Customer service is not transactional

Imagine getting new business from a client 25 years after an arduous transaction. Now imagine you received that call without making an overt effort to acquire the business other than simply sending an annual Christmas card. You never asked for new business, or even referrals. What kind of impression would you have to have left on the client to render that level of unsolicited loyalty?

Substitute any industry for real estate in the story you are about to read, and the outcome will be identical.

Disclaimer: I am not telling this story to toot my own horn but to demonstrate the effect authentic customer service had on me and my decision making almost three decades after the fact.

While house hunting the first time around, my husband and I went through several realtors before meeting John Jam, an easy going, down-to-earth professional. He sold us our first home. Knowing we wanted a larger family, we resolved firmly to stay in that home no more than five years before searching for a forever home. At year four, I reached out to John to let him know we were ready to put our home on the market and begin searching for a larger property. Given our financial situation, we had hoped the sale and new purchase would coincide without the need for creative borrowing.

Our home sold rather quickly, and the buyers wanted a quick settlement. We had only been looking for our forever home a few weeks and had not found one that suited our specific needs, so we found temporary housing in order to continue searching without pressure. Keep in mind, these were pre-internet days; searches involved the realtor pulling listings, and then making appointments for us to physically tour properties.

During the search process, we got pregnant with and delivered our third child, yet still had not found a new home until the baby was more than nine months old. In other words, John spent a solid year-and-a-half taking us to new listings on a weekly basis. He did not give up. He did not complain. He never tried to push us into a home that he knew would not provide long-term satisfaction.

By the time we settled into the perfect home, and it was excellent, the baby had already celebrated her first birthday. At settlement, I told John he would get our listing if and when it came time to sell. I felt we owed him that much considering the hours he had invested with us. I doubt he made a nickel an hour on that transaction.

Again, he never complained and never gave us the impression he was frustrated by us. In fact, a few weeks after we had moved into our new home, he reached out to offer us first dibs on a dining room set that one of his other clients was selling. He did not have to do this for either client. He was not making a dime on that transaction. He simply knew we were not able to fully furnish our home immediately and his seller was looking to downsize, so he kindly made the connection.

Fast forward 25 years. Despite having met many people in the real estate industry, and now having family in the industry, I knew I had to keep my word to John. He was astounded when I called to tell him it was time to list our “forever” home. I was not looking for plaudits. It was my duty to keep my word. After all, this man forfeited countless hours on our behalf. I finally had an opportunity to reciprocate. He listed our home, and it sold within a month.

By this time, we had accumulated more furniture than we could use, and began to sell most of it but not before asking John to reach out to the buyers to see what they might want to purchase. The buyer’s realtor hastily said his clients were not interested, and made it known to John that he was not in the furniture sales business. Upon a second inquiry and delayed response from the buyer’s realtor, John was told firmly that the buyers wanted nothing, not even the relatively new washer and dryer we were selling, which we found odd given the scarcity of appliances at that post-pandemic time.

Prior to settlement, I met the buyers for a walk-through, and they asked if we were selling our washer and dryer. By that time, my husband had moved them into storage. The opportunity was missed, and I was miffed! It appeared they were never told about the items we wanted to leave or sell.

The buyers were not able to attend settlement, so their agent represented them alone. He was a young man bursting with confidence and perhaps a bit of conceit. When we were introduced, I asked how long he had been in real estate. He proudly shared the short length of time he had been in the business and that he was poised to top six million in sales that year. I acknowledged his impressive accomplishment, and then channeled my maternal instincts. I was not about to let his hurried nature interfere with the opportunity to convey a lesson, so I sat back in my chair and held court.

In a jovial manner, I relayed to everyone in the room the story of John’s rock star customer service back in the 90s and how it led us to work together again. I looked directly at the young realtor and explained that even the most successful professionals experience downturns, and more important than how he handles downturns is how well he prepares in advance, the type of foundation he lays.

The moral of this story is that customer service is not merely transactional, but more so, it is relational.

Build relationships for life in the likelihood they become lifelong. If they don’t last a lifetime, there is no loss. If they do last a lifetime … wow!

Lorraine Ranalli

Lorraine Ranalli

Lorraine Ranalli is Chief Storyteller & Communications Director, as well as published author. Her most recent work, Impact: Deliver Effective, Meaningful, and Memorable Presentations, is a pocket book of public ... Web: Details