by Suzanne Penley
In today’s competitive atmosphere we cannot afford to take our customers for granted. Just what are they looking for in a title company?
What if you were given a lie detector test with this one question, “Do you know what your customers want?” If you answered “yes,” would you pass the test?
Most of us would like to think we know what our customers want and what they like about doing business with us. And, of course, we know that they would tell us if there is something they don’t like. Right? Quite the opposite.
The title industry is quite unique. Loyalty is a word that has minimal resonance, so striving to create loyal customers is not essential to success. But what is? In my work with various title organizations and their customers, there are obvious things that customers want. However, I believe that many times these things are being overlooked because they are not “big” things; they in fact are little things. Let’s put it this way—have you ever been bitten by an elephant? No you haven’t—elephants don’t bite. Have you ever been bitten by a mosquito? Sure you have. Therefore, it’s truly the little things that eat you alive! Likewise, it’s truly the little things your company does that make the biggest differences. You may be thinking that customer service can’t be that easy. Well, it can.
The Little Things
Think of the last time you had a not‑so‑good customer service experience. What about that experience made you unhappy? Was it something big that went wrong, or was it something little. Did it change your beliefs about that organization or individual? Did you tell others about it? If you are like most people, that experience did change your beliefs. We all can agree that the truth is important, but what matters most to customers are perceptions. We often don’t know the truths—why something happened, why the information did not get to us on time, why we can’t close on the date expected. We put aside the truth in favor of perceptions—how the incident made us feel. It’s human nature to often base more on emotions than logic.
You need to understand that to your customers, everything you do happens behind an imaginary “Employees Only Door”‑‑all the activity they don’t see. What goes on behind those doors does not matter to your customers, that’s your job. On the customer side of the “Employees Only Door,” is how your customers see you.
In my frequent travels and hours spent in airports, I’m often reminded of how the “Employee’s Only Door” works. When I am at the gate lobby waiting for a flight, the things going on behind the “Employees Only Door” could be scheduling, arranging, mapping the course, cleaning the plane, making sure the plane is mechanically sound and fueled up. On my side (the customer side) of the door there are only three things important to me: What time do we leave? What time do we get there? And, when am I going to see my luggage again? Which side is more important? To the customers, it is their side. Take a step to the customer side of your “Employees Only Door”—find out how your customers see you and what matters to them. Unless you get in touch with those little things, you’ll wonder why customers don’t seem to understand you.
New LEADS or New Eyes
When I surveyed agents and lenders about their experiences with title companies, there was one common denominator that stood out as a reason why they favored one company over another: how they were treated after they started doing business with the title company. Who said that we should treat people differently once they become a customer? Don’t think they don’t notice; they do. In the sales process, we treat prospective customers differently than we do those already doing business with us. Why? Because we want their business. I like to equate it to dating. In the beginning men wash their cars before they pick up their dates, they bring flowers, and they dine at fine restaurants. Why? Because they want to make a good impression—they want their dates to like them. Then, after time passes, the special treatment stops. Too often we become complacent and let our customer service guard down with existing customers. But when you treat your existing customers as if they are constant prospects, they notice. Think about it—these are people who know you, have trust in you, and want to be reminded that they made the right decision to do business with you. Are you nurturing that? The key is to not focus so much on new leads but to see your current customers with a new eye. Customers right in front of you are just waiting for you to give them a reason to refer new business your way.
Those Nice Customers
Customers can sure be nice. They can be so nice that you’ll lose their business and you won’t know why. When I was growing up in the fine southern state of Alabama, one of the things my grandmother taught me was to be nice. She told me that sometimes it was best to say nothing than to say something not so nice. Bet you do that too, don’t you? In the title industry, you might be surprised to learn that when one of your customers feels that the service could be better, they often adopts the “nice” mentality. Before I tell you more, let’s define “could be better.” Any time your customers feel that they didn’t get what they expected, you didn’t return their telephone call when they thought you should, you made a mistake and didn’t acknowledge it, or you didn’t fax the HUD statement immediately, they feel that things “could be better.” We think that they should know why you weren’t able to return calls more timely, that the reason their expectation wasn’t met was because, frankly, it was unrealistic to begin with, and so on. Remember the “Employees Only Door.”
Only 4% of the time will a customer voluntarily tell you when they think things could be better; it’s just easier to be nice. But don’t think that just because they are not telling you that they’re not telling someone. Customers talk but often not to you. There are several reasons why—first and foremost, most human beings don’t like conflict to begin with. Other reasons are they think you’ll make an excuse and make them feel bad, they think that nothing will change, and they often believe that you don’t value them, because if you did, the problem would not be occurring. Customers think we are mind readers. Become one by asking on a regular basis: Is everything going like you believe it should? Am I getting you everything you need on time? What suggestions for improvement do you have for me at this point? Think for a moment of the impact just one dissatisfied customer can have. People talk. Those who think things “could be better” will gladly share with their colleagues in the industry. Think of it this way: Is there a customer who just stopped doing business with you? Do you know why, or were they just “nice” and slipped away quietly?
