Nicole Slaughter Graham is a freelance journalist and writer based in St. Petersburg, Fla.
How to Sell Agents on Customer Service Over Profit
Three brokers explain how they put customers above all else and how they encourage agents to do the same.
February 24, 2020
In a strong real estate market, many people decide it’s time to invest in a real estate license, and then new agents flood the market. It’s easy to see why. Some simple math shows that selling just a couple of houses a month could add up to a nice monthly income. The schedule appears to be flexible, and in many respects, agents are their own bosses.
The benefits are undoubtedly attractive, but what many new agents don’t realize is that there’s much more to the business than simply selling a couple of houses a month and making some money. They turn to real estate brokers to learn the ropes.
Long-time brokers like DeAnn Golden, Connie Antoniou, and Nico Hohman know that the benefits look enticing. But they also understand that an agent who's focused more on profit than customer service will struggle in the business and could tarnish a brokerage’s reputation. For these reasons and more, they emphasize building a business with customer service at the center.
Longevity Requires a Customer-Centric Mindset
“I have always lived by one of Warren Buffett’s quotes,” says DeAnn Golden, ABRM, CRB, managing broker at Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Georgia Properties Dunwoody Sandy Springs. “It goes, ‘It takes 20 years to build a reputation and 5 minutes to ruin it.’”
She’s found this sentiment to be true in her personal life and in her business, which is why she’s always focused on putting the customer front and center, and she recruits agents who do the same.
“If you don’t care for those that you’re entrusted with, you won’t have a long legacy in this industry,” Golden says. “This industry is word-of-mouth– and reputation-driven.” Having a customer-first approach, Golden teaches her agents, is one of the only ways to have a long and prosperous career in real estate.
“People appreciate and remember when you take care of them,” says Connie Antoniou, CIPS, GREEN, managing broker and vice president of sales for Jameson Sotheby’s International Realty. Antoniou spent much of her time in her earlier career working with Chicago Blackhawks players, many of whom were young, inexperienced in home buying and selling, and new to the area. “I made the decision to give them a concierge-style service from the beginning.” When new team members joined the Blackhawks or existing players had housing needs, they knew Antoniou would take care of them, and thus her business grew.
Home Buying and Selling Is a Huge Decision
Clients rely on real estate agents for much more than just buying or selling their homes. They’re looking for a person they can trust to guide them on questons that include making the most of their money, finding the right neighborhood to suit their needs, and providing advice on renovations and the return on that investment.
“Real estate is a relationship business. It’s not a transactional business,” says Nico Hohman, a senior adviser at Tomlin Commercial Real Estate Services in the Tampa-St. Petersburg, Fla., area. “A good real estate agent understands that they have a fiduciary agreement to their client and that the agent’s job is to get the client what the client wants.”
Buying or selling a home is one of the biggest decisions a person will ever make. That client will come to rely on the agent as a source of understanding, support, and knowledge. A large amount of trust is exchanged, which means agents need to have the client’s best interest, rather than their own financial goals, in mind.
“We have to act as trusted advisers,” Golden says. “People can read through the veil of those fixated on monetary gain. You have to be truly invested in people’s lives.”
When one client trusts an agent with this big life decision and that agent exceeds the client’s expectations, the agent will reap the benefits, says Antoniou.
“The referrals will come in, and the money will be made, but only when you put the client first,” she says. Word of mouth is an invaluable tool for business growth in real estate, and instilling the importance of customer service makes this tool available to agents old and new. They’ll meet their financial goals when they put those goals aside to truly care for the client.
Key Ways to Show Agents What Customer Service Looks Like
First and foremost, an agent has to be equipped with knowledge and resources in order to provide exceptional customer service. “One of the first things we do is ensure our agents have everything they need to exceed our clients’ expectations,” Hohman says.
Continuing education, access to resources and technology, and a leadership team that walks the walk are essential to promoting a customer-first environment.
“I’m ultimately responsible for everything that my agents say and do,” Golden says. “Their actions are a reflection of my brokerage and I’m putting my stamp on everything that happens in this office.” That’s why Golden expects her agents and her staff to adhere to the core values of relationships, compassion, and service.
If an agent can’t exceed the client’s expectations, either because of a conflict of interest or personality differences, it’s important to be able to make that distinction, Antoniou says.
“Recognize that you’re not going to be a great fit for everyone,” Antoniou says. “Taking any listing out there just for the sake of business is a problem,” she explained. “We’re not doing a service to anyone at that point. We have to be able to ensure that there will be a good relationship and have the confidence to walk away if not. That might be the biggest act of customer service an agent can do for someone.”