Many real estate agents today create temporary relationships with home buyers and sellers. Agents provide transaction services, take buyers from property search to home closing; or take sellers from property listings to home closings. But when the closing is completed, most agents hand over the house keys and move on to the next hot prospect. It’s the nature of sales.
Some agents keep in touch with past customers by sending trinkets, jam, calendars, anniversary cards and holiday greetings. But too often, past customers are neglected as a prime source for future transactions.
When you neglect or ignore a happy, well-treated, well-served customer, you give up a great deal of hidden value in the form of client goodwill. Immediately after a successful real estate transaction, a satisfied customer is prepared to become your client for life. A customer becomes your client when you pro-actively provide products and services distributed throughout the years in between transactions: newsletters, information reports, market alerts, product discounts, seminar invitations and other useful information about your local housing market.
You now have a long-term, professional relationship with these home owners or sellers. They’re impressed that you treat them well and fairly, even though the transaction is complete. You become their real estate agent – the name they know and the professional they recommend.
Indeed, past clients recommend you to family, friends and neighbors, generating quality referrals and prospecting leads. And expect these well-maintained clients to buy or sell more real estate using you as their “insider” authority. The goodwill factor stays with happy clients years after the sale, when you reach out and maintain interest and contact.
Now, this sounds good in theory, but you don’t have enough time to provide services to past customers. You have to cut expenses, generate and convert leads so that you generate income today, not five years down the road.
Not to worry, the client approach gives you the best of both worlds. You focus on making money today, while obtaining clients for tomorrow. You do both because the time and cost of client management is insignificant when weighed against the benefits you derive.
Agents continue to use traditional marketing channels such as online lead generation services, postcards and mailers, open houses, local newspaper advertisements, local real estate listing hand-outs and telemarketing to focus their near-term activity on converting leads to customers and fulfilling customer transactions.
Now let’s look at the client-based approach. Growing a client business is based on the concept of “self generating” referrals and leads, accomplished by creating a large network of exposure points, which, in turn generate more referrals and leads naturally, organically.
For example, an agent who conducts a seminar on foreclosure sales to an audience of 100 people creates an exposure point because once the seminar is over, the power and reach of your expertise and authority spreads by word of mouth – the best advertising an agent has.
One hundred seminar attendees now have a favorable opinion of the agent. Each tells family, friends, neighbors and colleagues about the agent. In turn, some of these people tell others and your reputation grows virally. A one-hour seminar creates a self-generating process of referrals and leads.
The fact that a client-based approach creates self-generating referrals is a bonanza for today’s ambitious agents. According to a recent survey conducted by HomeGain, real estate agents believe that referrals are the most effective marketing strategy to acquire new clients.
Clients Eventually Generate More Business
If you keep clients for life, they’ll ultimately naturally generate more commission income for your business practice, while you are focused on generating short-term customer business. Here’s why:
A meaningful percentage of an agent’s book of clients will eventually purchase a trade-up or trade-down property, organically generating more business for the agent and agency.
A percentage of clients will eventually purchase a resort property, giving the agent the referral fee from another agent in a different location.
A percentage of clients purchase investment properties, giving the agent all of these transactions.
Satisfied clients refer their agent to family, friends, and neighbors, growing the agent’s client base. This word of mouth exposure expands on its own as the agent continues to provide advice and counsel.
And finally, serving a large number of clients in a relatively small community gets the agent recognized as highly credible with a solid reputation.
Simply stated, clients are worth more than customers-over time.
Facebook’s new “graph search” is the beginning of a long-term attempt to strike at Google’s most lucrative product.
When Google unveiled free word processing and spreadsheet apps back in 2007, the company wasn’t trying to immediately topple Microsoft’s Office suite. After all, Google’s apps were―and still are―inferior to powerful programs like Word and Excel. But their launch was the beginning of a long-term campaign to nibble away at one of Microsoft’s core franchises. In fiscal 2012 Microsoft’s business division, which includes Office, brought in $24 billion. But there is little doubt that it would be even larger had Google not offered a cheaper alternative now used by millions of businesses.
Facebook (FB) is taking a page from Google’s (GOOG) playbook. The social networking giant on Tuesday unveiled a search service. It is not aimed at toppling Google from its perch as the king of Web search any time soon. Instead, it is the opening round in a long-term campaign to erode Google’s monopoly over the most powerful and profitable business on the Internet. If successful, Facebook’s so-called “graph search” will offer users an alternative to Google that may work better for many types of queries. In due time, it could turn into a tidy business for Facebook.
“Graph search is not Web search,” Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s co-founder and chief executive, said during a packed press conference at the company’s headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif.