Those Dumb Customers
Prior to starting my company in 1993, I spent ten years as the director of guest, patient, and public relations for a large healthcare organization. In those ten years I learned a lot from half‑naked people who didn’t feel good. One of the most important lessons I learned about people is that we should embrace the dumb ones, those customers that make us feel so smart sometimes. Have you ever had a customer do something so dumb you thought they fell out of the dumb tree and hit every branch on the way down? Have you ever had a customer say something that you had to use willpower to keep from laughing? Guess what? They’ve laughed at you too. “Dumb” customers—I hate to use that word, but let’s call them what they are. We’ve all experienced situations when customers did dumb things—gave us the wrong address, submitted the wrong document. I have learned a lot from these customers; you can too. You see people don’t do dumb or stupid things on purpose; somehow the action generally makes all the sense in the world to them. I’ll go back to the “Employees Only Door”—what we do, how we do it. People often don’t understand, but it’s really not their job. When a customer does something that you might define as dumb, stop and ask what you did, or didn’t do, to allow that customer to come up with such an expectation or how they handled a situation. Many times when several “dumb” situations occur, the customer is telling you that something isn’t working. Find out what that is and fix it.
What Customers Want You To Know
As with most things, we miss so many opportunities because we aren’t looking for them the moment they occur. Customers have basic “must‑haves”—these are the things they want, the things that will keep them coming back.
Customers want you to ask them questions. They really do want to trust you. They really do want to know that you have all the answers. But, don’t be such an expert at what you do that you fail to ask questions. Most likely—you fail to ask the questions that you already know the answers to. I’ll give you an example. Let’s assume that it is the cold and flu season, and you have been ill for about four days with a fever, body aches, running nose, headache, and nausea. You decide to see a doctor. Upon arrival at the office, you quickly discover a waiting room full of others who appear to have the same symptoms as you. When you finally get to see the doctor, he takes one look at you and proudly announces that you, too, have the flu. He hands you a prescription and tells you to call the office if you’re not better in a few days. Now, chances are pretty good that the doctor’s diagnosis was correct —the outward clues and the fact that others seen before you looked to be suffering from the same illness. But what was missing? Questions. The doctor didn’t ask you questions. He didn’t ask you questions that, frankly, he really already knew the answers to – he quickly offered a solution. Even though you are the expert, and you want to be quick to offer solutions to your customers, be sure to ask a few questions—questions you most likely already know the answer to. Therefore, when you offer that solution, your customer has trust in the solution.
Nurture every customer’s sense of importance. I said earlier that customers want to feel important. In fact we all do. But sometimes we inadvertently rob people of their uniqueness. We do this by treating them all the same—they’re not. When you say things like “I have another customer with the same problem ¼ ,” or “All new homebuyers go through this ¼ .,” what you are really saying is “you’re not special”. Instead say things like, “I have another customer with a similar situation ¼ ,” or “Some of my other customers have experienced similar things ¼ .” People feel unique. People value uniqueness.
Honor the greatest commodity of today’s customer—Time. Are you busy? So is your customer. Find ways to save them time. Complete paperwork that doesn’t necessarily have to be completed by the customer, offer to drop off packets (or arrange for a courier service), be prepared—in other words, save time. You win, your customer wins, and your company wins.
Be easy to do business with. One of the most amazing trends I see in customers today is how they will move their business to another title company because they perceive that other company is easier to do business with. One of my clients in the Houston area had an agent comment that she really needed a title company that would stay open late one night a week and do closings on Saturdays (with advance notice). Initially, the company balked—wouldn’t even think about it. But I convinced them to tell the real estate agent that they would indeed be happy to be available when it was convenient for her. Just the fact that they said they would be available did the trick. Since then, she has not scheduled one appointment outside of normal hours or on Saturdays. However, this agent reports that the title company is “so much easier to do business with than in the past.” But what if the agent had taken advantage of the offer—great. Wouldn’t it be worth it to keep an existing customer happy? Realize that it won’t become the norm, but we have to do business when our cust‑omers want to do business. Other‑wise, they’ll find someone who will.
Follow up. This is one of the single greatest actions we take that impresses our customers. Don’t just assume that everything went great. Follow up to find out about any loose ends, misperceptions, additional paperwork needed. Follow up. With whom? The lender, the realty agent, the seller, the buyer. During the follow up is an excellent time to thank people for their business. Ask if there is anything else they need or if there are questions that were inadvertently left unanswered. Let them know about products or services that may benefit them in the coming months. Follow up. You really can’t afford not to.
One of my favorite pieces of advice is that if you want to be extraordinary, then stop being ordinary. Customers want extraordinary. Customers want you to be their business partner and a solutions provider, not an order taker. Ask them what you can do more of, what you can be better at, what you need to do differently—and if there is something you even need to do less of. Customers will tell you everything you need to know, but they’re waiting for you to ask them first.
Suzanne Penley is a nationally recognized motivational speaker and the president of Customer Focused Systems, a full‑service consulting and training firm specializing in Customer Service, Sales, Leadership and Management. This article is an excerpt from her presentation during ALTA®’s Tech forum in March. You can reach Suzanne at: 877‑592‑8282 or Suzanne@CustomerFocusedSystems.com.