WHAT COULD BE MORE IMPORTANT in real estate than widespread recognition and industry awards? Meet the Canadian agency who say a very firm ‘no’ to sales leader boards and recognition and put their clients’ satisfaction first every time, with amazing results.
MARKETING YOUR real estate business isn’t about the awards you get, but the satisfaction you and your clients receive from knowing the job has been done well. That’s what husband and wife team Sheldon Johnston and Sara MacLennan from Liv Real Estate swear by.
Based in Alberta, Canada, Liv Real Estate is leaving behind the old-fashioned approach to buying and selling homes. They are staying away from sales and industry awards and focusing instead on excellent customer service and referrals to increase their success in the marketplace – something they are finding extremely effective.
According to Sara, originally part of Coldwell Banker, Liv Real Estate became an agency on its own after a decision was made to change the personality of the business in general. With Sara and Sheldon working together – Sara in marketing and Sheldon with years of experience in the real estate industry – there was no doubt they could come up with a solution.
“We have a young, energetic group of people in our office. We sat down with our agents and asked them what they thought about staying with Coldwell Banker, creating our own brand, joining another franchise. They were excited about creating our own brand. So we hired a marketing consulting company in Edmonton, and they took us through the whole process; making us write our mission statement and creating our values. It ended up being one of the best things we did. Going through that process, we surveyed all of our agents; we really got to know exactly who we are as a group and what we want to project,” Sara said.
And the goal of the new business framework, Sheldon says, was to “treat my people like I would want to be treated, knowing what I know. I expect my agents to treat their clients like they would want to be treated. And if they don’t, then they’re probably not the right fit.”
So what was the turning point for Sheldon and how did he and Sara go about the change?
“After years in the business I was wondering why my clients were going and listing in other places and then it just dawned on me: it was because I sucked! I sucked at taking care of them and thinking about them. I got the transaction done, sure, but beyond that, they were waking up and going ‘Yeah, he wasn’t really on our side.’”
Sheldon started focusing more on his customers, concentrating on building those relationships, and found that was actually even more profitable. Then along came Sara with her drive and ability to think like the consumer and the referral rate increased. Today, 95 per cent of business with Liv Real Estate is based on the referral system and the quality of the company is measured on service, not on sales.
“If you measure sales, you’re a sales company. We figured we’re a service company, so we’re going to measure that satisfaction level of our customers,” Sheldon said.
According to Sara, that became the most important factor for the business.
“Whatever we’re measuring, whatever we’re promoting at our office is the most important thing. Our agents don’t know how much the other agents sell. It’s not published anywhere, it’s not celebrated. There’s nothing about ‘Oh, look how many listings I’ve got’. Instead of focusing on who is at the top or second or third from the top, our agents are the most productive in the marketplace.”
To measure the company’s success, Liv Real Estate uses the online platform Real Satisfied (realsatisfied.com). Real Satisfied is a data collection company that performs simple web-based customer satisfaction surveys to give clients the chance to be honest about what they did and didn’t like about the service they received. The surveys also cover any complaints, follow- ups and suggested areas for improvement.
Prior to discovering this website, Liv Real Estate sent paper surveys to clients asking for feedback, receiving just a few replies. Today, with the help of Real Satisfied, they receive feedback from around 75 per cent of clients.
“From the broker’s (principal’s) point of view we get a report for every single testimonial that comes back, and we can check in on every deal. If there was a problem or some sort of concern, we address it. We’ll coach with the agent, or maybe the client even needs to be contacted,” Sara said.
At Liv, they also have an agent’s rating which goes onto their bio pages on the website. This helps clients to know they have the best agent for the job, providing a star rating based on customer satisfaction in the past. This gives potential clients confidence, knowing they are dealing with an agent who is focused on providing excellent customer service.
“The other thing that’s great is there’s a customer service/satisfaction leader board that we, as a brokerage, can log onto to see how all of our agents are performing compared to each other and compared to other agents in the country on average. But that’s private for us.”
In order to keep the business performing at its best, Sheldon and Sara have adopted a number of strategies for their agents and the business as a whole.
The first thing they did was create a blog, which was started in 2005 and today has thousands of articles. Sheldon wrote about his personal experiences and was astounded to find people were reading the posts.
“I just wrote an article and posted it on the blog, and one day Sara said, ‘Look, fifty people read this’. So I sat down at the computer and typed out dozens more articles. We get over 15,000 readers a month now.”
They also spend a lot of time educating their agents about the importance of customer satisfaction.
“Finding the right people for our business is important. Someone is coachable, who, number one, has a strong work ethic for us, and number two, has a huge drive to make sure that they are going to do the right thing to give the consumer what they want.
“I have a four-day orientation program before they even touch a client, so most of our agents are doing deals within the first week to two weeks,” Sheldon says.
“We try to provide them with a lot of really good material that they can then use to teach their clients as opposed to selling. Our listing presentation and our buyer presentation is actually an educational session. The very first slide is, ‘Common mistakes that buyers make’. It builds immediate trust with the client.
With all the data that they have collected over the years, what have the found to be the most important things for their customers?
“Communication is top. In all of the best reviews, the comments are, ‘My agent communicated with me quickly, she (or he) was always there. Whenever I had a question I got what I needed quickly.’ That’s number one.
“No pressure. They want someone to help them. They want to make a decision and they don’t want to be pushed over the cliff. They want someone who’s going to be there for them, to help make the right decision. Even if that means don’t make an offer on a property.
“Finally, they want to be kept informed through the process. No surprises, and knowing they’re in good hands all the way.”