Indeed, Facebook only searches for things that have happened on its sprawling site. For now, it concentrates on four types of searches: people, photos, interests and places. But the types of queries possible with Facebook’s new service are innovative and useful. Users can “find friends who like soccer” or “find friends who like soccer in your hometown.” Users can find all the photos they’ve liked or all the photos their friends have taken in Paris. They can find restaurants in San Francisco liked by friends who are locals, or by friends who are Indian―say if they’re in the mood for spicy food. Users can’t do that on Google.
The promise of this kind of service—which, by the way, was built by a team of 50 engineers led by two ex-Googlers—is enormous. For starters, it could broaden the utility of Facebook, turning it from a tool of interaction into one that helps users discover new things. And Google, which is trying to be the place where people find not only other Web pages, but also restaurants or plumbers or HD televisions, should be worried. (Google declined to comment.)
Yet Facebook’s caution―graph search is still in beta or test mode, and is only being rolled out to a very small fraction of the site’s more than 1 billion users―is warranted. The company’s demo was dazzling, but the queries were for users who were also Facebook employees. These are Facebook “super-users” who likely check in every place they go, and click the Like button on every book, song or brand they, well, like.
I’d venture a guess that the majority of Facebookers are more parsimonious in their usage of the site and may not regularly share what they’re reading or listening to, let alone recommend their plumber, dentist or contractor to their closest 500 friends. Without that information, their contribution to the search graph will be limited. I have hundreds of Facebook friends, yet the answer to the query “pizza places in Oakland that my friends like” was hardly satisfying—it listed just one result. (Regular Facebook users can request access to graph search here.)
And of course, Google has never been known for taking its eye off the ball when it comes to search. The company already has a social network in Google+. While it lacks the level of activity that Facebook enjoys, it could readily serve as the basis for Google to build a rival graph search service. (As Fortune chronicled in its 2011 cover story, this battle has been a long time coming.)
The biggest understatement of the press conference may well have been Zuckerberg’s response to the question of monetization. “This could potentially be a business over time,” he said. For now, graph search has no ads. But if people start searching for restaurants of stores in large numbers, plenty of those businesses will be willing to pay Facebook in exchange for preferential placement in search results. Zuckerberg said Facebook would focus on improving the product, and rolling it out on mobile phones and in other languages, before it considers taking ads.
“This is one of the coolest things that I think we have done in a while,” Zuckerberg said. Many Facebook analysts agree. If Facebook appeared beleaguered after its disastrous IPO, Zuck’s crew is gunning for Google again, reminding its biggest rival that while it was down for while it certainly wasn’t out.
Oh, and as the two giants battle it out in the coming years, there is bound to be collateral damage. On Tuesday, shares of Yelp (YELP), which risks being tripped up by Facebook’s graph search sooner than Google will, dropped more than 6%.
While the recession has taken a bite out of most people’s paychecks, an interesting side effect is that travel deals abound. Companies large and small are hurting, and tourist destinations need those American dollars more than ever before. Of course, that doesn’t change your desire to get the best deal possible, and thanks to mobile technology you’ve got more ways than ever before to work the system and keep that cash in your pocket. So whether you’re traveling across the state or across the world, charge up your tablet or smartphone of choice, head to the app store and check out some of the best options to save you time and money while planning your next trip.
Since you are going to be relying on that mobile device on the go, one of the new necessities is finding free or very cheap Wi-Fi sources wherever you may be. So let’s start there, by downloading the Free Wi-Fi Finder app, available for both Android and iOS devices. Simply launch the app and a GoogleMap will pop up, showing you everywhere in the vicinity you can hop on the world wide web without paying a dime. It’s a great tool to keep handy when you’re a stranger in a strange land and need to make additional plans in a hurry.
If you’ve yet to leave home, or if you’re in a foreign destination and want to keep the trip going, download the Kayak app. Kayak is one of the best discount travel sites out there, and the app they’ve created is highly sophisticated. You can download it for free on any device, and you’ll be able to hunt out cheap hotels and airfare rates based on a wide range of criteria. You may not want to do your final booking here, but as far as research is concerned there’s probably nothing better.
When it comes to coordinating your travel plans, time is of the essence. You’ve got flights, transfers, car rental packages and hotels to confirm, and each confirmation number is in a different email. You’re liable to lose track of something. Streamline your organization with the Tripit app. It’s also completely free, and available for almost every device. Tripit basically acts as your one-stop itinerary planner. Once you download the app and open an account you simply forward each confirmation email to a dedicated Tripit email address, and the app puts them all together in one detailed itinerary. It will even look up driving directions and maps, and tell you what the weather will be like when you arrive.
While Yelp is a fantastic app, you really have to know what you’re looking for and be willing to spend the time to read all those reviews. When you’re away from home that can sometimes cause more questions than answers. So check out the free app AroundMe, also available for almost any mobile device. Launch this one and it will immediately show you all available options in every category in your vicinity. Then you can narrow it down to hotels, restaurants, ATMs or whatever else you might be looking for. Finally it will give you step-by-step directions on how to get there. It might not save you money like orbitz and travelocity coupons can, but it will help you locate several similar options and then choose the cheaper one. And you won’t have to wander around with that ‘deer in the headlights’ tourist look.
