RTRE 46 – What is a Client Centric Brokerage?

There’s been lots of industry chatter about the difference between running an agent-centric brokerage vs. a client-centric brokerage. Today we break down the article written by Erica Ramus for Inman News.

The client experience drives the culture, training, and behavior for how brokerage offices interact with their sales agents.

We spend time clarifying the difference between the two philosophies and share insight into how our businesses are run.

Tell us what you think in the comments below!

Episode Transcript


Audio length 25:46

RTRE 46 – What is a Client Centric Brokerage?

[music] [Chris] Welcome to re:Think Real Estate, your educational and hopefully entertaining source for all things real estate, business, news and tech. 

[Christian]: I am Christian Harris in Seattle, Washington.

[Nathan]: Hi, I am Nathan White in Columbus, Ohio.

[Chris]: And I am Chris Lazarus in Atlanta, Georgia. Thanks for tuning in. 

[music] [Chris]: Everybody and welcome back to re:Think Real Estate. I am Chris Lazarus here with Nathan White and Christian Harris. Guys how are we doing today?

[Christian]: Great thanks for asking. Happy to be here. 

[Nathan]: Fantastic and cold as you know what because it was 66 the day before yesterday and now it is 21. I don’t understand what is going on.

[Christian]: The joys of being in the mid-west.

[Nathan]: Oh my God. 

[Chris]: How is everybody coming across with the weather?

[Nathan]: Listen I can’t wait to…I can’t wait to get to Florida in a week in a half so it’s coming.

[Chris]: I feel you. We’re heading there the same weekend I think.

[Christian]: We are yeah.

[Chris]: So we were just talking before we started kicking off and there was a great article that came out on Inman recently by our friend and former guest on the show, Erica Ramus about the difference between agent centric brokerages and client centric brokerages and why an agent centric broker is not the way to go for the future. 

So…There was a lot of kick back. It was a hugely popular article. I got a little bit of a quote in there. Christian was majorly quoted in the article because…

[Christian]: I am very quotable. 

[Chris]: Yeah you’re a very quotable guy apparently. [laughter] So Christian why don’t you tell the audience a little bit about the article and what the difference is between being agent centric and client centric?

[Christian]: Sure yeah I mean in a nutshell you know it was nice because we met Erica at Inman Connect last year in 2018 San Francisco and between me you and Jackie Sotto [phonetics] you know there was definitely some like mindedness as far as how we run our brokerages or any brokerages and focus on building it with a client experience in mind. 

And so I think the article is based off of you know kind of the strength we so in Inman or different conferences where a lot of…you know the bigger brokerages would get up and just kind of tell and tell they’re agent centric. You know it’s all about the agent experience, all about the tools, all about the support. And very little talk about the client you know which to me and to her seems very backwards. 

So, you know, she reached out to us and we got some of her ideas and wrote an article and it seems like it kind of hit it…It hit a nerve. You know a lot of people understood that. Essentially what we’re saying with being agent centric…or sorry with being client centric is that everything we do is informed by how we as a brokerage can empower our agents to provide a better service and experience for their clients. And ultimately their clients, our clients if they’re successful you know brokers become known for something, we’re doing something big and better as opposed to just turning up transactions like a big franchise might and not really having any oversight or care how the agents do the business. They just want them to do business.

[Chris]: So it’s…It’s not about attract, retain, recruit the agent. It’s about providing the experience for the client and how…how can…I think a lot of the pushback from some of the comments on the article talked about “Well why can’t you have both?”. 

[Christian]: There was a…when there was pushback that’s kind of what I saw. And to me that says that they don’t really understand the mindset. Because you can’t have both. You can’t be centered on 2 different philosophies. Right? You’re either agent centered…

[Chris]: You represent the buyer and the seller at the same time.

[Christian]: Exactly. There’s a conflict of interest there because it’s…your focus and direction is gonna be going in 2 different ways. Because I think a lot of the franchiser are focusing on they’re talking about being agent centric, they’re focusing on recruiting, retention, how can we give the agents the things that they think they want, that they think will help them to be successful. But most of that stuff centers around legion back office stuff, CRM, technology. Very little that interfaces with the client and has anything to do with the client experience. 

I mean there are some exceptions in there as far as like the marketing maybe with Compass or something. But most of it is geared around you know “How can we please the agent to build our brand?” And to me that seems backwards you know. And maybe that’s just the mentality but in the indie brokerage we have lectures about being smaller and how to control that experience and how the agents we have and their focus better. You know to me it’s all about how can we service the client better and everything we provide to the agent in support to new tools is geared towards that. As opposed to just making them feel good or providing free business or something and it doesn’t really have an impact on how they service their clients or how they interact with their clients. 

