As real estate and lending professionals, our goal is to provide the best customer service that we can. So what does that look like? First, we want to be fully engaged with our clients. We want our clients to know that we are paying attention to what they are saying. We do this by responding to their statements and asking and answering their questions fully. We must be engaged which is very difficult when you are multitasking. It is also important that our clients understand that we are clear about what their needs are. We must understand how their needs or requests are impacting them emotionally, financially, and in other ways that they may not be able to articulate. Having a high degree of emotional intelligence is helpful in understanding what is going on beyond the words of the client. Sometimes greater clarity is achieved when we can identify what is not being said by listening very carefully.
Buying a home is perhaps one of the most life impacting decisions that most people will ever make. It ranks right up there with marriage and deciding to have a child. It represents the highest amount of debt that most people will ever incur in their lifetime. It represents the highest expense and the largest amount of money that they will have to invest in the house over time. It also represents the largest amount cash that they have to save or be given to put as a down payment to buy it. To say it is a serious matter is an understatement. Few matters in life can rise to this level of importance.
So when we have a meeting with a client whether it is by phone, video, or in person, it is important, as professionals, that we bring our A-game. We must be ready to pay attention, take notes, provide insight, repeat the buyer’s or seller’s concerns so they know we care and understand their goals or needs. We must also be able to create a game plan to help them navigate through the decisions and challenges that they potentially may face in execution of the plan. This level of engagement and service can only be achieved by paying attention and being very focus on your client.
So I ask, given the gravity of a home purchase or selling a home, why would a lending or real estate professional answer their cell phone in a meeting with a client? It seems to me that answering the telephone during a meeting is not only disrespectful, but it sends a message that our clients are not as important as the person is who is calling. Now whether the value of one client is greater than another is true or not, is that the message we want our clients to hear and see as a lending or real estate professional? It is not for anyone who seriously pursuing excellence in service and professionals.
Now I must make a confession before I continue. Some of you reading this blog may have been victims of being put on hold by me so that I could take another call. Please accept my heartfelt apology. I am without excuse. I pride myself on being accessible to everyone and available all the time. I am one of “those guy’s” who brags about always answering my phone and being available. It is only partly true. I have realized through consistent failure in answering every call that it was and is an unrealistic expectation that I had for myself and that others may have of me. I do not blame the client at all. I created that expectation and now I am changing it. I am the captain of my ship and the master of my destiny. I have struggle with this dilemma my entire 34 year career in lending and real estate. It is a well establish conflict that all sales professionals have with time management and client accessibility. We spend 70% of our time generating, capturing and following up on leads and the other 30% on managing everything associated with the results of the activity that takes most of our time. One of the most common complaints I hear about real estate and lending professionals is that they are not accessible and that they take too long to get back to their clients. Many salespeople try to make this complaint a market differentiator from their competition and make the claim that they always answer their phone and of course fail to do so. This was the number one complaint that I received as a Home Loan center manager in supervising loan consultants over the years. In general most sales complaints center around poor communication and lack of responsiveness. In response to these complaints, many consultants and professionals including myself try to be more accessible by answering the phone when it rings; even when we are on the phone or in a meeting with our clients. It is a failed strategy.
I believe that answering phone everytime it rings and or answering the phone when you are with a client is a serious strategic mistake and will ultimately hurt your brand and reputation. This conclusion based on thirty four years of first hand experience in watching and managing sales people, who have this problem, and seeing how ineffective they are in building trust and maintaining long term relationships. As result their business is dependant on the ebb and flow of the market and is transactional as opposed to business that is driven by referrals and is based on relationships. Their clients eventually get the message that they are not really that important; which is not true but a reasonable conclusion based on their behavior. I have always known better and believed that it is a mistake to answer your phone when in a meeting with a client. It is a mistake not to block time to manage the results of your sales activity so that your clients are being properly served. But why is this behavior so prevalent? Why do most sales people break these commonsense rules? I believe we break the rules because there is something in all of us that is activated by the fear of losing out on a new opportunity. It is the survival instinct, divinely endowed, that is always on the hunt because we can only eat what we slayl. This is not an excuse, so please do not take it that way, it is an explanation or perhaps exploration of the psychological makeup of commission sales people. They are hunters and must always be in hunt because no one knows when the market will change and opportunities to hunt will more scarce.
But let’s be clear. We cannot allow our basic instincts to override our support intelligence that is also divinely endowed. It is a grave mistake to cause a client to feel that they are less important than any other person that is seeking your expertise; especially when you are in a scheduled meeting with that client (emergencies are of course an exception to the rule.) It clearly sends the wrong message, it shows a lack of organization and professionalism. It shows that you are someone who is not proactive but reactive and ultimately it shows and utter disrespect for your clients time.
So what is the solution? I will tell you in Stop Answering Your Phone: Part 2 where I will discuss how I climbed out of the horrible pit of answering the phone while with a client. I did it and it is still a work in progress. It’s like being a drug addict or alcoholic but you can do it too. Tune in for part two! Your Power Is Now.
Eric Lawrence Frazier, MBA
President and CEO