You obsess on product, tweaking it to perfection.
You slave over your service, honing it to deliver a razor-sharp slice of delight.
You market your goods, crafting the most inviting offer.
You think you’ve nailed the customer experience.
Not so fast, Timmy.
No nutritional value
Jeff Smisek, United Airlines’ CEO, spoke at me from the screen. He labored on about the improvements his airline is undertaking just for me.
It was all talk.
Gate 16 had one electrical outlet — a droplet for the dozens of thirsty travelers in need of juice. Boarding was painfully slow. The cabin reeked of locker room sweat and mildew.
The onboard service ran out of real food by the time they reached my row. I was offered Pringles. I passed. They had the same nutritional value as the scuzz caked onto my seat.
The week prior I was on a Virgin flight. It was heaven. This week, I was in hell.
Virgin created heaven by attending to the simple things. Things they know turn us on. Things attainable by United — or any airline — if they reached high enough.
Ever walk into a place and it just feels wrong? Think Rite Aid. Radio Shack. Payless Shoes. Toys R Us. Denny’s.
Each of these establishments offers the things you’ve entered to acquire. Yet something about the vibe is off. The way things are laid out or designed or the aura the store projects just doesn’t play to your sensibilities. Or to your desire to feel special as their customer.
Instead, you feel like a number. Part of a faceless herd.
Ever go somewhere you never wanted to leave? We all have. These are the places that attend to those little things that make us feel special. The details add up.
Whole Foods. You shop for more than food at this grocery store. You go to rediscover sustenance. Meet new brands. Local purveyors. Secure the finest ingredients. You leave with items that were never on your list.
Car2Go. It’s transportation, environmental commitment and personal convenience. Avis tried harder for 66 years. Car2Go is trying a lot harder. And they’re winning loyal fans wherever they go. They’ve simplified process and price and made it easy to be environmentally responsible. That feels good.
Four Seasons. Enter the front door. Serenity. Their service bar is high. And it’s consistent. You expect to feel good during your stay, and you leave happy.
Virgin. Their presence is an oasis in the middle of a harsh airport desert. Calm. Convenient. Designed for modern life. People wait at their gates to pass the time until their United flights board. Soaking up the good vibe.
We respond to the simple things these brands do. Time and time again.
Love your customer
Everyone wants unabashed loyalty from their customers. To get that, you’ve got love them in lots of little ways.
Some examples come to mind immediately:
Voice mail. You have an ambiguous, sterile or long message with endless menu options. Fix that. People call you because they want to speak to a person and get information. Make it easy. Personable. And to the point. No one wants to call a menu system so remove it if you can. A friendly, helpful voice that greets people every time and provides them the information or the direct line they need right away is a small thing that goes a long way to getting them to call you again.
Website. Busy websites stress visitors. The more choices, options, images and elements you place on a page, the more likely it is users will bounce or get frustrated trying to find the thing they came to the site for. I know about the pressure you’re under to place everything on the home page. Resist it. The simpler, cleaner and more user-focused the site its, the more of a calm, engaging and clear vibe it gives off. You can scream at the user, or whisper gently. Choose wisely.
Office space. Brokers: Spend a few grand sprucing up your office. Pop a coat of fresh color on the wall. Here’s another idea: Design some of your retail space like rooms in a home. A den. A Finished basement. A bedroom. A man cave. This could be a cool, feel-good environment for agents to meet with clients. Especially if these rooms are staged beautifully. Maybe a local furniture store or decorator could curate and design in exchange for free advertising. Make them want to come for a visit.
Aftercare. None of us do enough to service people post-sale. Asking customers for referrals or sending them holiday cards is OK. That’s touching them. But in a creepy sort of way. People yearn for something more meaningful than a touch. They yearn for value. Relevance. Starbucks sends me a coupon for a free drink on my birthday. That matters more to me than a Hallmark card. Conjure up something more meaningful than a turn your clock back this Sunday reminder. There are a million ideas here — too many for me to list.
Fun. Enjoyment. Happiness.
At Ikea, a color-coded path eases the ordeal of navigating thousands of products. Creatively orienting their goods inspires shoppers. Ikea makes shopping fun, which makes their customers feel good in the process. It’s the simple, singular difference between them and every other furniture manufacturer.
You will return.
Fun baked into functionality. Enjoyment at the beginning of the experience. Happiness when it concludes.
Here’s the thing to consider: The average customer in real estate doesn’t experience fun during the process. It’s clear why. Real estate is stressful. But so is flying and buying furniture — and Virgin and Ikea have taken aim right at that stress, resulting in amazing customer experiences.
While you ultimately can’t extract all the stress from the real estate transaction, you can address the simple things around it that determine how that stress is felt.
You feel me?