Revolutionizing Your Customer Service | Chicago Association of REALTORS®

Great customer service isn’t meeting expectations; it’s exceeding them by going above and beyond and doing something your clients didn’t expect. As REALTORS®, we get so focused on our own businesses, we forget there’s a lot we can put into practice from other industries powered by customer service. At our Lessons from Real Estate Masterminds event in May, we welcomed Maura Neill from RE/MAX Around Atlanta, to share her insights and what she’s learned by taking a page out of Nordstrom’s exemplary customer service book.

Nordstrom has almost a century-long track record of outstanding customer service – and this starts with their employees. They have a different approach to employee training that is extremely relevant to our industry: their salespeople are paid on commission, and they’re encouraged to create relationships and a client base of repeat and referral customers. They even use tools like our top brokers do, like writing thank you notes to their longtime customers.

Their culture of exemplary customer service all begins with this, though: when someone gets hired at Nordstrom, instead of a thick employee manual, they give you a five-by-eight-inch piece of cardstock that reads:

Welcome to Nordstrom. We’re glad to have you with our company. Our number one goal is to provide outstanding customer service. Set both your personal and professional goals high. We have great confidence in your ability to achieve them. So, our employee handbook is very simple. We have only one rule: use good judgment in all situations.

That’s powerful training. What if, as a managing broker or a team leader, you said to your brokers, “I empower you to use good judgement in all situations. If you follow the law, the Code of Ethics and our rules, if a client needs something from you, and it’s ethical and legal to do so, you have my permission.”

Think about the trust this produces. You’re creating a culture where your people want to give better client service, and you’re letting them deliver it.

Nordstrom has a thing called heroics, where internally, employees are encouraged to report each other for doing good. This helps to create the culture of doing good for clients and good for the company.

Neill puts this into practice with her business. At the end of every transaction, she writes a thank you note to the other broker, even when it’s a difficult transaction. Writing the thank you note wipes the slate clean for the future. Then, on the really good transactions, she also writes the managing broker a thank you note. All managing brokers ever hear is the bad stuff — what if we empowered a culture of cooperation and praised each other more? This is a way we can implement heroics in our industry — by lifting each other up.

For your clients, you don’t have to wait for opportunities to do something big — heroics can be small gestures. These can be things we do to help our clients out, like:

  • Asking your clients if they have a favorite kind of music and putting together a Spotify playlist for car rides.
  • Sending a birthday card in the mail, because everyone else is posting on Facebook.
  • Asking their dietary restrictions before you make a reservation during a long day of house hunting. These little touches help you create an unforgettable client experience.

These little touches help you create an unforgettable client experience.

Patrick McCarthy, the top Nordstrom sales executive for 15 consecutive years, said it very simply: “The more information I have, the better I can serve the customer. This isn’t just my deal. It’s not an “I” experience; it’s a “we” experience.”

Consider setting goals based on a client service plan, measuring things like client satisfaction, in addition to the number of referrals you want to get. This will help you evaluate what services you’re providing and focus in on what’s working, and what’s not. Ask yourself questions like, when I survey my past clients, what have they said they want more of? What could I add to my post-closing checklist that could make the transaction go more smoothly?

A client service plan also gives you data that consumers actually care about. At a listing appointment, being able to say to potential clients, “I have a 98 percent satisfaction rate” — that’s meaningful.

One Nordstrom employee said, “Never judge a book by its cover. If you treat the kid who is buying a $19.95 belt the same as a businessman buying a $1,995 Oxford suit, you will be successful. That kid might become a customer for life.”

It’s the same in our business. You shouldn’t turn down the first-time homebuyer in favor of raising your average price point — because that first-time homebuyer could become a client for life.

Neill noted that we must stop thinking about our profession as an a la carte menu of services. Your value proposition is not access to the MLS, or being the holder of a lockbox key, and you don’t get paid to unlock a house or put a sign in the yard. Your value proposition should be the things your knowledge and your experience bring to the table, and you get paid for your market experience, negotiation skills and helping your clients navigate what can be a very difficult transaction, even in the best of times.

No one likes to drive to meet a contractor on a Friday night — but instead of complaining or thinking about how the commission just isn’t worth it, instead, reframe this as an opportunity to show your clients outstanding service.

Also, always be thinking about if you were your own client. Would you refer you, today? This question has the power
to change the tone of your day and how you interact with others.

When you start to reframe your mindset, not only are you happier with the job you’re doing, your clients are happier too. It makes you
appreciate your clients more and in turn, they’ll appreciate you.

Nordstrom is excellent at setting their customer’s expectations. Every November, they display a sign in the window. It reads, “At Nordstrom, we won’t be decking our halls until Friday, November 27. Why? Well, we just like the idea of celebrating one holiday at a time. From our family to yours, Happy Thanksgiving. We will be closed Thanksgiving Day. On Friday, our doors will open to welcome the new season.”

This sets the expectation that they are closed on Thanksgiving Day, giving their employees time to be with their families and empowering the culture of superior client service. They are not Sears or Walmart, and they will not be open for Thanksgiving shopping sprees. Setting expectations is something REALTORS® often fail at. When you set expectations, customers will respect them. Clients think they can call you at 11 o’clock at night because you gave them permission to do so — you answered the phone. They will respect you when you set professional boundaries because you are, after all, a professional.

You aren’t Nordstrom, who can and will take back just about any item, no questions asked, receipt or no receipt, at any point, if a customer is unhappy.

But, you can still define a customer satisfaction guarantee. If you’re empowered to use good judgement in all situations, you will know your value proposition. This means you can do things like an easy exit listing agreement or an easy-exit buyer brokerage agreement. You can give your clients this satisfaction guarantee, because at the end of the day, you should be delivering such exemplary customer service that your clients won’t want to get out of the agreement. Plus, how many of you want to keep someone in a contract agreement  to work with you, when they really don’t want to work with you?

If you’re a good REALTOR®, you provide a service. If you’re an exemplary REALTOR®, you provide an experience unlike any other.

Start by thinking like your clients, who are all unique individuals with their own unique needs. Ask every one of them, “What made you call me? Why aren’t you using the REALTOR® you used in your last transaction? What went well? What didn’t go well? What are your expectations?”

Start to collect the thoughts before you connect the dots. At the end of the transaction, you need to know if you delivered on your promise of exemplary customer service. As John Nordstrom, the founder of Nordstrom, had hanging in the first-ever Nordstrom store: “If we sell you well, tell others. If not, tell us.”

And just as Nordstrom teaches their people, your internal monologue should be, “The only thing we have going for us, is the way we take care of our customers.”

Check out Maura’s recommended books on customer service:

Watch Maura’s presentation from our Spring Member Outreach: