Customer Service, Perception & The Home Warranty

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As a consumer, I know I can be pretty demanding.  Being a business owner, I am also hyper-aware of customer service issues and how different businesses manage themselves. As a Realtor, one of my services which I offer is a Home Warranty, which typically protects the buyer on major systems for 12 months after settlement (closing).  On Friday, these 3 worlds collided, as I received a long email from one of my buyer clients about how horrible the customer service was from the home warranty company. In short, she claimed: 

  1. They were rude to her and hung up on her during a phone conversation.
  2. They erroneously told her the item (heater motor) would not be covered under her protection.
  3. They never got back to her.

I believe my client because she is very credible and I trust her. The home warranty company, however, has had a long list of complaints from several of my clients, and about 4 months ago I stopped sending them business.  I refuse to blast them publicly here by name, as I don’t think that is the right thing to do. Also, I don’t want to give them any “free”, albeit poor press. 

Before we jump on the anti-warranty bandwagon, I want to go on the record saying this:  I am not a “warranty guy” by nature, but feel that on big purchases, like a home or auto, they are crucial. It’s just that this former company I used did everything in my opinion to not pay claims. That’s why I switched. 

Here is the good part. Just minutes ago, I had a phone conversation with one of the owners of the home warranty company. “We care about our customer service, “he said. “We made it right, we took care of her”.  I was stunned.  “That’s not her perception,” I said. “That’s why she sent me that long email.  Her complaints are numerous, and she feels like she was treated poorly”.   He didn’t get it.  He went on to tell me that the job was done, and they fixed the broken heater.  So this got me thinking, and I felt appropriate to make a list of the “Top 10 Service Lessons” which I have learned from some of our past clients in just the few years that I operated Help-U-Sell Harbinger Realty: 

  1. Perception is reality. The  client’s perception is all that matters.  If they are angry or upset about something, it’s my job to fix it.
  2. Don’t be defensive. I have a natural instinct to defend or debate any issue. This is not good. I need to listen, and understand why a client is upset.
  3. Give them vanilla. When I first learned that vanilla is the #1 selling ice cream flavor in the USA, I laughed. Somebody got that one wrong, I thought. Why would anyone want vanilla over chocolate, or better yet, chocolate peanut butter?  But they’re right. If they want vanilla, give it to them.
  4. Objectively inspect your systems.  If you could tear it apart and start all over, is this current system the way you would do it?   No?  Tear it apart.
  5. Would you refer us to friends and family?  This is the most important question you can ask a client after the sale.
  6. Meet face to face.  The more upset the customer is, the faster you should meet, and do it face to face. Barriers are broken down when you meet face to face, and in reality, it demonstrates that you care more by spending the time to meet.
  7. Over-Communicate.  People would rather know too much than be kept in the dark.
  8. Be honest, direct and upfront without disrespecting them.  I am reminded off a time when a home buyer wanted to buy a house on Route 33, and I tried to talk them out of it. I felt it was a bad decision because it would be very difficult for them to re-sell it in an average market. I remain stubborn on this point, and I am glad I voiced my opinion, but they didn’t like it. In retrospect, perhaps I should have been gentler.
  9. “I’m sorry”.  People need to hear those 2 words when you drop the ball. No excuses, end of story. If you say any other words after the word “sorry”, you diminish the apology. Just shut up.  It’s also best if you start your reply with this statement.
  10. Great customer service is fun.  It is fun when 70% of your business comes from past clients, and certainly makes life easier.  Though I don’t think our service is 100% great, inch by inch we are trying our damned best to meet and exceed the expectations of our clients.

It’s easy to listen to the happy clients. The key to great customer service is to listen to the unhappy ones, and then make adjustments in your systems and your approach.

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2 Responses to Customer Service, Perception & The Home Warranty

  1. Lisa says:

    I am shocked at the reaction of the warranty company. I am glad that they see it as they made it right. ONLY AFTER, I had to keep calling and asking to speak to a supervisor. I dont feel like they took care of me. I took care of myself! Amazing perception.

  2. Mike Elliott says:

    Lisa:

    They are still doing an “internal investigation” as the owner mentioned to me, and he promised me more feedback tomorrow. However, they are very defensive about being “right”, so I know they will never get your side understood. I feel very badly, as we discussed, that you had to encounter their poor service. I will forward any further updates to your email.

    The good news is I have taken business away from them, and I will advise my Help-U-Sell friends to do the same, as I already have on my company intranet.

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