13 Tips and Best Practices for Real Estate Customer Service
If there’s one thing HGTV has taught us all, it’s this: Real estate is complicated. Whether it’s buying a house, selling one, renovating, building, or managing a property, each different facet of real estate comes with its own set of challenges.
For those working directly with clients and providing services, it can be an especially tough landscape to traverse. They have to manage expectations and be trusted advisors. They have to help clients see what could be possible and reign them in if their sights are set too high.
With real estate roles being so varied, good service looks different for everyone. That said, there are five common pain points we think almost everyone working in real estate faces. In this article, we cover those pain points and offer 13 real estate customer service tips to help you provide great support to your clients.
Pain point #1: Building trust with clients
No matter if they’re purchasing, renting, renovating, or something else, real estate plays a huge role in a person’s life. For those fortunate enough to have a stable place to call home, it represents safety and familiarity: a place to create memories, and their literal — and figurative — shelter from the storm.
All of that makes real estate a pretty high-stakes game. If there’s a lack of trust on a client’s end — one study found only 11% of people felt they could completely trust a real estate agent — it can make everything else much more difficult.
Tip 1: Communicate proactively
In many real estate transactions, there are a lot of moving parts. Keeping everything straight can be difficult, and if information falls through the cracks or isn’t communicated in a timely manner, it could feed into a client’s feelings of distrust.
To ensure those instances don’t happen, commit to communicating proactively with your clients. Whether good or bad news, you should do your best to inform them quickly when getting any significant news.
Scheduling weekly check-ins with clients when you’re actively working on a project is another great way to communicate proactively. That way you know no matter what, they’ll be up to date on most details and also have a regular opportunity to ask any question they may have.
Remember, even though you may have multiple clients, you’re probably their only point of contact. Essentially, you’re their real estate lifeline. By being available and proactively communicating with them, you can ease worry and create an overall great experience.
Tip 2: Be empathetic
For almost anyone working in support, empathy is a key trait. It lets you get in someone else’s shoes and further understand and appreciate their perspective. Though no one is actively avoiding empathy, when you work in an industry for a long time, it’s easy for certain aspects of your work to normalize.
For example, if you’re selling real estate, the idea of buying and selling a home becomes routine. It’s part of your day-to-day life and something you see a lot of, thus you could become slightly desensitized to the gravity an individual buyer or seller may feel.
To combat that, make sure you’re engaging with your client’s emotional needs, too. Ask how they’re feeling or if they’re comfortable with everything, and listen actively when they answer. By doing so, you give them the opportunity to express themselves — and you’ll also get a window into their perspective.
Once you hear their questions or concerns, respond from their point of view. You could relate back to the first time you bought a house or did a renovation. Showing you understand what they’re going through goes a long way in building a foundation of trust.
Pain Point #2: Accurately understand needs
It’s difficult to deliver a great customer experience if you don’t fully understand someone’s needs. However, since your ability to best serve your clients is dependent on your understanding, it’s something you need to invest time and energy into.
Tip 3: Emphasize transparency
At its core, real estate is a commodity. Though over time it’s normal to develop an emotional attachment to a property, especially when buying and selling real estate, people may be hesitant to give the “whole story” to retain leverage.
Pragmatic as it may be in some ways, it also makes providing great service more difficult. Essentially, how can you fulfill a need you don’t know about?
One way to overcome that roadblock is by being transparent with your client. When you’re open with them, they may in turn be more open with you.
Research shows we’re worried being honest can have a negative impact. However, the same study showed being honest was the right move and had the potential to improve relationships in the long term.
Another way to promote transparency is by empowering clients to find information on their own. Starting a blog or knowledge base could be a great way to do that. You could do posts breaking down agent fees or answering common financing questions.
In the past, real estate agents used to be the gatekeepers of listing information. However, with the rise of the internet and MLS® systems, this is no longer the case. Home buyers are more informed than ever and often do the majority of the research on their own before ever reaching out to an agent.
"Real estate websites that openly provide every listing on the MLS® (and not just to the agents) know that buyers can easily find that information elsewhere, so it’s better to keep them on their site. It also means that once the buyer is ready to move forward, they’ll not only be more qualified, but more likely to contact the agent that provided them with value first.
By actively educating, you signal you’re not trying to hide anything and want to help clients be as informed as possible.
Tip 4: Interview clients
The best way to understand what someone wants is to ask them. Ask your client questions, listen carefully, and consistently build off of previous information shared.
You could start by asking whether they’re first-time buyers or on their third or fourth home. Getting that initial gauge can help direct your next few questions.
