Even the best real estate agents have to deal with an angry, disappointed or simply unhappy client. Maybe it was the result of the customer’s unrealistic expectations, perhaps it was a consequence of the cumulative stress of the buying process, or maybe it was due to a mistake on the agent’s part.
Experienced professionals know that in a situation like this, whose fault it is doesn’t matter.
What does matter is how you soothe the client’s hurt feelings, win back their trust, and secure both their ongoing business and your company’s good reputation. This is especially important today, as the industry undergoes ongoing disruption, and more and more sellers are forgoing agents entirely.
Read on for some proven strategies to turn your unhappy client’s frown upside down.
1. Be proactive
If you know your clients are dissatisfied with their experience, don’t wait until they initiate a conversation — reach out to them first. The sooner the client can air their grievances, the less their bad feelings will fester, and it will be apparent to them that you care about their satisfaction — and aren’t just being reactive.
2. Listen more than you speak
Simply listening to your clients can go a long way toward soothing negative feelings; many clients just want to have their complaints acknowledged, even if they know there’s nothing you can do about them.
Do your best to not get defensive. Remember, listening to a client’s complaints is not necessarily an admission of guilt or wrongdoing. You are simply hearing them out and acknowledging that they are unhappy.
To set their mind at ease, wait until they have vented, and rephrase their complaints back to them. This will signal that you’ve heard them and that you understand their complaints.
3. Determine what the actual problem is
Sometimes the client has a legitimate reason to be upset with you. Maybe they lost out on a property because you advised them to bid low, perhaps you neglected to tell them about a new listing that could have been their dream home, or maybe you missed a crucial deadline for their 1031 exchange.
If that’s the case, acknowledge your mistake, apologize, promise to do better, and move on.
On the other hand, sometimes a client’s unhappiness is more about them than about you. Maybe they have to sell the family home because of a divorce, or maybe they have a serious case of buyer’s remorse.
Buyer’s remorse is real, but it’s usually a function of just having closed what was probably the largest financial transaction of their life. Although some customers have real, substantial grounds for regret, many others may just be in a state of mild emotional shock about the commitment they’ve just made.
Once again, the key here is listening. If the client expresses regrets about their new home’s location or layout or their ability to make the mortgage or property tax payments they’ve just committed to, present potential solutions such as a remodel or refinance.
But if they’re having a spell of anxiety over becoming a homeowner, you can probably just listen, reassure them they’ve made a solid, informed choice, and wait for the storm to pass.
4. Take their complaints upstairs
A very effective way to deal with unhappy clients is to take their complaints to your broker. Relaying their complaints to your boss shows them that you’re taking them seriously, and the broker’s authority can make them a very effective arbiter if they choose to step in.
On top of that, many brokerages have established policies to address specific complaints. These policies can provide you with a ready-made solution or, if the client is being unreasonable, a terminus for an unproductive dispute.
5. Find out what they want
Most unhappy clients have already decided what they want — so why not just ask them? Simply asking them what they would do if they were in your position can often clarify what the stakes are and what, exactly, they want from you.
If their proposed solution is reasonable, consider saying, “that’s a great idea” and carrying it out. If their proposal is unreasonable, you can either tell them you’ll consult with your broker to see if it can be done, or you can gently present them with alternative solutions. As any skilled negotiator knows, never flatly say “no” to the other side’s offer — respond with a counteroffer of your own.
6. Consider action
Now that you know what your unhappy client wants, giving it to them is up to you. If it’s a good, reasonable use of your time and energy, it can be a considerable difference-maker simply to grant their wish. Most first-time buyers find their agents through word-of-mouth referrals, and giving your unhappy client the red carpet treatment ensures they’ll tell everyone they know about their great real estate agent who went above and beyond to make them happy.
7. Google yourself
After dealing with an unhappy client, you should always do some online research to see if they left a negative review for you anywhere. These negative reviews can be hugely damaging to your reputation and, once posted, can be extremely difficult to get rid of.
If you find posts disparaging your services, respond in a calm, amiable tone, address and acknowledge their complaints, and invite them to engage with you privately to find a solution. Never use a snarky or angry tone in your responses, as that will make you look petty and selfish.
If you resolve your client’s problem, consider asking them to remove the negative reviews. They may have written them in a heated moment and, now that you’ve addressed their concerns, would be willing to delete their hurtful words.
8. Make sure you learn from your mistakes
Once you’ve put the situation behind you, review each step of the interaction to figure out where things went wrong. If you made a mistake, that’s OK — agents are only human, and everyone slips up sometimes. Take steps to tighten your process, so it doesn’t happen again.
If the fault lies with the client, try to understand where the sale diverged from their expectations and figure out how to guide your clients through a sale better, so they don’t experience anxiety and remorse at the end. Maybe you focused too much on the end goal instead of the process, perhaps you should take it slower at each step of the sale (which, to be fair, isn’t always an option in a hot, fast-moving market), or it could be a simple matter of offering more verbal reassurances.
Whatever your takeaway, try to turn this negative experience into a teachable moment so you can learn and evolve.