As I said in last month’s issue, the unexpected discovery that came as a result of my research project of five great companies is that, although they are all in different industries, they all share five things in common. Since these brands are among the best brands in the world, I think we can look to this ‘commonality’ as no accident. Therefore, I turned these commonalities into 5 principles that I am now working to incorporate into my own business, and perhaps after knowing them, you will do so as well.

The Five Core Principles from my study of Starbucks, Zappos, Jet Blue, The Four Seasons and Apple

Principle 1 | An Experience Culture

“We are a culture where employees thrive by virtue of providing a “wow” experience to every customer” ~Zappos

All five brands have what I call an Experience “Culture”. Each company’s core philosophy is about providing an exceptional customer experience. If any of these companies were in the business of selling real estate, for example, they would not say their core service is ‘selling real estate’. They would claim that they offer the home buying or selling consumer a 5-star experience. And, their company culture would be all about providing the full experience, not just the service of helping the home buyer buy successfully or the home seller sell successfully. This Experience “Culture” is felt by the consumer and it is this Culture that attracts consumers.

In 2008, Starbucks shocked the business world by closing 7,100 stores to re-train their Baristas on Customer Experience after realizing that Starbucks had lost sight of the consumer experience when they expanded too fast for the sake of profits before people. If you do the math, assuming an average of 20 people working in a store, that is 426,000 man hours and more than $3 million in wages and 21,300 hours of lost customer revenue. Now, that’s putting your money where your mouth is!

At The GoodLife Team, one of our Core Values is providing 5-Star Customer Experiences. And, if you come by our office or work with my company, you will find an entire company after producing a 5-Star Review. We are building the Customer Care into the very fabric of our organization…it’s our Culture.

Principle 2 | Not all People, the Right People

“The number of applications we receive vs. the number we hire is comparable to the rate at which Harvard University accepts new students” ~ Zappos

Each of these companies are very selective with whom they hire. They hire to their core values, to their culture and to the ability and commitment of potential employees to provide a high standard of customer experience. The select few who make it through the hiring process are required to go through rigorous training. These companies use their training programs to 1. teach to their high standards and 2. wash out those who can’t do the work. Zappos, for example, offers $3000 AFTER training to NOT accept the position. They want only the most dedicated people to work for them. At Apple’s Genius Bar, trainees aren’t even allowed to talk to customers until they complete training.

Sadly, this dedication to hiring only the right people does not extend to real estate. I claim that the biggest problem with the real estate industry is that we hire anybody. It used to be that the traditional real estate brokerage was one in which the local broker knew the land and cared for the community. Instead, today, our industry has morphed into a bunch of ‘recruiting companies’ where a real estate brokerage is really just a real estate agent recruiting firm with very low hiring standards, if any standards at all.

If we wish to be a 5-star customer experience company, I say we have to get back to our roots and get back into the real estate brokerage business where we care first for the consumer and our communities, and then hire the right people (agents and staff) who can offer the experience that the home buyer and seller consumer deserves. This requires an enormous shift for our industry as brokers would have to be willing to give up gross commission income from those we all know shouldn’t be in the business as they are a detriment to our industry reputation and more importantly, they are dangerous and costly to the consumer.

At the GoodLife Team, our philosophy is the Consumer first… Always. This means we can only hire the best people who are sincere, competent and reliable as staff AND agents; those who are able to provide a first rate customer experience. So, by definition, we don’t hire all people, only the right people; those who match our culture and 5-star customer philosophy. We (gently) decline most who come to interview with us. In fact, yesterday afternoon we had a recruiting appointment with an agent who is producing 6-figures for her current broker. She came to us looking for a change, and we discovered in the first interview (out of a 3-interview process) that she is not the right match. We directed her to another company. I think that is rather uncommon for the brokerage industry.

In addition to being selective at The GoodLife Team, we also have a rigorous training program. We have a mandatory 8-week course that requires about 50 hours a week to complete. And, if the recruit can’t complete the work, they won’t be made a formal offer at the end of the program. Beyond making sure that our new agents are highly trained and knowledgeable for the consumer, our program is a testing ground to validate that they have what it takes to work here and serve our customers to the highest standards.

Principle 3 | Love your People

“Treat all customers exceptionally — employees are customers too” ~ The Four Seasons

Each of the brands have, what I call, a “two-customer” philosophy. This means the Company considers their employee a customer, as well as the consumer. The Four Seasons declares “if you take care of your employees, your customer will be taken care of.” What is obvious when studying these brands is that they really do LOVE their people. Starbucks states, “we treat our customers like we treat each other — we are all each other’s customers”.

Again, I think there is a lot to learn here in our industry. To hire right. To train well. And then, to love your people who are held to the 5-star customer experience standard.

This two-customer philosophy is an integral component of The GoodLife Team brand. We are always clear about who our customers are around here. It works like this:

BOTH the Agent (and staff) and the Consumer are the customer of the company. AND, The Consumer and The GoodLife Team BOTH are customers of the Agent (and staff). We are all customers of one another and treat each other as such.