For example, with a first-time buyer, you may want to ask more about what they’ve done for financing, whereas people who’ve bought homes previously probably have those types of details squared away.
Since it’s probable you’ll be working with multiple clients at once, it can also be good to store that information somewhere for current and future use. For example, with Help Scout, you’re able to build out customer profiles to see previous conversations and store contact details, notes, and other information.
Do your best to create a refined set of questions. Having different sets for different buyer types can be useful, too. Use a mix of open- and close-ended questions; open-ended questions are good for getting more information, and closed-ended questions can help get more clarity on a certain subject.
If possible — and with the client’s consent — record conversations. Not only is a recording more thorough than notes, it also allows you to stay present during the conversation and keep your focus on the client.
Tip 5: Practice active listening
Hearing and understanding are two very different things. Just because we hear the content of a message doesn't mean we fully grasp what the speaker is trying to convey. Perhaps we’re distracted or thinking about a point we want to bring up.
Active listening is essentially an act of being present. The speaker has your sole attention, and you’re keyed in to what they’re saying. In a lot of ways, it’s easier said than done.
Begin by creating an environment conducive to active listening. Turn your phone to silent and get it out of view. If you’re in front of a computer, switch the monitor off or move away from it so you’re not tempted to check an email or your calendar while someone is talking.
If you’re not able to give all your attention, it’s possible you’ll miss out on important information and be less prepared to meet your client’s needs. Just like any other skill, active listening takes practice, so don’t be too hard on yourself if you’re not perfect right away.
Pain Point #3: Accommodating client schedules
Many real estate transactions are relatively high stakes, meaning they take significant time and thought. Though someone may be able to steal away from work for an hour or so, that amount of time probably won’t suffice to view a property or go over renovation plans.
In order to best serve the client, it’s probable you’ll need to meet with them outside the normal Monday through Friday, 9-5 window. Making that work — all while being responsible to staff and avoiding burnout — can take some finesse, but it is possible.
Tip 6: Consider an autoresponder
People like quick responses. In fact, research shows over a third of customers expect a response within an hour, and if they have to wait over six hours, they’ll probably take their business elsewhere.
Since people reach out at all times of the day, it can feel like an impossible task to respond to everyone in a timely manner. Though every client has their own needs, it’s common for initial questions they send in to be similar.
It’s possible you could use an autoresponder to get in touch quickly and effectively. For example, with a support tool like Help Scout, you can create automatic responses based on subject line text, or you can create conditions based on the time of day a message is received or the amount of time it’s been sitting unanswered.
Though an autoresponder won’t be able to handle nuanced issues, they can be useful to send out related knowledge base articles or simply as a way to set expectations for a client by letting them know when staff will be present and able to respond to a request.
Tip 7: Set up an emergency line
There are some issues that simply can't wait. Though they are generally few and far between, you should still have a plan to accommodate those instances. One common way is by creating an emergency line — a seperate line that can be utilized in the event of something truly urgent.
You may want to utilize an autoresponder as mentioned above but append “If it’s an emergency, we can be reached at X.”
Remember that what qualifies as an “emergency” is subjective, so it may be wise to create some guidelines about what an emergency means to you and link to those in the same message.
Tip 8: Implement rotating schedules
There are many real estate interactions that happen during non-standard hours. Working nights and weekends regularly isn’t ideal for many, so it’s good practice to make sure no one is saddled solely with that responsibility.
One way to manage that demand is by utilizing rotating schedules. For example, it’s common for teams to have team members work one Saturday or Sunday a month. Since volume is usually a little lower during the weekend, you don’t have to be as heavily staffed.
If you need staff working later in the day, you could create multiple shifts to cover the different hours and rotate who takes what shift on what day. It’s also possible some prefer later shifts, so be sure to survey your staff before assigning shifts as that could help inform scheduling and make things a bit easier.
Pain Point #4: Being the intermediary for other services
Almost no real estate transaction happens in a vacuum. If someone’s buying a house, they probably need to secure a loan. If they’re doing a renovation, they need a general contractor as well as subcontractors.
If you’re the primary point of contact in the process, chances are a client will ask your advice about those other areas. And if you’ve been in the business a while, chances are you do know a decent bit about all the ancillary services surrounding real estate.
However, just because you know more than most doesn’t mean you’re the ultimate authority on all things real estate, but you do want to help how you can. So how do you manage the role of intermediary to best serve everyone involved?
Tip 9: Build a strong network
It’s not realistic — or particularly pragmatic — for you to become a subject matter expert on all the different disciplines involved in real estate. There are too many and they’re too varied to do so.
