In real estate, there’s a fine line in keeping in touch with your past clients and becoming that annoying pest who’s always calling, e-mailing, or mailing. So how do you make sure you aren’t annoying and stay within that helpful professional or friend zone?
“It’s all about making it personal, making it magic, and making the experience unforgettable so that two or 10 years down the road they’ll remember to call you,” says real estate pro Cheryl Hanna with Keyes Co. in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., and also a frequent blogger about customer service issues for Service Untitled.
There are plenty of ways to keep in touch without them turning off, such as through memorable gifts and personalized cards, or even sneaky ways to get connected to their voice mail without risking interrupting them with a phone call.
A lot of it comes down to intuitively judging what your clients want in a relationship with you after a transaction, Hanna says. For example, is your relationship more of a friendship or strictly professional? How do they prefer to be contacted—which of them are phone persons and which are e-mail types?
Something else to keep in mind: They probably want you to stay connected. The odds appear in your favor that past clients will use you again. Eighty-four percent of sellers say they are likely to use the same agent again or recommend that agent to others, according to the 2010 National Association of Realtors®Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers. But if you disappear into the shadows following a transaction, will they really call when they — or their family and friends — need you?
Real estate professionals sent in some of their best ideas for keeping in touch with past clients. Find some inspiration from what they do and apply it to your own customer relationships.
1. Deliver some news they can use
Clients won’t be so turned off when you provide them with useful information, such as the latest news of the community and the local housing market.
“The real estate market is tense in a lot of areas of the country right now and many home owners are interested in information on the mortgage market, foreclosure information, or the value of the home they have now,” Hanna says. “Everything you send out to a former client has to have some pertinent, valuable information to them,” otherwise they’ll disregard your messages completely.
For example, Desiree DiDonato with Century 21 Rauh & Johns in Sewell, N.J., likes to send her past clients a “hello” e-mail that includes home sales in the area where they own. Or, she might call them with current rates on mortgages. (You can find the latest mortgage rates through Freddie Mac’s Primary Mortgage Market Survey at freddiemac.com.)
Or offer home maintenance reminders (e.g., changing out smoke detector batteries once a year), home design tips, or remodeling ideas (cite Remodeling Magazine’s Cost vs. Value Report) to show what remodeling projects offer the biggest return at resale). You also can find helpful articles — on everything from home maintenance to selling advice — to send to clients at HouseLogic.com.
2. Offer an unusual gift
Shelley Tinnel with Boulder Bay Realty Group in Valparaiso, Ind., likes to make gifts memorable. She’ll send past clients an odd gift usually at the beginning of every year. Last year, she sent “dirty/clean” magnets for the dishwasher. Or she has mailed rival sports team schedules so they can root for the other team, or once she sent bags of popcorn with stickers that say “Real estate is popping; give me a call.”
“Mostly they call to laugh, but they remember me,” Tinnel says. “I love to get a smile or a kick out of people, and little odd items do the trick.”
3. Make your cards memorable and personal
Remembering important events in your clients’ lives and sending a card in the mail or a simple e-mail message can go a long way in building memorable relationships.
Hanna isn’t big into popular holiday cards because she says they get mixed up with everyone else’s cards and are quickly forgotten. Instead, to stand out, she likes to send off-season cards, such as “Welcome to Spring” or Thanksgiving cards.
Here are some more ideas:
- Birthday cards with an extra touch: Vincent Prestileo Jr. with RE/MAX Hometown in Media, Pa., sends a birthday card each year to his clients that includes a $1 scratch-off ticket. And don’t forget Fido: Pet birthdays count too, adds Donna Mikesh with Century 21 Pro Service, Realtors®, in Johnson City, Tenn.
- Home anniversary cards: Send out cards each year celebrating the anniversary of closing on the clients’ home.
- Congratulatory cards: Remember graduations, wedding anniversaries, or a new baby in the family.
- Important date reminders: Consider card reminders about daylight savings time or upcoming deadlines for home energy-efficiency tax credits.
Every month, Vicci Hall with ERA Real Estate Professionals in Ridgeland, Miss., will select 50 past clients with whom she has a close relationship and send them a special letter, which she calls a “Letter From My Heart.” She’ll handwrite the envelopes to add a personal touch, and the letters will include inspirational stories or focus on a special holiday or event. For example, she recently used breast cancer awareness envelopes and stamps and pink stationery for a letter to past clients to show them she also supports a cause that is near and dear to them.
“I’ve gotten a tremendous amount of positive comments and feedback from this letter,” she says. “This contact with past clients ensures that they don’t forget me and also reminds them to refer me to friends and family.”