[Chris]: So Nate you were the big franchise and then you went to a smaller more growth orientated firm. What’s your take on this from an agent’s perspective?

[Nathan]: Oh man well I feel like if you’re agent centric than you’re more of an owner centric kind of guy. Right. It’s about profits and bottom lines to the individual that owns that brokerage if you would. Shoot. I also…well you know if I go back to when I became an agent I wasn’t taught about the client experience. You know I was taught “Let me show you how to lead generate”. 

There was never anything about taking care of the client, putting the client first. It was about “You need to make 100 calls a week, you need to have your lead trackers sheet and out of 100 you hope to get 1”. But nobody said anything about “This is how you take care of a client”. 

And so for me luckily coming from a hospitality background I get it. I understand what it means to take care of a client. Have I not hit it out of the park with a few? Yeah I have. We all falter, right? But I…I…I have better grasp I guess because of the hospitality industry. And I actually see people that, at least in my market, that got into the industry the same time I did that have a hospitality background have done well because they understand client focus. So you know not the 2 mowed horn but as we were talking I am in the top 15% in Ohio. For agents. I am a solo guy.

[Chris]: Congrats.

[Nathan]: Again…Thank you. I go to…I take care of my clients and I think 98% of my clients would tell you I would bend over backwards. I would do what is necessary for them because ultimately it is my reputation as well. So…

[Christian]: Yeah I think…I think that’s a good…Obviously agents tend to have a different perspective as brokerage owners. Well I think the good brokerage owners have been agents or still are in some regards so they’re connected to that side of things. 

You know it makes sense I think to a lot of people if you’re gonna be client centric that’s the agent who is doing that. Some of the push back I have seen is, well the brokerage client is the agent and their job is to service them while the agent’s job is to service the client. You know I think that kind of goes to me it says you don’t really understand this mentality. You know, because if you as a brokerage owner if the brokerage doesn’t care about the client experience or the clients, well their agents aren’t gonna care about them. You know that mentality and that transaction mentality is gonna triger down.

[Chris]: That is amen. Amen. It all comes from the leadership. Leadership sets the tone for everything that is gonna happen in the company. And if the leadership is saying “You know what go on sell, sell, sell and not focus on the relationship or the experience that that client is gonna have” than how do you think that that is gonna play out long term? 

[Nathan]: Yeah.

[Chris]: If the firm said “Go on recruit, recruit, recruit” and all it wanted for you to do is recruit for your down line than how does that benefit the end user? How does it benefit the consumer? Because the broker owns the contract. The agent leaves, the broker still owns the client. And every single industry except for real estate, every single industry cares about that consumer experience. Any financial advising firm, any single one of them. You know all their advisers are independent contractors. They still care about the end user experience. 

[Nathan]: Again I go to the restaurant background. It’s simple as like caring about the food that comes out of the window that goes to the guest, right. It’s about driving those relationships. We talked in the last episode and the one before that about 2019. Back to basic relationships. 

Again this relationship is not only from agent to agent but more importantly just agent to your client…to you to your client. And having that relationship that is meaningful. I don’t know, you know, I called a client the other day and just to say “What’s going on?”. They haven’t bought or sold anything for over a year but it was just “Hey what’s going on? How are you? How is Bobby? How is Sue?”. You know like you just have those relationships. Care about your people. It will go a long way to serve you better.

[Chris]: Wait you actually care about your clients? I didn’t realize you did that.

[Nathan]: I do. I don’t care about the co-host I work with but I…

[Christian]: He pretends not to care about people. He is a teddy bear inside.

[Chris]: OK. [laughter].

[Nathan]: I pretty much am a teddy bear. People figure it out and I am like [inaudible]. So…

[Chris]: We have seen those articles come out on you.

[Nathan]: Yeah. They didn’t interview me about those things. I don’t know it’s maybe because I drop the F bomb too often. But…

[Chris]: Probably they did the background on you and they were like “Yeah…”

[Christian]: we’ll pass.

[Nathan]: Yeah and you know looking through some of the comments that you said you know on this article some people just truly they just don’t get it. I am like, you know, you want to beat them over the head. I am just like “Really how do you not…how do you not understand that?”.

[Chris]: Well I think one thing I have learned over the last year and a half, if you focus on the consumer that doesn’t mean that you’re ignoring your agents.

[Christian]: Exactly. That is a common misconception.

[Chris]: It is a common misconception so that’s why I think a lot of people don’t understand why you can’t have both. But a broker that is running an agent centric firm, the job for that broker is to recruit, retain and develop agents and that is it. It doesn’t…They don’t care about the interactions that that agent has with that customer or the client. The end user experience does not matter. It is all about the experience that the agent has with the firm. Does the agent have the technology? Does the agent have the tools and the training to do their job? Is the training going to allow them to sell and create a massive income? It doesn’t necessarily mean it teaches the agents how to have a great customer experience or built a referral based business. 