That said, providing great service for a client does mean setting them up for success as a whole, even when it involves areas outside your expertise. In order to do that, you need a network of other professionals to fill the gaps.
Participating in industry networking events can be a great way to start making those connections. Asking people who’ve worked in the industry longer than you for recommendations can be another way to go. Or if you notice quality work, inquire about who did it and reach out to start building those connections.
Don’t use someone just because they’re the only option you have. If you give a recommendation that turns sour, it’s likely to reflect poorly on you, too. Be sure you properly vet anyone you’re bringing into your personal network.
Tip 10: Learn as much as you can, but err on the side of caution
As much as building a strong network helps clients, it can also be useful for you. Having access to those folks means you have the opportunity to learn from them, and you should absolutely take advantage of that.
Set up a time to interview them about their job and learn the nuances of their work. You could even shadow them for a day to get a deeper understanding and better idea of what the client experience will be like for anyone you refer.
Another thing to learn is at what point you need to pass a client off to a true expert. Be honest when you don’t know an answer, and if questions are pushing the boundaries of your knowledge, connect them directly to an expert or reach out on their behalf.
Even though it may seem a faster answer is always better, that’s only true when it’s an accurate one. Remember, the main goal is to get the best, most complete information possible. As long as that remains the driver, you’ll be on the right path.
Pain Point #5: Balancing selling and service
There are a number of roles in real estate that naturally involve selling and service, such as real estate agents, home builders, and designers. In each role they have to be a consultant, but at some points they will inevitably have to sell to their clients.
Striking the right balance can be difficult to do. There’s not always a clear line in the sand of when you should be selling and when you should be serving. Over time, many develop an internal compass, but if you’re having trouble finding true north, there are a few tactics to use.
Tip 11: Be a consultant, not a convincer
For far too long, the focus of many salespeople has been on how best to serve themselves — or their company — instead of their customers. They would do almost anything to convince someone to buy their product or service, whether or not it was the right thing for the person in front of them.
But hard-selling someone really only benefits you in the short term. If a client isn’t happy, they won’t refer you to others and probably won’t continue doing business with you. For long-term success, a consultative approach is much better.
Consultation begins with interviewing the client to learn about their needs and goals. Once you have those key pieces of information, you know whether or not you’re a good fit for the client and can act as an advisor to help find the best solution.
Another trait of consultative selling is staying with the client through the entire process. Since you’re the person the client knows, it helps create stability. It also shows you’re invested in them and reinforces the trust between you.
The truth is it takes more work to be a consultant, which is why not everyone is willing to do it. For those who are, it will pay dividends for years to come.
Tip 12: Set expectations early
As a salesperson, you need to be competent in a lot of different areas. Though your skills may cover a wide variety of issues, you can’t be everything to everyone. Sometimes you’re going to need some help.
In those cases, handing someone off to a subject-matter expert is generally the best call. However, it can be tough for a client if you don’t set the expectation that it’s possible you’ll need to hand them off to someone else at some point.
The best way to combat that is by being upfront with them early on and clearly defining the role you play in the process, as well as the times when it may be better to involve another team or person. Explain how connecting them with another team is beneficial to them, and do a warm handoff so they don’t have to repeat any information.
By setting expectations early, you set yourself and your clients up for success. They won’t be caught off guard, and you’ll be empowered to make those choices without fear of upsetting them.
Tip 13: Align sales and service goals
At the end of the day, salespeople need to sell. Providing great service can enhance a sales experience for a customer and help grow someone’s book of business, but it doesn’t always align the best with selling.
The truth is most salespeople do have a commission or bonus structure for some part of their pay. In order to maximize that, they need to sell, which can create tension when there’s a non-sales activity potentially eating into time they could spend pursuing new deals.
In order to ease some of that tension, sales leaders need to think critically about whether there are ways to better align those two goals. One common example in the software world is having a period where salespeople are also paid on expansion revenue — six months to a year seems common.
By doing so, they’re incentivized to keep an active relationship with the client during that period; there's an opportunity to earn more even after the initial purchase. In cases where there’s a single transaction, it can be harder to find ways to align, but it isn't impossible.
For example, there could be a bonus for lease renewals. Or, if a client returns for repeat business or sends a referral your way, you could offer some sort of bonus there, too. Depending on the role and responsibilities, how it looks will vary, but it should be feasible on some level.
Keeping the house in order
Real estate is multifaceted and serves so many purposes in a person’s life. By extension of that, providing great customer service in the real estate industry is important business.
Though it is a tricky business at times, it’s also an impactful one. When you stay persistent and persevere, you set your clients up for success now and for many years to come — and that’s something well worth the effort.