4. Give them a call
Sabena Branche with Pulte Homes in Newburgh, N.Y., likes to follow up with her clients with a phone call a few days after they move in to check on how the move went and offer her assistance if needed.
Phone calls for past clients’ birthdays or special days also can make a great personal touch. But how about if your client isn’t really a phone person, but you still want that personal touch a voice offers?
Phone services such as SlyDial allow you to connect directly to someone’s mobile voice mail to leave them a message without disrupting them with your call. You simply call the SlyDial number (267-759-3425) and then at the voice prompt, enter the mobile phone number you want to reach. You’ll be directly connected to that person’s voice mail to leave a message.
5. Follow up with a survey
Hanna always uses customer feedback surveys following a transaction. It’s a way to not only make contact with your past clients but also show them you care about finding ways to better serve them in the future.
Experts recommend sending customer-satisfaction surveys two to three weeks after closing. Keep the surveys brief, asking your customers what services they liked and what needs improvement, Hanna suggests. You can easily build customer feedback surveys online, such as through SurveyMonkey.com, KeySurvey, FreeOnlineSurveys.com, or Zoomerang.
6. Make a social networking connection
Social networking sites online can make it easy to keep in touch with past clients on an informal and more friend-type basis.
Deb Counts-Tabor with Oregon Realty in Portland, Ore., makes sure to connect with all of her past clients on Facebook. “I use it for everything, from knowing when a past client is having a baby to reminding folks to check basements during the first heavy rain of the year,” Counts-Tabor says. “I’ve only lost contact with two clients in four years — I count the rest as friends.”
Tip: You can use Facebook’s friend lists feature to group your friends into customized lists (e.g. “first-time home buyers,” “past clients,” “industry contacts,” etc.) to better manage all your contacts on Facebook. (You can put friends into multiple lists.) By categorizing your friends on Facebook, you’ll then easily be able to view news feeds based on your contact lists or send messages to certain lists of contacts. Just be careful what you call your lists — some friend lists can be made public and even notify your contacts about it. Check your privacy settings.
Also, to stay on top of what your clients are doing online and find excuses to connect again, you can use plug-ins to your e-mail systems to reveal what your contacts are doing online. For example, services such as Xobni and Rapportive create an address book of all your e-mail contacts and show you profiles of each contact, including their latest status updates on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter.
7. Get creative!
Special events or extra helpful touches also can go a long way in getting your past clients’ attention and set you apart. Here are three ideas:
- Host a party: Counts-Tabor has created a Halloween tradition among her past clients. She invites them to her home on Halloween for a party; costumes are optional. The early part of the evening is kid-friendly with her clients’ children trick-or-treating; people at the party will take turns answering the door to hand out treats. About 75 past clients showed up last year. Also, in the past, Counts-Tabor rented a hotel suite on the fourth of July across from where the fireworks in the city would be set off and invite all of her clients to watch the fireworks from there.
- Help them get organized: To help your clients better organize their housing paperwork or prepare for tax time, create a binder containing copies of paperwork generated during the transaction, such as appraisals, inspection reports, warranties, and settlement statements. For example, Mikesh of Century 21 Pro Service sends a letter and copy of her clients’ HUD form to them at the beginning of the year following their closing. “The HUD form is greatly appreciated because of tax preparation, the fact that they have moved recently, and — in most cases — they’ve misplaced their paperwork temporarily,” she says.
- Come to the rescue: Consider what information your past clients may need to make home ownership happier for them and put yourself in the “save the day” role. For example, offer past clients a list of vendors — from handyman to electricians to plumbers — to help them with any home problem they may face. Or, many home owners, despite having a drop in market value of their homes, have had to face rising property taxes. You can help point them to information on how to appeal their property taxes. (See “Time to Appeal That Tax Bill?”)
Make Lasting Connections
Regardless what you do to keep in touch, be consistent in your contact. Many real estate professionals use a customer relationship management solution, whether it’s an online or computer software program, to better manage all of their past contacts and set notifications to alert them to establish contact at certain times of the year.
Hall manages all of her past clients in a database. She sends about 175 cards a month to people on her list, such as postcards for holidays or mailings that offers different types of advice like home maintenance tips.
“I've been doing this for about six months, and it is truly paying off now,” she says. “I'm getting new business every few days, most of which are somehow related to this mailing list. People on my list are referring me to friends of theirs, which is the idea behind it.”
Branche has a “Keep in Touch” program that goes into action immediately after closing for every client. It includes mailings and e-mail from her every holiday, birthday, and anniversary of their closing.
“I have found being consistent with these actions opens the door to repeat business,” Branche says. “Also, it allows me to continue building my referral base, which has created much more business to come directly my way.”