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There’s always something to howl about

Delighting customers and clients: Doing the thing that no one thought to ask for

As real estate professionals, our clients’/customers’ satisfaction with our service and the outcome of their transactions is unquestionably key to business success. In fact, I’d bet this has been true in every career you have ever had. It sure has been for me… beginning with my first jobs as babysitter, then as counter help at The Red Barn, and then throughout my various corporate positions in management, finance and information technology. Whether my customer has been internal, external, faceless or my very best friend, I’ve always done very well by doing very well for him and her.

And so it’s always been maddening for me to see someone or some organization fail to recognize that the “customer is always right,” or if the customer isn’t right to help the customer become right… at least to try to help. We all know the adage that a happy customer will tell someone else about his satisfactory experience, but an unhappy customer will tell the unhappy story ten times more often. Well, I want to tell you about great customer service that I was just the happy recipient of.

But first some background… It begins with Greg and me wanting to attract more clients than we were getting from reputation alone. Around the end of the amazing sellers’ market of 2004/2005, around the first anniversary of BloodhoundRealty.com, we hoped to jump-start our business by giving someone who didn’t know us personally (or through referral) a reason to believe that we put our clients’ interests above our own. We wanted to offer something more tangible than a motto or a sincere-looking pose. We were doing well when we took listings, but we were turning down more listings than we were accepting, because home owners, who didn’t yet know us, didn’t yet believe us that the buyers were no longer willing to pay top dollar. So we figured we would try to attract buyers by offering to let them keep their money in their pockets — money they would be paying the seller to pay to us. We thought that once we got this word out, we would get a sensational response! So we took out ads in the Arizona Republic, and when we were approached by our national association’s fair-haired lad, Realtor.com, we took out an ad with them, too. While we were at it, we ordered a toll-free phone number to put into those ads.

Now, we had a relationship with the Arizona Republic, and we had one with Realtor.com, but I found the company who we ordered the toll-free phone number from through Google. I’m not even sure what the term was that I Googled on, because I’m not able to find their site through Google right now, so I’ll just tell you about them: The telephone number vendor is Budget800. I liked what I read when I found their site. We could chose from available 800 numbers, not just any 8xx toll-free number — I liked that. And our contract would be month-to-month — I liked that, too. And we thought their rates were fair.

Greg described the results of our marketing campaign to promote our extraordinary client-focused business model as “crickets chirping.”

Well. As I’ve said, key to a successful business is great customer service. Also key, is not going broke. We have an annual contract for our ad on Realtor.com. We paid for the year up front, so though we haven’t enjoyed even one prospect from our ad on Realtor.com, we’ll play it out till it’s time to renew. We had an annual contract with the Arizona Republic, which we were paying for monthly. When it became clear that passive marketing isn’t bringing us prospects, we agreed that we shouldn’t throw good money after bad, so we paid the penalty to get out of the contract.

That leaves one vendor who we had hired to support our foray into advertising (as compared to marketing) for new clients — Budget800. I had forgotten all about them till I was reconciling our bank account this week. Then it occurred to me that we were paying $25 a month for 500 minutes… we were sooo optimistic! Turns out that we’ve used up a total of 56 minutes in the four months we’ve had our 800 number. We decided we still need to have an 800 number, and we might as well keep the one we already have. But a more realistic expectation of usage is the least expensive tier that Budget800 has — $5.95 a month for 100 minutes.

I called Budget800 and asked them to change our plan. I spoke to Nathan, who promised to make the change effective by our next billing date, and I was satisfied. But Nathan delighted me when he sent me confirmation of the adjustment to our plan. After our conversation he took a look at our account and when he saw that it hadn’t been used at all since the last billing date, he changed our plan to the less expensive one retroactively, giving us a credit balance that will be applied toward the next few months of our service.

Let’s hope that Budget800′s business plan is a profitable one, because here is a company that goes beyond great customer service. They are exceptional. I only wish that every vendor who real estate agents use could deliver such a happy experience.

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  • 5 comments

    5 Comments so far

    1. Kris Berg February 28th, 2007 1:28 pm

      It always saddens me when we find good service to be a refreshing exception to the rule rather than a reasonable expectation. Nice story which helps to restore my faith in the service provider.

    2. Brian Brady March 1st, 2007 8:38 am

      Nathan’s smart. He knows you’ll be trying different advertising campaigns so he “threw you” the 20 bucks or whatever as a credit. He also figured that you’ll tell a few people how fair their company is (like me).

      I love their service offering. You can order an 800 number for every campaign that you do to make tracking easier. This makes direct mail as part of the promotional mix seem feasible again.

    3. John Willis March 1st, 2007 12:45 pm

      Sounds like a great company to work with. However, the link in your post is wrong and leads back to your site, rather than the companies.

    4. Cathleen Collins March 1st, 2007 1:39 pm

      Hi Kris. That is sad when it’s so surprising to get service as good as you give, huh? But I’m the type who’s more likely to spread the joy of discovering splendor. Bet you’re the same way. I’d rather not waste my attention on the wretched.

      You’re brilliant, Brian. Using Budget800 to test promotions is straight out of Richard Riccelli’s book of genius.

      Bless you, John, for letting me know my links were messed up. Everything should work right now.

    5. Eric August 25th, 2007 9:12 am

      Cathleen, regarding the ads on Realtor.com – you guys aren’t alone. I remember hearing a speech given by a Realtor.com rep and as he kept listing all of the benefits, as a techie, I knew he was wrong on many counts.

      Realtor.com seemed to do what realtors, what our useless spreads in Homes and Land did for sellers. It’s “Feel good” money, but not very useful.

      I had to pick up an 800 number for a previous company and it was a hassle and a half – I wish I had known about Budget800 back then :(