Great customer experience examples in real estate can be hard to come by, in part because the industry presents a particular conundrum.
Realtors usually charge the same basic fees, so they can’t really compete on price. They offer largely the same service – helping customers buy or sell a home – which inherently limits their individuality.
So how do they stand out?
A California homeowner, for one, took to featuring a small white dog in every real estate listing photo, earning a place on the Zillow Gone Wild Instagram and TikTok accounts – and fetching a buyer in two days.
Another pup named Namaste was cited in Money magazine for sealing “the deal on a $1.875 million Manhattan apartment.” In addition to “setting your home apart from other listings online,” the magazine said, pet pics create “a sense of fun around the listing.”
The furry friends are indeed a fun example of the lengths to which some Realtors are increasingly going to distinguish themselves and their product in a marketplace that poses a series of delicate challenges.
All of which makes real estate worth examining as an example of customer experience that could hold lessons for companies and brands in other fields. Just on its own, the industry is important because of the high personal stakes involved: not much is more important to people than where they live.
Real Estate is a Crowded, Changing Marketplace
It used to be that when you bought or sold a home, a real estate agency was your first call. Real estate agents competed intensively for business but also exerted a collective sense of dominance over a market of people who invariably needed their services.
The Internet changed everything.
“In the past, real estate agents used to be the gatekeepers of listing information,” said one real estate agency co-founder. “However, with the rise of the Internet and MLS® systems, this is no longer the case. Home buyers are more informed than ever and often do the majority of the research on their own before ever reaching out to an agent.”
When people do consult an agent, they tend to be skeptical. One national study ranked real estate agents “at the bottom of Americans’ coffers of trust,” with just 11 percent finding them trustworthy.
That’s barely above politicians and car salespeople.
Combine that with increasing competition in the industry and the impacts of rising or falling mortgage rates (people have less incentive to sell now, for example, with rates high) and it becomes even more clear that real estate agents might need to take action to stand out.
Customer Experience in Real Estate Examples
Like in many fields, perhaps the best way for real estate agents to separate themselves from the crowd is by providing great customer experience.
I learned this while doing research for my book, The Experience Maker, and discovering Punkpost, a high-tech solution with a low-tech product.
Punkpost has a small army of human artists who design, write, and mail handwritten greeting cards. Customers can use the website or mobile app to choose a card, create the text in less time than it takes to craft an entire email, and even add extras like photos and confetti. Then the Punkpost artists execute and send your masterpiece within twenty-four hours.
The cost is essentially the same as going to the store, buying a greeting card, putting a stamp on it, and mailing it. Recipients absolutely love the cards.
In an interview, Punkpost cofounder and CEO Lex Monson said Realtors love the service and use it to send cards celebrating house closings and a “houseaversary” every year thereafter.
“Getting a card from a friend or family member is awesome and surprising, but then getting it from someone who you see more in a professional setting is extra, like, ‘I did not expect this from them. This is so cool,’” she said.
That’s an easy and inexpensive way to create a shareable moment.
Other real estate types have tended toward the offbeat, the humorous, and even the bizarre to gain attention.
- During the COVID-19 pandemic, for example, with supply chain problems at their peak, one realtor offered “Free Toilet Paper with Every Purchase.”
- Another included an inflatable unicorn and a dinosaur (mowing the lawn for good measure) in a listing
- One real estate agent espoused the benefit of “Quiet Neighbors” on a sign, with an arrow pointing across the street… to a cemetery.
- Some suggest marketing homes around offbeat holidays such as National Cheeseburger Day – or calling an open house a “fiesta” and putting up a taco stand.
In any field, however, it’s possible to go too far. Witness this suburban Philadelphia listing for a five-bedroom home…that included a sex dungeon in the basement. Though some fans of Fifty Shades of Grey might have approved, most didn’t.
Neighbors were outraged, and the house never sold.
Keep It Simple in Customer Experience
As I recently wrote, it’s often the little things that matter in customer experience.
And while some of the more “out there” tactics could definitely work for Realtors, perhaps they should follow that maxim and generally try to keep it simple.
Many are, taking steps such as filming explanatory videos; extensively using Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram Stories; creating maps and charts of local real estate markets; offering virtual tours; sending out client testimonials; designing newsletters, and even providing complementary moving trucks.
All are smart ways to build a customer base. Experts also recommend showing empathy toward people who may be emotional about a home purchase, accommodating busy client schedules, being a good communicator, and listening.
Because in the end, the customer experience will not only create more happy customers, but also more referrals.
This is part of a series of industry articles featuring customer experience examples that any company can use.