Jason Forrest is a sales trainer, management coach, member of the National Speakers Association’s Million Dollar Speakers Group, and author of three books, including his latest, Leadership Sales Coaching. Learn more at www.fpg.com.
3 Ways to Banish Fear of Customer Intimacy
Help agents understand how to build trust and closeness with these important rules of bonding.
September 7, 2016
When we had our first baby, I wasn’t fully prepared for how his ear-piercing, earth-shattering cries could bring our entire world to a halt. At first, it seemed no movement or calming sound would do the trick. But often, as soon as he settled into my wife’s arms or mine, he would instantly quiet down and be happy again. When babies cry relentlessly, they need a familiar, soothing touch to make the world right again. The intimacy between a loving parent and child makes babies feel secure and stimulates the release of oxytocin—a hormone that promotes bonding.
Similarly, a home buyer whose real estate agent demonstrates great care and attention feels secure. This creates customer intimacy—the certainty your clients feel when they know you understand their mission and are on their team to make it happen. Intimacy isn’t always easy. It truly requires digging in—often beyond the point of comfort. But any effective partnership requires trust and a sense of connection on a shared journey to accomplish a mutually beneficial goal. When customers have this intimacy, they feel secure because they have an advocate and partner in their mission.
“Get closer than ever to your customers—so close that you tell them what they need before they realize it themselves.”
When customers feel settled, they are more likely to respond well—even when there are delays and other unexpected events—because they trust their agent to take care of them. Teach agents to build customer intimacy with buyers in the following three ways:
1. Be Empathetic.
In 1981, a man named Mehmet Ali Ağca shot Pope John Paul II four times. In the ambulance, as he suffered profound blood loss, the Pope pronounced Ağca forgiven. When he recovered, the Pope’s top priority was to visit his attacker in jail. He wanted to see what was going on in Ağca’s life to drive him to this act. Pope John Paul II ended up personally campaigning for Ağca’s release, and his sincere compassion had a seemingly profound effect on the gunman, who requested to visit and lay flowers on the Pope’s tomb years later.
Pope John Paul II understood that people aren’t born mean, angry, or distrustful. But when an event occurs that programs us to distrust or react, we carry the experience into future circumstances. This is also true for home buyers. When they come to us angry and frustrated, it’s easy for agents to get defensive and shut down instead of dealing with the situation constructively. However, if you can coach them to shift their perspective to one of empathy, they can approach customers with a true desire to understand, rather than defend. That makes them more likely to not just overcome the rough patch, but to forge a greater sense of intimacy with buyers going forward.
Empathy goes beyond just saying, “I know buying a home is difficult.” It’s putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes and really appreciating that they’re making big, emotional life decisions. When agents truly understand, they’re able to speak with buyers from the heart. Empathy increases certainty and makes customers feel important, understood, and safe, which increases their loyalty to your brand.
2. Build Omakase.
At Shinjuku Station, a Fort Worth sushi restaurant, my wife and I always skip the menu and instead request omakase. This Japanese word means “I leave it to you” and demonstrates a trusting relationship. By entrusting the owner, Casey Kha, and chefs to do what they do best, we are rewarded with delicious, creative dishes and a truly memorable dining experience.
Teach agents to ask buyers for permission to help them make decisions. Agents are best equipped to lead buyers to a solution they’ll love — but they their clients need to know that, too. A real estate professional who asks for their clients’ permission helps to take the pressure off. Confident agents who lead consistently make home buyers feel grateful and safe.
Of course, my wife and I order the omakase because we have faith in Kha and his chefs. That’s why you need to train your agents to establish and maintain omakase with customers by demonstrating they are worthy of a customer’s trust. One of the best ways to do this is by keeping customers well informed, so they feel comfortable saying, “I leave it to you.”
3. Treat the Person, Not the Disease.
Customer service isn’t the customer’s issue. Part of your job is to help your agents think more deeply about situations and get them to examine the cause when they don’t like the effect. Nervous buyers may suddenly start complaining constantly. But while they rant about the mortgage process, coach your agents to recognize that they may just be nervous about the huge life change ahead. Or they may simply need some reassurance that their agents still cares about them.
In the movie “Patch Adams,” the title character says, “If you treat the disease, you win and you lose. If you treat the person, I guarantee you win every time.” When agents recognize the cause and effect and dig deeper into why they lose customers’ confidence, they find the key to creating the best customer experience. It’s about treating the deeper root, rather than the concern of the moment, and taking responsibility for the experience we are providing.
Customer intimacy is like a drug. While agents actively tend to customers, they bolster them with reassurance that they are making the right decision. Sadly, when buyers need reassurance most (after signing), agents often shift their attention and stop providing it for them. An agent’s disinterest and lack of communication often cause buyer uncertainty and regret. And if certainty is lost, all is lost.
When agents realize their behavior can cause customer anxiety, they can shift their mindset and behaviors. Teach them to remember that often when customers arrive with concerns, they’re just craving reassurance. It’s all about agents recognizing that there is a connection between what we do and the results we get.
Customer intimacy exists when home buyers believe not only that they’ve made the right decision but also that their agent is competent, trustworthy, and on their side. By being empathetic, building trust, and recognizing their role in difficult buyer behaviors, real estate professionals will forge deeper connections. Better yet, the more security and intimacy customers have, the more willing they will be to tolerate hiccups in the process. When agents build these kinds of relationships, issues often suddenly disappear. Teach your agents, commit to this approach, and build unbreakable customer certainty.