What You Can Learn from Other Industries

The little things you love about your favorite restaurant or Web site may serve as great ideas for incorporating into your real estate business.

October 1, 2007

Looking for a way to spice up your old ways of doing business? Maybe it’s time to reach beyond your real estate repertoire and see what companies in other industries are doing to build strong brands, improve customer loyalty, and provide top-notch service.

So don’t forget to take notes the next time you’re dining at your favorite restaurant, shopping at your favorite store, or flying on your favorite airline. The little things you love about those companies may be great ideas that you can incorporate into your own real estate business. Here are six examples to get you started.

Idea: Make Customers Crave Your Service

Borrowed from: Starbucks

How it works: You don’t have to be a coffee shop owner to heed lessons from Starbucks’ success. The Seattle-based company has instilled feverish customer loyalty by taking a commodity, turning it into a must-have brand, and hiring friendly staff to serve customized cups. Fifteen years ago, who would have dreamed of shelling out $5 for a grande nonfat half-decaf hazelnut latte with whipped cream? But nowadays, Starbucks devotees don’t think twice about paying up for what they want. “We’ve come a long way from ‘just a cup of coffee, please,’” says trendsmaster Robyn Waters, author of The Hummer and the Mini (Penguin, 2006).

How you can adapt it: If you’re providing run-of-the-mill service, why would prospects choose you over your competitors? Take a cue from Starbucks and start customizing the services you provide. One way to do this is to focus on a tight niche — say, historic condos in walkable neighborhoods. Serve up your specialized knowledge with a smile, and do it better than anyone else. Prospects will show their loyalty.

Idea: Learn from your Losses

Borrowed from: Professional Sports

How it works: For pro athletes, losing a big game is never fun. In fact, it can be devastating. But if they can learn something from the loss, it becomes a valuable experience. Football and basketball teams watch tapes of the game to see what went wrong and where to do better next time. Coaches create practices that are targeted at resolving problems that popped up in past games. “Members grow together and learn from mistakes by retooling, bringing in new players, and learning new plays,” says Voss Graham, founder and CEO of Inneractive Consulting Group Inc. in Memphis, Tenn., and author of Three Games of Selling (uGrow Publishing, 2006).

How you can adapt it: Didn’t get the listing you wanted? Don’t drown yourself in disappointment. Instead, focus on what you can do better at the next listing appointment. Rethink your presentation. Ask a friend or trusted coworker to watch you and provide constructive feedback. Or, do what the athletes do and watch a video of yourself. It’s the tough — and sometimes unpleasant — experiences that should encourage you to upgrade your skills and become better prepared, Graham says.

Idea: Get a Four-star Rating

Borrowed from: Dining and entertainment

How it works: Movie producers and restaurateurs know the power of a great recommendation or a high rating. After all, you’re more apt to watch a film that’s been given the A-OK by your favorite movie reviewers, or pick a restaurant with a top Zagat rating. More and more industries are catching on and using rating systems of their own. Online retailers, for example, often allow users to rate products sold on their sites.

How you can adapt it: According to research by the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®, a solid 40 percent of buyers choose a real estate agent based on a referral, with first-time buyers especially prone to using recommendations from someone else. Make it a routine to ask past clients to refer their friends or family. There already are some Web sites that allow consumers to rate real estate agents. If there’s such a site that’s popular with buyers and sellers in your market, make sure you’re listed on the site and encourage your past clients to rate you. Research shows that 66 percent of buyers say they would “definitely” use their agent again or recommend that person to others, so the odds are in your favor that you’ll get high marks.

Idea: Warm up Your Office

Borrowed from: Banks

How it works: Branding expert Eduardo Alvarez tells financial services companies to get away from the traditional marble-and-wood look. “Consumers want homier spaces that are more conducive to intimate discussions about their financial needs,” says Alvarez, executive vice president with Brand Partners. Instead of the formal bank feel, he suggests partial walls, brighter colors, carpeting, comfy chairs, and wall art. Companies such as Washington Mutual and Chase already have made a move to this friendlier format, with the goal of encouraging more walk-ins and a more personable environment.

How you can adapt it: Does your real estate office seem intimidating to passersby? Buying a home is serious business, but that doesn’t mean you can’t lighten up your office décor and add some casual, comfortable features. For example, soft chairs, a play area for children, free coffee, and Wi-Fi access can communicate that you’re an approachable person who understands your client’s needs. Make a computer available for walk-ins who just want to browse homes. And use windows to your advantage. Design big, bold displays — as retailers often do — and create a sign that advertises the free Wi-Fi and online home search.

Idea: Always Wear a Smile

Industry: Hotels and resorts

How it works: The best hosts in the hospitality field know it’s critical to greet everyone with a friendly smile. And that smile should go beyond the initial hello. Dealing with a conflict? Wear a smile. Having a really bad day? Wear an even bigger smile. “There are no exceptions,” says practitioner Karen Hardy, who formerly worked for a resort and witnessed how the general manager’s warm approach worked magic.

How you can adapt it: Wherever you are — at an open house, at your brokerage office, or at a construction site — greet everyone with a smile and a hello, says Hardy. “This has helped me expand my sphere of influence,” she says. People are quicker to warm up to you, and are more likely to send you business, Hardy says.

Idea: Use Social Networks to Get the Word Out

Borrowed from: The music industry

How it works: To build a wide base of fans, bands from all over the world are putting their tunes (and videos) on MySpace and other social networking sites. If a site’s user stumbles across the band’s songs and likes what he or she hears, that new fan will likely forward the music to friends. A funny music video or a catchy song, even if it’s from an obscure band, can get massive exposure simply by getting noticed on the Web.

How you can adapt it: The Internet makes viral marketing easier than ever. And with most consumers heading to the Web to look for homes, you have a prime opportunity to get your name out. But you need to provide information that’s worthy of being passed on to others — valuable house-hunting tips, market reports, new listings in the area. Get that information online and encourage people to forward it to their friends. Also, consider expanding your network by maintaining a profile on FaceBook, LinkedIn, and other social networking sites, says marketing consultant Robb Hecht. Or you can create your own social network at a site like Ning.

Barbara Ballinger

Barbara Ballinger is a freelance writer and the author of several books on real estate, architecture, and remodeling, including The Kitchen Bible: Designing the Perfect Culinary Space (Images Publishing, 2014). Barbara’s most recent book is The Garden Bible: Designing Your Perfect Outdoor Space, co-authored with Michael Glassman (Images, 2015).

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