Jan 042012
 

Jean-Paul Villere

I lost a new client the other day, but I didn’t know it at the time.  I had gotten a voicemail from a blocked call.  Generally I don’t answer blocked calls for obvious reasons of the brazen telemarketer or opinion pollster, so I let it go to voicemail.  

In short order I listened to the voicemail, and it sounded something like this:

“Oh hi, I’m looking for Jean-Paul, this is [name here], uh, I’m in town from [city here] today and tomorrow, and uh I wondered if you might have a little time, at the very least you have to call me back.  I’m at [phone number here].  Thanks so much, bye bye.”

So, the message was pretty non-specific.  Still could be a pollster or telemarketer.  I wear a couple of different hats too, so it was a real toss-up as to what this caller might need of me.  What I haven’t mentioned yet is I was dadding it at the time, and sitting in a parked car of the Clearview Sears parking lot with two sleeping children under 3.  It was early afternoon and naptime, and the other half my brood was in the mall doing mall things.  As such, to maintain the quiet, I decided to text my response:

“Hi [name here] – This is Jean-Paul, how can I help you?”

Minutes passed.  I figured it was a stray call.  No big deal.  What I didn’t expect was this response:

“Hmmm . . . I left you a vm and you are texting me back?  I don’t think you are the agent for me.  Good luck, to you.”

Wha?  Huh?  Had I offended this as-I-understand-it-now potential real estate client!?  Indeed, I had.  Unintentionally of course, but nonetheless I clearly had made a poor decision.  Answer a voicemail with a text.  Bad move, apparently.  Sheesh.  So I fire off my response:

“Yes I txted you because I have two sleeping toddlers in my care presently.  Sorry if that’s offputting.”

I wanted to be clear.  I wanted to explain.  I didn’t expect to remedy the situation.  And don’t worry, I didn’t.  In fact in closing, I received this response, twice:

“It is.”

Pause.

“It is.”

Okay, maybe the double down on the snarky close was a techno glitch, but it seemed more like bait. Whatever the case, I let the lead die and reflected on the sequence of events.

Contrary to popular belief, the first rule of real estate is not “Location, location, location.” Rather, it is “timing is everything.”  When the ink is dry, the deal is done.  If you wait too long to follow up on a lead, that lead has gone elsewhere.  If you don’t serve your clients, someone else will.  There are hundreds, maybe thousands, of agents in the metro area.  The world remains a hungry place; if you don’t eat your lunch, your competition always and gladly will oblige.

So I responded fast enough; I just made a tactical miscalculation.  If someone calls you, call them back.  Likewise with texting.  If someone texts you, text them.  Reciprocal communication.

Did I intend to offend this party?  Not at all.  Based upon how they responded to me, could it be better I didn’t work with them?  Likely.  Especially at this time of year when everyone gets freshfaced and resolved to change and improve, this party could have been more forgiving of how I responded.  ”You never know where the business is coming from” is less a rule and more an adage in the real estate world.  I may never know how this lead came to me, but in the future I will make every effort to be reflexive on how a business dialogue may unfold.

Jean-Paul Villere is the owner of Villere Realty and the Du Mois gallery on Freret Street and father of four girls. In addition to his Wednesday column at UptownMessenger.com, he also writes an occasional real-estate blog at villererealty.com and shares his family’s adventures via pedicab on Facebook and Twitter.

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  • Owen Courreges

    It sounds like this potential client was a jerk who gets his/her jollies from confronting people over minor, perceived slights to make them feel bad. I know the type. Worst of all was the fact that you justified yourself quite well, and the jerk still wouldn’t back off. I find it very telling that they had a blocked number – I’d have one too if I went around treating people like that.

    • Thad

      If a potential client is calling it is his right to be demanding, etc. It is the agents job to be at the service of his client. High end clients want high end service, and texting is not professional unless the client texts you…as you said.

  • Bonita Day

    This is very interesting. I thought getting back to someone immediately was enough. How can they know that you were not in a meeting and that your texting them back was the best or only way to reach them immediately? Some clients like to work by phone and not email -reciprocal communication- that is something I have been aware of, but I kind of lumped texting and phone messaging into the same category. Thanks for the thoughtful article.

  • http://www.thebeerbuddha.com The Beer Buddha

    Sounds like you were better off anyway!!! I certainly wouldn’t have minded a text response to a voice mail.

  • Blackbird

    I don’t think you should be upset about losing this client. I agree with Owen; it sounds like the potential client was a massive jerk.

  • David

    umm, the client said “at the very least you have to call me back” and you sent a text? yeah, that is really off-putting, but not as off-putting as your snarky response. in my opinion, the client is the one who lucked out here. it was a simple enough request and having kids is hardly an excuse to not be able to make a phone call.

    • mh

      Agree. Add to that the fact that constant text-ers don’t realize that not everyone has unlimited texts. And that anyone who uses a personal cell phone for business should be expected to respond appropriately and professionally.

      • Owen Courrèges

        mh,

        Responding promptly to a voice mail with a text that says ““Hi [name here] – This is Jean-Paul, how can I help you?” is not “appropriate and professional?” Really?

