Building a Better Mousetrap
Little did I imagine, as a graduate student anticipating an academic career during the late 1970s, only a decade later I would be running the residential sales division of a major real estate company, or that a few years after that I would actually BUY it. Coming as I did to the business of business by the seat of my pants, it took me a while to learn the ropes and figure out my personal philosophy. But over the years I have arrived at some conclusions about what is right for Warburg:
* If you don’t have your word, you don’t have anything. Often, my agents will come to me, lay out a situation, and ask me what I think is the right thing to do. My answer usually is “You already know the right thing to do. If you are struggling enough to want my opinion, it’s because something is getting in the way of your doing the right thing.” More often than not, that “something” is money. Don’t get me wrong, I like making money as much as (and maybe more than) the next guy. But it never takes precedence over doing what’s right. It has been my experience, over and over, that doing the right rather than the expedient thing repays you 100 fold, both in how you feel and what you earn over the long haul. Always acting with integrity is the best possible business plan.
* The customer must always be respected. As the President of a real estate brokerage firm, I have two layers of customers to whom I am answerable: internal customers (my agents) and external customers (our buyers and sellers.) These constituencies have different needs, but each always deserves the fundamental respect of being listened to and taken seriously. There is no room at Warburg for denigrating attitudes or comments about either our agents or our clients. My customers may not always be right (who is?), but they are always heard and their concerns are always paramount.
* A service business requires that you perform the service. How is it that so many agents, when you e-mail them for an appointment, decline by saying, “I will be there next Tuesday at 10, can you come then?” The answer is no! Similarly, how is it that the exclusive agent unlocks the door for you, takes a cell phone call, then chatters away for the next ten minutes while you are left to show the customer around the apartment, which neither of you has ever seen before? The owner hires an agent to perform a service, and two big pieces of that service are availability and courtesy. Accommodation, of buyers, of other agents, of appraisers, of managing agents, is (along with providing expert analysis and advice) what we do. An agent who thinks accommodation and/or politeness are an inconvenience is an agent who should find a different career.
* In business, you change or you die. I am not by nature an agent of transformative change, but I have had to learn! The pace of change in our business (and in every business) has accelerated since technology first swept through our sedate lives in the mid-80s. Computers, the fax machine, the Internet, handheld devices, cloud computing, social media – one after another they have resculpted our landscape such that many aspects of it are unrecognizable today. Failing to embrace the opportunities of the digital age in their ever-evolving glory leaves established companies prey to younger, hipper models as we all compete for the next generation of agents. I am proud of Warburg’s cutting edge digital and Web 2.0 focus, in which I feel we have been leaders. But this race is never over.
* In the end, it’s all about relationships. The service Warburg provides to its agents, and they provide to our clients and customers, revolves around one of the most personal, financially significant, and life-defining choices in people’s lives: the creation or change of a home. Most people need to feel a relationship with the person who will assist them in this process. Everything I have described in the four points above comes together here: great agents are trustworthy, they are attentive, they are responsive, and they are fast on their feet – all in the service of creating a genuine agent/client bond. It is my aim to create that same bond between the company and the agents who carry our card. No matter how much the world changes, a sense of personal connection remains the key to successful relationships: between me and my agents, between them and their clients, and between our brand and the world.