Principle 4 | Customers have a (Loud) Voice

“We mine customer feedback — uncovering customer pain”
~ Jet Blue

It’s no secret, social media has enabled consumers to have a voice and to share their opinions and experiences publicly. This is great as consumers, but for business, it can be problematic for obvious reasons. The key I learned from my study is that it is impossible to be perfect every time — mess ups do occasionally happen. What is important is to Listen to our customers and Act on what they say. As Jet Blue says “We are a large company and we make mistakes, and as hard as we try, we can’t keep everyone happy, but if we are able to listen to what our customers have to say and respond quickly, we are usually able to neutralize any negative feedback and many times turn it the other way around.” Starbucks notes that their biggest learning moments and most pivotal changes come from listening to their customers.

This means we must Listen … and have procedures and protocol for doing so. At The GoodLife Team we have Google Alerts set for different key words that enables us to monitor who is mentioning us and what they are saying. In addition, we send out a request for a 3rd party review after EVERY closing on every sale from every agent. We ask about their “GoodLife Experience” which includes not only the Agent customer service review, but how we did overall as a Company. If you look at our Reviews (Yelp, Google and Zillow), you will mostly find 5-star reviews, but you will also notice some reviews where we failed. And I agree with Starbucks, we learn the most when we fail our Review. And, we act. We work to rectify the situation with the customer and we change our operations to ensure the same mistake or breakdown doesn’t happen again.

I love the Jet Blue example where I noticed my friend Jim Marks publicly complaining on Twitter about Jet Blue “frustrating the pants off of him”. Within minutes, Jet Blue replied back asking Jim to “please keep his pants on” and let them know how they could help.

Principle 5 | Beginning to End

“It’s an Apple Experience. The Integration, the hardware, the software; Every detail has been thought about.” ~ Apple

This is where it all comes together. Each of the companies acknowledge that Customer Experience is in every location that the consumer intersects with their brand; from the very beginning through to the very end. They look at every touch point and work to produce consistency across all channels and an exceptional customer experience with each and every interaction. Jet Blue shares that its success is building the customer experience into the operational system of the Company.

At The GoodLife Team, we are analyzing all of our consumer touch points and are working to provide a consistent customer experience with every touch. We want the consumer to notice our love of them when they find our website that is all about them. We want that experience to be matched when they walk into the front door of our modern and trendy office and greeted by name and with a smile. We want them to experience our care when we call them back in 5 minutes when they fill out a web form, or how they feel when they hear “welcome to the goodlife” when they call our office. We have our closings at our office so that we can provide them a celebratory environment where the entire office claps when they close on their new home. And, they experience the GoodLife with the little surprises that we sneak in to every transaction. And, of course, they get the real experience when they work with our highly-knowledgeable and competent sales professionals and staff that are dedicated to providing exceptional service.

Exceeded my Expectations = only 4 stars???

To me, the difference between 4 and 5 stars is eye-opening. So much so, that I experienced a revelation when stumbling upon the distinctions. I realized that, at The GoodLife Team, we are damn good, but not 5-star great. We are consistently exceeding the expectations of our customers– they are very satisfied. But, now I know that this isn’t good enough. Our ’consistently exceeding our customers’ expectations’ is only worth 4-stars. Well, our customers deserve a 5-star experience.

So, as of the day of this blog, that is what GoodLife Customers are going to get. We are moving from highly satisfying our customers to delighting them. I don’t expect this to be an easy feat. It means only excellence will be demanded from everyone every day. A 5-star mindset means disdain for anything mediocre and common in the industry. In our last company-wide meeting, I brought this revelation and my new intention to be only a 5-star customer experience company to everyone’s attention. I asked if they bought into my new found realization and if they were ready to do what it takes to be 5-star. I got 100% buy in and beyond that, my entire organization broke off into groups and over the past several weeks have established what they think is missing and what we need to do differently in order to move our needle up by an extra star. We are incorporating those ideas and practices into our company as I write this article. So, stay tuned. In a future post, I will share what we changed and implemented into our organization in order to fulfill on our promise to deliver a 5-star experience, beginning to end.

With the overload of information, the fast pace of life and the exposure to boundless products and services, personalized service and full customer experience is a more powerful value proposition and differentiator than ever before. Customer Experience will become the powerful weapon in our competitive arsenal because it is so important to today’s consumer and because it is so difficult to consistently deliver. 24/7 lifestyles require 24/7 Service, beginning to end. And, for those of us who live or die by referrals, 4-star “exceeding expectations” won’t cause the customer loyalty we depend on. Only through a new 5-star standard where the customer feels amazed, delighted and uncommonly cared for, will they become our raving fan.

About the Author:
Krisstina Wise is Founder/CEO of GoodLife Team and Coffee with Krisstina, and has spent her entire adult life working in the real estate industry. Krisstina opened her own firm to accelerate her vision for the industry, and in just a few short years, the industry has noticed. Inman news honored Goodlife Team with their Most Innovative Award; Apple, Inc. sent a production team to profile their innovation in the industry; and most recently, USA Today featured Goodlife Team on their Money section front page.
Krisstina gets most excited when talking to agents and company owners about what they can do to prosper in and take care of the industry that has provided such great opportunity for her. She loves good, healthy food, enjoys traveling, is a voracious reader, and is never far from her running shoes.

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