        • mh

          Do you text clients in your legal practice? I just personally think text messaging is not appropriate for business purposes. I’m not familar with how small businesses operate today I guess.

    • Owen Courrèges

      David,

      Actually, having sleeping kids and not wanting to wake them up is a very, very good reason to text and not call. You don’t explain why this isn’t the case.

      Moreover, the “at the very least you have to call me back” line was itself pushy and rude. All Jean-Paul *has* to do is pay taxes and die. He doesn’t have to call people back if it’s inconvenient for him at the time. A good potential client would have politely *requested* a phone call back, and would have simply told Jean-Paul that he didn’t like texting rather than doing some petulant routine. There was no need for the guilt trip.

      Finally, note that the potential client texted Jean-Paul back…. multiple times. Apparently he does not have a problem with texting; he just wanted to be rude.

    • Jean-Paul

      “having kids is hardly an excuse to not be able to make a phone call.”

      The issue of kids is somewhat moot; it’s whatever I was doing that I chose to respond the way I did. What if I was in a movie? Or at a funeral? It doesn’t matter the context really. I txted, and it was the wrong move.

      Orrrrrr better I call right back potentially waking my children which likely turns into a cry session of being pre-maturely woken? No thanks, I’m a good parent and selfish when it comes to putting my kids first.

      Not to mention not wanting to subject a potential new client to the awesome auditory arrangements of a 10 month old and a three year old. That would be better, right? Or exiting the vehicle and calling because business should come first.

      Thanks for the perspective David.

  • Rachel

    I sometimes prefer to text when called suddenly too – for example if I am out in a noisy place, or already trapped on a conference call (but able to multitask and text/email). And I have had at least one person get offended. Ultimately there are a lot of clients and a lot of agents and it’s often easier, anyway, to work with someone whose preferred style of communication is similar to your own. And, whose first instinct is not to be snarky. :)

  • http://davidz david

    First impressions are always what matters in business. I personally would have not cared about a text instead of call. But, uou never know who is on the other end and what they expect. You cannot communicate informally till you know your client. Live by it.

  • JahNola

    I see both sides here and part of the dilema may be a generational issue. I am 42 and like the human experience. I have been let down by texted responses before. If I CALL someone I expect to be CALLED…(particularily for business!!)a text is less personal, sincere, and expresses the person did not have the time or decided not to give back the human experience.
    If someone has a blocked # that is their own preference, and in my book it is mute.
    Now, for younger folks…all they do is text…and blindfolds won’t slow them down. If you are casually meeting up with a friend or communicating with a known person…text all you like. It is expected, and I agree is simpler, more CONVENIENT. But not a way to conduct business. So generational…and professional. In this case the proof was in da puddin.

  • Robyn Flanery

    Jean-Paul,
    Same thing has happened to me and every time it does I find out from another Realtor that the client was really difficult. Just because we are REALTORS doesn’t mean we don’t have children, hobbies and regular lives. We aren’t ON CALL 24 hours per day. And that’s okay!
    I did read some etiquette regulations on email thank you’s and the like and basically it’s “do what the other person is comfortable doing.” So, if the person is only comfortable with a call, call. You had no way to know this person had these prerequisites. You are a really nice guy and a good realtor. Shake it off! I bet they called every other realtor in town anyway! They probably called me, I got a blocked call twice in the past three days and once they left a vm and once they just hung up.
    There’s a lot of business in New Orleans right now, and we Realtors need to be careful with whom we spend our valuable time. We need to be sure we are helping the right client while also helping ourselves.

    • Jean-Paul

      Thanks Robyn – appreesh

      • http://davidz david

        You are right that you should not be expected to be on call 24 hours a day but business etiquette in communication is important in today’s society. It sounds like this incident occurred during normal business hours, and telephone call back would have been normal procedure for a first time conversation.

  • http://www.audubon-title.com Ryan Scafidel

    Jean-Paul:
    Trust me…. you do not want this amazingly hyper-sensitive client. Likely his or her last relationship ended on a text and now there’s a lot of bad vibes regarding texting. You responded promptly and appropriately in a non-invasive medium. Hold your head high and be thankful.
    Ryan

  • Steve H

    Great story. Great lesson on communicating in modern society. I don’t always answer my phone, and i can see being in a similar situation and texting a response. It’s not an unreasonable action, but perhaps not always appropriate. I think that’s the lesson here.

  • Liz

    They had obviously never had to sit in a parked car with two toddlers just to let them to sleep for a little while. Any seasoned parent would have understood. Enough said.

  • thinking outloud

    You couldn’t step out of the car a moment to make a phone call?

    Sounds to me like you’re making excuses for your own bad behavior.

    Having been a real estate client– How would your potential client know you wear many hats? If I called an agent for the VERY FIRST TIME and got a text back, that would be offputting, definitely. Esp. since the discussion would need to happen by phone, and texting back by the agent creates the notion that the agent wants to communicate by text.

    You made a mistake. Learn from it. The End.

    • Josh

      NEWS FLASH: Greedy real estate agent arrested for abandoning his kids in a parked vehicle in order to conduct business.

