Creating superior experiences for your customers
Service-based industries live or die by the quality of their customer service. While other industries rely on their products or supply chains, service enterprises primarily differentiate themselves through the experiences they offer. Today’s savviest service-related companies are acutely aware of this. They also know retaining customers is much easier and economical than finding and converting new ones.
Recently, Missy Trubatisky, Alliant National’s Underwriting and Escrow Training Manager, called upon her years of title insurance experience to develop and present a training entitled “Customers for Life.” The presentation offered numerous examples of how title agents can build a superior customer service program and ultimately grow their businesses. Read on for some of the major takeaways.
It’s About Mindset
Perhaps the biggest thing to remember about creating “Customers for Life” and delivering superior customer service is that it is a bigger endeavor than any one action or campaign. Instead, it requires a complete shift in mindset. You must treat every deal like it is the most important of your career. Is this asking for a lot? Maybe. But it’s what your customers expect. And if you are in the services game, why would you want to do anything else? Missy says there are a few easy tricks to start shifting your thinking on this matter.
First, make every situation an opportunity to succeed, not an obligation to fulfill. Next, remember to present yourself professionally – every day and during every closing. Lastly, remember the golden rule, and then go one step further. Treat others not only as you want to be treated, but also as you would want your mother or children treated in the same situation, Missy says.
Opportunity vs. Obligation
You might be thinking: “Sure, it’s easy to talk about changing your mindset. Pulling it off is another thing entirely.” However, Missy says that when you start breaking it down, you quickly realize that it is not quite a Herculean lift. Instead of looking at it as a major undertaking, view customer obligations and opportunities as roughly the same thing.
We all know that working with customers entails at least some obligations. What matters, though, is how you choose to look at it. For instance, agents need to deliver the title commitment – typically within 20 days. Your obligation here is to deliver the commitment before the 21st day. Your opportunity is to deliver it in less than a week. In doing so, you demonstrate superior customer service; you provide the WOW factor. Making an obligation an opportunity isn’t as hard as you might think. It just involves a subtle shift in mindset, she says.
That’s Not Quite All
It would be nice if that was all it took to deliver superior customer service. But there is a bit more to it than that. Displaying ethical behavior, maintaining a sterling reputation, and engaging in effective communication also influences whether you can create customers for life.
How can you display ethical behavior in business? That’s a deep question. There are so many layers to ethical behavior, but for simplicity’s sake, Missy says you can boil it roughly down to integrity and character.
Your character is what others believe they know about the kind of person you are. Your integrity directly impacts how people view your character. It speaks to whether people view you as trustworthy. Trust is the basis of obtaining customers for life, Missy notes. When customers trust that you will do what you say, they will come back repeatedly.
Unsurprisingly, whether people consider your business ethical will determine its overall reputation. It will also dictate its longevity. When you are a service-based business, your reputation is all you have; you must protect it at all costs. This is where accountability comes in. It’s okay to make a mistake. We all do it. What’s important is how you address it. Here’s how you can go about making it right:
- First, own the mistake
- Second, figure out how to fix the mistake
- Third, don’t try to hide it or sweep it under the rug
- Lastly, learn from it, and don’t make the same mistake again
The final part of creating customers for life involves prioritizing effective communication with your customers. But before you can do that, you must first listen to their needs, Missy says. That means listening from beginning to end. We’re all guilty of formulating our side of the conversation even while others are formulating theirs. When we do that, we miss out on vital information that we need to know. We fail to understand what is important to our conversation partner.
Conversely, when you understand what is important to another person, you can show that you care about them. This creates the foundations of a trusting and mutually beneficial business relationship.
Alliant National: Committed to Building Customers for Life
Building a reputation for superior customer service takes real work, but when you are caught up in the day-to-day minutiae, it can be difficult to make needed changes. Still, there are numerous steps we all can take to improve our customer service and make our clients feel more appreciated and valued. All that’s required is going back to the basics. Missy emphasizes this when explaining the genesis of her presentation and how Alliant National seeks to help agents create loyal, lifelong customers. “Everyone needs a reminder from time-to-time on good basic customer service skills and the importance of developing those skills,” she said. “It’s critical for Alliant National to present these courses to offer a unique perspective to a vital skill.”
Want to learn more about creating “Customers for Life?” Check out Missy’s full presentation here.
The “R” word is one of the most feared words in the marketplace today: RECESSION. There’s a lot of debate around whether the United States is in recession, but whether you call it a recession, slowdown, correction, or a normalization, it’s clear the market is changing.
