prefer to screen calls through their answering service, assistants or technology. Personally answering and replying to calls in a timely, friendly manner means a lot! It’s the little things and post scripts that makes all the difference. As you said, we are in the sales business. Our clients/customers also include other realtors, bankers, lawyers, trades, home inspectors etc. who we need to communicate effectively with as well to give good customer service.

    I have been a realtor for over 32 years, my wife, Rene, over 20 years and our business is almost entirely from past clients, referrals and our sphere of influence. It’s a people to people business.

    Thanks again, Elton, for your excellent points!

  6. Carl says:

    Hi Elton,

    We spent our last sales meeting reviewing the “Future of Organized Real Estate”. Personal connection was an important part of our discussion. It will be part of our next sales meeting as well. Thank you for providing more information to reinforce the importance of personal connection from beginning to end.

    Best to you,
    Carl Scott

  7. Greg Hamre says:

    Elton – Thank you for sharing this with our Hamre Team here in Ottawa. We appreciate it. I am always proud to say that we offer a higher level of customer service than our competition. To say it is one thing, however to deliver on it is another and we are committed to delivoring on a daily basis. Our success depends on it. In the real estate world today we have such an opportunity to capitalize on our high level of services. Paying attention to details, ensuring a wonderful experience and going beyond the clients expectations is what good business is all about. It creates the bond and a positive lasting impression. Being average is not good enough. It is what great brand like Harley Davidson and Starbucks have built their business models on. Sales is an art not a hobby.

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