customer delightword of mouth

Marketing matters in good times and bad

By September 15, 2008 3 Comments

Marketing matters in good times and bad

When we sold our last home, the market was strong. Prices were going up and houses were selling quickly.

I briefly considered going the FSBO route, but we needed to sell fast and we didn’t want to go it alone.

When we met our real estate agent, we thought he was a dream come true. He couldn’t have been more helpful or accessible, as a “neighborhood expert” he knew the neighborhood better than anyone, and he had a “whole network” of people that could help us if your house needed any work done after our inspection.

Since he had more yard signs than anyone in the neighborhood, we hired him.

Then everything changed:

  • After we signed the contract, all our calls went to voice mail and it typically took at least a day or two to get back to us.
  • We had a difference of opinion regarding home valuation. I thought it was worth more than he did, mostly because the comps he was using were for smaller homes in a less desirable area. I personally found comps closer to the size, condition an layout of our home that sold in a few days for considerably more. Due to our desire to sell quickly, I accepted his recommended selling price.
  • He sold us on an “amazing photographer,” but due to a “scheduling conflict” the photographer couldn’t make it in time for us to get our home on the market. I took the pictures, and as an added bonus, I had the pleasure of dealing with an “IT person” when my agent had technical difficulties with the digital files.
  • Though our home was barely five years old, the inspector found a few items that needed attention. When I called to take him up on his “whole network” offer, there was nobody available to help. I searched Angie’s List and found the resources I needed to get the work done.
  • When our home went on the market, it sold in less than a half an hour to the first person that viewed it—at full asking price and with no contingencies. Clearly, our home was significantly under priced.
  • When we finalized paperwork, we were left mostly alone—working with the buyer’s agent, not our own.

Here’s the kicker:

Though his commission was large enough to buy a new Mercedes, there was no follow-up after the sale.

No fruit basket.

No flowers.

No thank you card.

Not even a phone call.

Nada.

Then the bottom fell out of the real estate market.

I knew times were tough when he started sending us poorly designed newsletters. A few weeks ago he even sent us a magnetized football schedule.

Now he’s marketing to us.

And of course, now it’s way too late.

The irony is, when the market was strong, he had the money to hire a sales assistant to help him respond to customer questions.

When the market was strong, he had the money to thank us for our business.

And when the market was strong, he could have developed a customer for life—a customer that would have referred others, even when the market went south.

Instead, he’s become a case study for crappy service.

There are a few lessons to be learned here.

If you over-promise and under-deliver, you’ll never have happy customers. Be honest and avoid marketing puffery.

Customer delight, not just customer satisfaction should be your goal. Your customers will take care of you when the market won’t.

And while not marketing in a down cycle is a bad idea (there’s less competition), failing to market in an up cycle (because you don’t think you need to) is even worse.

What’s the worst customer service experience you’ve ever had?

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Join the discussion 3 Comments

  • When the engine blew at 71,000 miles, not only were we treated so poorly by our local dealership (at one point, they told us we had 24 hours to get our car off their lot–and didn’t bother telling us that the engine was in pieces in the trunk) that I tracked down the US VP for customer service and wrote a 5-page letter, but that letter was answered *two months later* with a formletter asking us to call an 800 number, where the CSR in India had no access to my letter or even a brief summary, made the same woefully inadequate makegood offer ($500 off my next Toyota within I think two years–this on a repair that cost us 3K)–and took another month to send us the offer in writing!

    I didn’t get to use the wimpy makegood, because we did buy a car the following year–from another manufacturer. $17K that could have been theirs.

    Fortunately, there are better ways. In fact, in my award-winning sixth book, Principled Profit: Marketing That Puts People First http://www.principledprofit.com (published, ironically enough, just days before our car problem), I demonstrate how companies that *get* customer service are in a much stronger customer position.

  • Shel,

    On the flip side, I was ignored at a Lexus dealership once and went down the street and bought a new Acura.

    I called Lexus to let them know one of their dealerships let them down. I don’t know if it was a common practice or not, but I got a heckuva a fruit basket and a handwritten apology for my feedback.

    Even though I bought the competitor’s car, my faith in Lexus was mostly restored, and I’ve shared this story countless times since.

  • Customer service IS marketing. Referrals do not come with bad customer service. Building a business or brand is dependent on your good name and honoring your clients/customers.

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