As a title professional, now may be a good time to consider taking action, particularly if you’re already seeing some slowing in your market. New situations like this present new dangers and requirements, but they also present opportunities.
Let’s start with the dangers. The most obvious threats are reduced sales or revenues, which could threaten profitability and put pressure on cashflow. Those are troubling possibilities, but good management techniques can help you navigate these potential headwinds. Here are some steps to consider:
Keep a close eye on your business metrics
- Get accurate revenue numbers and watch them carefully.
- Seek realistic sales projections. Know what’s in your pipeline, and in your customers’ pipelines.
- Watch expenses closely.
- Know your “cash-burn” rate (i.e., how long you can operate at a loss).
Hope for the best, but make a plan for the worst
- No one likes layoffs, but you should have a plan. Make this as soft as possible. You may consider salary “freezes” and percentage salary reductions as an option should conditions warrant.
- Work with landlords, vendors, suppliers, and banks for more favorable terms.
- Build a “war chest” or “rainy day fund.” Having cash-at-hand is prudent.
- Consider a line of credit. Seasonal slowdowns, roughly October through February, may make cash flow challenging. One alternative may be to obtain a reasonable line of credit from a trusted, local lender that can be used for short term coverage of payroll or extraordinary expenses “just in case” it is needed. The line of credit option creates flexibility for expense management.
Having discussed the dangers, here are some new responsibilities you may face in a contracting economy:
Get your game face on
- Things are a lot more competitive. There is more competition for each revenue dollar. Prepare your team to compete more effectively.
- Keep a close eye on your competitors. Know what they are doing and where they may be looking to take market share, your employees, etc.
- Take special care of your best customers. Know where your revenue is coming from. “Show the love” to customers who may be at risk.
- Find partners you can trust. Look for loyalty, financial strength, and assess the risk of being betrayed. Some underwriters may put increased pressure on you to make minimums, or they may cut staff or divert resources to support their direct and affiliate operations while neglecting your needs. Find the partners that are going to be highly responsive to your needs so you can get your difficult deals closed.
- Watch out for “bad moods.” Your team members may worry about slowing market conditions or even about being laid-off. Fear and stress can make it difficult to compete. Company culture is important. Stay close to your team and engage them. Get their input. Share your action plans.
- Make new commitments. Revise sales projections and requirements for the sales team. Now is the time to invest in your team’s selling skills and marketing efforts.
- Find efficiencies. It’s time to streamline processes and improve your systems. Seek ways to do more with less.
If you cope with the threats, fulfill your obligations, and have adequate financial capital, you may have the chance to take advantage of opportunities in a slowdown. Some of these opportunities include:
Improving the quality of your team
- Upskilling – consider education and training for your staff including CE, CLE, and sales training.
- One consideration is to hire top performers from competitors. Of course, you want to remain vigilant for competitors looking to “poach” your employees.
Become a bigger and better company
- Now may be the time to consider purchasing a competitor for a discount to expand into new markets and to obtain new capabilities.
- You may wish to rethink your customer experience and employee experience to give you a competitive edge.
- Streamlining management and operations can help you become a more agile company. This might include bringing in new technology to do more with less and to improve turn time and accountability.
- Consider making new offers – such as commercial transactions, education and training for your real estate agent customers, or new digital capabilities for customers such as mobile apps.
Regardless of whether the economy experiences a soft landing, hard landing, stagflation or a recession, anticipating what you might do in advance of these situations is essential to the success of title professionals. By planning ahead, you can overcome market challenges and adopt a new “R” word to describe your organization: RESILIENT. Of course, your Alliant National agency representative or agency manger is always available to discuss market conditions and ways to help your business thrive!
We’ve learned from the refinance boom and bust years that being a one trick pony in the title insurance profession is not the pathway to longevity. Diversifying your transactions with purchase, refinance, builder, REO and mobile home transactions is a good way to hedge your bets in the cyclical reality of the real estate market.
Commercial transactions can also be a great way to solidify your competitive position in the local market. However, many agents are a bit leery of taking the plunge due to the more complex nature of these deals.
Donna More, VP and Senior Underwriting Counsel for Alliant National Title Insurance Company, says that while she can understand an agent’s initial trepidation, there is a logical pathway for agents to move into the commercial end of the business, and Alliant National underwriting counsel can be a great resource as you are learning the ropes.
“I think an experienced underwriting attorney is key in these transactions,” More says. “We know right off the top what is going to come up. We can get the agent prepared, alert them on what they are going to need, and tell them what questions to ask – even before they get the search report – so they can avoid some surprises later on in the transaction.”
