A lesson from an old friend about customer service

One evening last month, an event I had long been dreading finally came to pass. I had driven all the way through Southern Pines and Fayetteville for appraisal work, and after nearly completing what prove to be a 300-mile and five-hour journey; I had just turned on the street which lead into my neighborhood. I accelerated on that road; just like I had thousands of times before, with my thoughts focused seeing my wife and son after a long, hard day on the road. My Lexus SUV shifted into second gear, and I heard a high-pitched whine that somehow I instantly knew, despite my complete ignorance of all things mechanical, was my transmission blowing itself into smithereens.

It isn’t as if I didn’t know this day was coming; I had felt the tremors coming from my engine in prior weeks. I had taken the truck to a guy who specialized in Toyotas and Lexus, and he pretty much gave me the sad prognosis of imminent transmission failure. But, without knowing when the “grim reaper” would visit, I decided to ride in my faithful friend til the bitter end. I honestly thought my time with “the ol girl” would be six more months. Sadly, I was wrong.

I had purchased my 2003 GX470 from my college buddy, Paul Richardson, some four years prior. I knew the first time I laid eyes on it, that it was exactly what I was looking for. Pre-owned by a Winston-Salem attorney, the truck had 95,000 miles on the odometer, but had been religiously maintained at Flow Lexus, where Paul worked as a salesman. I immediately fell in love; it had leather, a sunroof, even a compass in the rearview mirror, which was pretty “badass” for 2003. For the next four years and 208,000 miles, it was my trusted steed and it never once let me down. It was only fitting that after that long hard day, it served me faithfully to the end when it chose to die only an eighth of a mile from my home.

When the transmission blew; I admittedly spewed a few choice words that I’m not proud of; sheerly out of frustration with my situation. However, there was absolutely no anger with my truck, I owed it my reverence and loyalty, as it died with over 303,000 miles on it. It had served me well; I knew I really couldn’t complain. I also knew a $6000 transmission was not a smart business decision on a truck with that mileage and that my wife had already informed me that once the Lexus was gone, the Sumner family would be in the market for the “manliest of all vehicles,” the dreaded minivan; as our second child is arriving in February. I would begrudgingly inherit her Honda CRV for the foreseeable future.

So, my thoughts turned to a buying a new van. Simple enough, right? Just tow the carcass of my Lexus to the nearest Honda dealership and buy a great pre-owned Honda Odyssey. I wasn’t afraid of that, as a real estate agent I negotiate deals every day. Coming to a fair price for a vehicle wasn’t a concern, and buying locally was the easiest option. Paul was over 70 miles away in Winston Salem; he would certainly understand… right?

The thing is, he wouldn’t have to. I knew from the second my Lexus limped to the side of Litchford Rd; that I would be loading that car on a tow truck and making a trip to see Paul. See, not only had the SUV served me incredibly well, but so had the salesman who sold it to me. Yes, Paul and I were longtime friends from East Carolina; and we had polished off many a pitcher of beer at 1:59 am in downtown Greenville. I even introduced him to his wife. We were friends with many personal ties and memories, (albeit some hazy); but I think I would have still made the decision to buy my new vehicle from him even if that weren’t the case. Paul treated me right at the time of sale, but even more importantly, he kept in contact with me after the sale too.

I never once felt I couldn’t call Paul at any time, should I ever have a problem or a question. Every few months I would get a call or email from him checking on me and how the family and, less importantly, the truck was doing. Although Paul had many customers and many cars to sell; I never once felt like I wasn’t his most important. Through new real estate agent sales training at Fonville Morisey, I learned many of the customer service techniques and systems Paul was using, but learning them and experiencing them first-hand are vastly different things.

Paul had sold me a great product, no doubt, but he had also given me exceptional service. Exceptional enough where I felt the right thing to do, was to tow a dead truck an hour and a half away to buy my new van from him. As I was riding in the tow truck on the way to see Paul, I thought to myself how I would hope to instill that same sense of rabid loyalty in my real estate clients.

Real estate has been my first “sales job,” and with the demands of family, along with running a concurrent appraisal practice, the customer retention portion of the career has been a challenge. I have explored every system, every CRM platform the industry has to offer, but I had never seemed to find “the magic formula.” Then, like a bolt from the heavens it hit me…there WAS no magic formula.

Paul had generated this loyalty by communicating one simple thing: HE CARED. I wasn’t just a sale, or a guy that he had staggered down 5th street with 20 years ago. I was his CLIENT and he CARED. It’s amazing how some people you would never view as a mentor, become your greatest teachers.

If you are a reading this and you have provided me the great honor of representing you in a real estate transaction; THANK YOU! In the future, I promise I will do a better job of communicating how much your faith has meant to me. I think you all know, you can call me at ANY time for ANYTHING. And I have committed to do a better job at following up and staying in touch.

And to Paul, thank you so much for the lesson in service buddy. You are truly great at what you do, and Flow Lexus is very lucky to have you. Your recent successes are well deserved and I plan to implement this great lesson you have given me with my own clients.

My only hope is that one day, I can return the favor and FINALLY teach you how to hold your liquor. 🙂

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