      Seriously, you can’t please everyone.

      • Jean-Paul Villere

        LOL thanks Josh

  • Cecile

    seriously..this is one customer you can do without…God help whoever got her..Geeeezzzzz!

  • Zak Fanberg

    Jean Paul, this must have been frustrating for you, especially when you were trying to get back in touch with the potential customer promptly. Since he/she did ask to be called back, maybe your text should have said “I’m unable to phone you at present, Will you be able to available by phone in a half an hour?….” Something like that. You make contact letting them know that you are interested in helping them, and also trying to meet their requests.

    And if he/she still gives you crap….then he/she can take a flying leap of the CCC…..

    Interesting read, thanks for posting!

  • Darrell

    I’ll admit, I’ve been that customer who decided that the level of service I was receiving was insufficient and made it known that I was taking my business elsewhere. Not the nicest thing in the world, and I often feel badly afterwards, but if one doesn’t make one’s displeasure known, how is the offender going to know he or she is doing anything wrong? Now, usually that’s been something along the lines of a waiter visibly texting for extended periods while we’re waiting to order (as opposed to being busy and tending to other tables) and not a prompt and courteous reply through the “wrong” medium, but everybody has their particular expectations. If they don’t make them known, they won’t receive them.

    I wouldn’t say either side was “wrong” in this case. It appears you weren’t the agent for this client (nice job staying gender non-specific, by the way), and perhaps this wasn’t the client for this agent. Life goes on.

  • surfin’

    My first thought is that you may have avoided
    danger…physical danger…for the
    children …or for yourself… even if
    you are a man …

  • Owen Courrèges

    Some of you seem to be missing the real point here. Even if responding to a voice mail via text is usually a breach of some social etiquette (which I think is a debatable point at best), the potential client here was consistently and intentionally rude, and any offense given by Jean-Paul was inadvertent.

    Let’s look at what happened here:

    1. Client calls and says he is only in town for two days and says: “I wondered if you might have a little time, at the very least you have to call me back.” I’ve never had somebody leave me a message that I “have” to call them back. It’s pushy and rude. You ask people to call you back; you don’t demand it.

    2. Jean Paul has sleeping kids in the car and can’t call back, but the client’s message sounds pushy and he wants to respond quickly. So he texts: ” “Hi [name here] – This is Jean-Paul, how can I help you?” This is a polite message. The only objection can be to the medium, but this is debatable because the client gave a limited timetable and texting was the only way to give a quick response.

    3. The potential client responds condescendingly and peevishly, saying: ““Hmmm . . . I left you a vm and you are texting me back? I don’t think you are the agent for me. Good luck, to you.” Even if we assume that Jean Paul shouldn’t have responded via text, this was a rude response. He could have said something like: “I personally prefer that you respond with a phone call when I leave a voice mail and request a call back. Sorry, but I think I will try and find another agent.” Instead, he chose to be snotty. There is no excuse for that.

    4. Jean-Paul responds by explaining himself, saying: ““Yes I txted you because I have two sleeping toddlers in my care presently. Sorry if that’s offputting.” This explained why he chose to text instead of call. It’s a bit abrupt, but not rude and understandable under the circumstances.

    5. The potential client reveals further snottiness by responding not once, but twice: “It is.” It’s like he was trying to be so rude as to goad Jean-Paul into a fight. Wisely, Jean-Paul doesn’t take the bait.

    I’m not trying to fight Jean-Paul’s battles for him, but I’m just amazed how many people here are defending the potential client’s abject and indisputable rude behavior against Jean-Paul’s inadvertant, arguable faux pas. The potential client was clearly in the wrong here. I hope none of you deal with people this rudely and unforgivingly in your daily lives.

    • Darrell

      “I hope none of you deal with people this rudely and unforgivingly in your daily lives.”

      Owen, as somebody who used to wait tables in this town, I can assure you: many of them do. Not necessarily specific people commenting on this article, but almost assuredly many people reading it. Day after day, most of us encountered at least one customer with just as peevish (or worse) an attitude toward their servers. Many seem to get their jollies by making servers jump through hoops, constantly wanting something new every time you go back to bring them their last petty request, and take an adversarial attitude the whole way and will complain to the manager if you begin to ignore them in favor of taking care of other tables. These tables almost never tip worth a damn and as a server, you’d generally be better off without them. They are, in fact, the reason I gave up on going back to school full time and got back into IT, instead.

      I’d bet all my money in the bank that this potential client was one of those types.

      However, there’s a reason I didn’t see anything particularly unusual about this person’s attitude: it’s because it’s not.

  • Mikah

    Ha! And she just blasted you on Yelp. I’m surprised she is this offended by a text.

    • Jean-Paul
      • Darrell

        Brooklyn? Actually, that explains a lot. Not to stereotype, but Brooklyn’s culture is… different from that of New Orleans.

        Frankly, I think she should really rethink moving here. I don’t know her, but I have a feeling she’ll find our fair city absolutely infuriating.

  • Michelle S.

    Someone that would get that upset over something so small is someone that probably would never be satisfied with anything. Sometimes we are better off without the stress of having someone that difficult as a client!