She notes that agents are hesitant to get into commercial because they don’t want to appear ignorant when questions and issues come up. But most of the tough issues will be resolved by underwriting counsel.
“We are going to be the ones who come up with methods of resolution, based on our professional experience,” she explains. “That is one of the big advantages we offer our agents. With our experience and knowledge, we are often able to predict what is going to happen, or what is going to be needed. We can already be thinking ahead to the best way to resolve potential issues.”
But let’s not put the cart before the horse.
There are some key steps you can take before venturing into commercial transactions. It’s also helpful to understand how the players’ roles are different and explore some of the elements that are unique to commercial transactions.
Learning about commercial transactions
The best way to learn the nuances of commercial deals, according to More, is first, to take on small deals in order to learn by doing; second, to work closely with underwriting counsel to get questions answered; and finally, to seek out educational opportunities.
“I recommend that agents who want to get into commercial and want to feel competent and prepared should take classes,” she advises. “There are always good takeaways from the commercial real estate seminars. Also, ask local attorneys what they recommend would be helpful to gain a higher degree of sophistication in commercial real estate.”
More says it shouldn’t be too hard to find educational opportunities, since bar associations and land title associations offer commercial real estate classes. Even if the class is geared towards lawyers, it can still give an agent insight into commercial deals, affording them a greater level of comfort, she adds.
Alliant National agents can check out a free webinar, Commercial Closings? No Problem! at alliantnationalacademy.com.
Securing commercial transaction title orders
More acknowledges that the most complicated commercial transactions are usually handled by attorney title agents but notes that there are plenty of non-attorney title agents who have been successful at developing a clientele with their existing real estate agent and broker customers who handle both residential and commercial transactions.
She also advises mining existing customer relationships for potential opportunities.
“Someone who bought a $3 million home and closed with you is probably a fairly successful businessperson and may be involved in buying and selling commercial properties,” she says. “Nurture those relationships.”
She also suggests getting immersed in the local business community and commercial industry organizations, especially the real estate associations like Commercial Real Estate Women (CREW) or NAIOP, the Commercial Real Estate Development Association (fka the National Association for Industrial and Office Parks).
“Being involved in the local commercial industry organizations is a very good source of knowledge and business,” More says. “Go to the local meetings and take advantage of the educational opportunities to build your confidence.”
How commercial title work differs from residential
Commercial transactions can be complicated, with more lawyers involved and often more parties to the transaction. In addition, the principals are often not individuals, but legal entities.
“The title agent needs to be very familiar with the types of legal entities in their state and what the requirements are for proof of good standing and proof of authority,” More explains.
She says an agent is also more likely to have to deal with ancillary issues, such as easements for access. Generally speaking, in a residential sale, the home is on a platted lot and there are no issues with access. But with commercial property, it could involve a landlocked parcel and you have to be concerned about access or the adequacy of access.
“The other important difference is how you deal with the lenders,” she says. “The lenders are going to expect more. In the more sophisticated transactions, there are going to be more requirements and different documentation needed. Even though you as the title agent would not be preparing the documents, you will have to familiarize yourself with all the documents in the transaction as well as get them signed as part of the package and recorded.”
More notes that construction loans are also more complicated for commercial properties and lenders will have a lot more requirements. The agent could also run into construction lien issues.
“Florida has a construction lien law that is very detailed and very complicated. That’s another reason why it’s so important to go to your underwriting attorney to get the guidance you need,” she advises.
Same basics, different pacing
The basics of the title and closing work in a commercial transaction is not very different from residential transaction.
“The agent needs to go through the commitment, see what the requirements are, and get familiar with the exceptions,” she explains. “It is especially important for a title agent to be able to distinguish what the parties are responsible for vs. what they are responsible for. And of course, they should come to underwriting as soon as they see something that makes them say, ‘I don’t know what this is.’”
However, More clarifies, the title agent must account for everything even if it is the sellers’ or buyers’ responsibility to actually perform the task or provide the documentation.
Sometimes commercial deals can be turned around quickly, but usually they take longer because the inspections and due diligence are more complicated, often involving permitting, approvals, DOT issues and access.
“In my seminars for Florida agents, I have always suggested checklists for any transaction, but it is most imperative in commercial deals,” More says. “Go through the contract. Check the timelines. Also, as the title agent, you need to share your title work with all parties – seller, buyer and lender. Sellers and their lawyers will have a much bigger role in a commercial transaction. The seller will have to come up with all kinds of documentation. On the buyer side, the lender will need to see the organization of the entity and will want to look at their books and balance sheets.”
And of course, the title agent will be involved in the curative work, even if it is only to give the seller guidance as to what will be required.
“In addition to keeping up with the timing, probably the most crucial part of what they do is keeping track of what needs to be fixed and how it needs to be fixed,” More notes. “That’s where we come in. They need underwriting to determine how to cure a problem or explore the alternatives available to fix an issue. We rate those alternatives – this is the best course of action or this is the option we don’t want to do.”
Commercial real estate transactions do require some expertise, but it is knowledge that can be acquired over time through educational opportunities and on-the-job experience with smaller transactions. But the most important resource you have at your disposal will always be the experienced and knowledgeable underwriting attorneys at Alliant National. We are always here to help you learn how to navigate this fascinating and challenging aspect of the title insurance business in order to take your agency to the next level.
Right now, even the most seasoned experts find themselves unsure when we’ll be able to return to some semblance of normal. To add to that, it’s projected that it could be months or even years before we’re able to return to business as usual across the board. Now that most states have found themselves in over a month of their shelter-in-place orders, real estate experts have started compiling tips to try and help their fellow agents navigate these uncertain times.
A group of marketers came together for Forbes to offer twenty tips on how to seize the day until our day-to-day gets familiar again. Included in the tips are bits of advice like how to avoid being too aggressive while buyers find their footing, and to offer virtual product training to your agents.
Allie Beth Allman, Realtor to former President George W. Bush, spoke about the importance of not panicking and learning to adapt during an uncertain market. Allman also discusses the importance of remaining calm and not acting reactively here.
Meanwhile, New York broker Eric Benaim offers tips on winning business and staying positive while we find ourselves in a downturn. After starting his firm in 2008, Benaim has experience in working through economic anxiety. You can check out Alliant National’s COVID-19 Resource Page for more information on how you can keep your closings safe and your business moving forward during these tumultuous times. We also recently hosted a national webinar with many more tips on how to stay engaged with your Realtor clients.
It is in listening that we
can we detect areas in which we can offer assistance and provide tools.
The best (most effective)
strategies for acquiring and maintaining new business no longer depends upon
the delivery of pastries or a free lunch. Today, recruiting participants means
searching for and then filling needs, recognizing gaps, appealing to goals, and
ultimately providing tools for achieving those goals.
A defined process that leads
to a better understanding of a prospect’s pain points, coupled with a plan of
attack, enables a title agent to bring value to clients.
We’ve all been there. After
weeks, perhaps months, of professionally approaching a realtor or lender
prospect, the much-sought-after initial meeting gets scheduled.
Then mental preparation
turns one’s thoughts toward how best to provide value to the prospect, within
compliant borders, that will sufficiently attract them to begin using our
Too often, our approach
centers around providing a laundry list of goods and services our company offers.
As we run through what can sometimes be an exhaustive list, we hope that at
some point, our prospect will react favorably, and drill down into the
particular offer which they find irresistible.
As we have found out, and
is often the case, this never happens. What we have unwittingly done, is waste
the prospect’s time by offering products or services which are not needed.
These types of meetings usually lead to a polite “thank you,” and “we will let
you know” response.
A better approach involves
putting ourselves in the place of our potential referral source, and viewing
business challenges through their eyes. It is a given that they are faced with
the same type of questions we have, in trying to obtain their business. They
are seeking ways to attract their own referral sources even as they spend time
and money to do so.
Instead of laying our
tools on the table, hoping one will be useful to our prospect, the better
approach would be a consultative one. Use the first five minutes of the meeting
asking questions about business strategy and goals, methods currently being
employed, and history of success and failure.
It is in listening that we
can we detect areas in which we can offer assistance and provide tools.
For realtor prospects,
this may involve keying-in on monthly meetings put on by the broker in charge.
It is their obligation to provide meetings and speakers, to bring value to
their franchise, and to attract and keep top agents.
An offer to sponsor the
food, as well as line up industry speakers, will go a long way in obtaining an
endorsement from the broker, while adding valuable face time with the agents
with whom we are trying to connect.
Providing a short segment on title insurance itself, will show your
prospects that you are a subject-matter expert, and worthy of their
For lender prospects,
offer to line up a real estate office presentation, with them as the main
speaker, on topics of lending particularly interesting to agents. Again, an
offer to underwrite the cost of food, line up the presentation, and participate
in the program will bring value to your relationship with that lender.
It is possible to work collaboratively with your
prospects, employing a consultative approach, and filling needs gaps, to help
them in their business. This altruism places you and your agency top-of-mind
when the decision is made for title work.