[Christian]: Yeap.

[Chris]: And when we’re talking client centric from a firm perspective it means that we are teaching and training the agents how to give their clients the best experience possible. It doesn’t mean that we’re not training them how to lead gen. It doesn’t mean that we’re not training them on all the tools. It doesn’t mean that our agents aren’t important to us. Because the agents are the life load of the company and their success is our success.

[Christian]: Amen. Yeah.

[Chris]: But it does mean we’re putting on the clients first.

[Christian]: Yeah I mean just got a second there if someone I mean a listener is having…can’t wrap in their head around this I would say that you know if a brokerage is agent centric you’re probably not gonna get a great, you know ,customer experience from that agent. Or if you are it’s gonna be very hit and miss depending on you know the agent. 

But if you’re client centered you’re also going to be providing the tools resources training to that agent to make them as successful as possible. So you know you focus on one you’re not gonna get the other. You focus on client centric you’re gonna get both. 

[Chris]: Absolutely.

[Christian]: You know another way to look at it is you know if you’re at a brokerage and you’re like “I can’t really tell like are they…like are they client centered or they’re agent centered”. I think one key indicator of that is does the brokerage, the guy who does the brokerage, does the managing brokers, do they care how you do your business? If they don’t care and they just want you to follow up on your leads and they close transactions they’re agent centered. 

You know they don’t care about the reputation of the brokerage. They don’t care how they…you know if you get referral business because they don’t care how good you are at servicing your clients.

[Chris]: If it’s uniform? Right? If you go from broker to broker and you get the same type of answers. If it’s all focused on the client versus if it’s all about your business. That’s another good way to tell.

[Nathan]: I would like to add actually ask a question because I don’t know. I am sure there is but whoever is listening, hey Sean Carp if you’re listening email me at nathan@linkapm.com but I want to know who teaches, if there is a brokerage that really teaches this. I don’t know about it either that…

[Christian]: Wait we do but… [laughter] [Nathan]: Well right right I am just saying outside of our…

[Chris]: If you’re in Georgia 770-509-0265 call us for career info.

[Nathan]: Outside of our spectrum like and I specifically mean more big bucks but like…

[Christian]: Sure.

[Nathan]: I would like to go you know of it’s possible on my market but I would travel to within the Ohio region, to go and hear somebody. I would really love to hear somebody speak about it and just see what they’re saying because I feel like I have a good grasp of what I again hospitality is and that’s customer, client centric. I mean hospitality right. 

I would love to hear that. So anybody out there knows hey hit us up, shoot us an email. I’d love to hear it. Sean Carp I am sure you know somebody you could direct me to so do that. But I would be curious.

[Chris]: I would like to hear that too mainly because I feel this is a growing movement. I think after…after the whole Facebook debacle with peoples’ privacy and big companies, the focus really for the last 6-9 months in business has really been on being human. Humanizing business, focusing on the relationship and I think that has just started to gain steam. So anybody who is doing that please let us know.

[Nathan]: Amen.

[Christian]: You know I would say you know for listeners who are listening to this, this would be like “Why do I care like hay are you guys talking about this”. I would say it matters because the reputation in that industry is not great. And it’s not great because of the transactional, non-relational sales, salesyness of industry. 

And because of that there has been huge gaps in the industry that left room for people like Zillow and Redfin to come in. Now you can you know be mown to them and whether on not become a brokerage or whatever but it’s your fault. It’s the industry’s fault that Zillow is thriving. Because they’re…they’re unapologetically client centered. And here we have agents who are arguing about whether or not you should be client centric. It’s like you don’t get it. Like you’re gonna become obsolete.

[Nathan]: Because of [censored] like you we have the reputation we have.

[Christian]: Yeah exactly.

[Chris]: But we’re talking about the agents.

[Christian]: Right. In our little spheres we’re trying to make a difference, you know.

[Chris]: It being all about the agent is why NAR sold realtor.com. 

[Christian]: Yeah.

[Chris]: It being all about the agent is why the MLS has kept all the data public and Zellow exists. Agent centricity caused the problems that are there because we didn’t focus on the consumer.

[Christian]: Yeah exactly.

[Chris]: Period.

[Christian]: Exactly. 

[Chris]: So if I am agent Christian…

[Christian]: You’re a Christian agent or agent Christian?

[Chris]: No if I am an agent, Christian.

[Christian]: Oh comma Christian. OK got it. 

[Chris]: Comma Christian. If I am an agent and I am looking for a broker. I am building my business. I am with a broker. I don’t know if I am agent centric or client centric. And I am hearing this podcast and I am like “Maybe I want to be with a client centric broker”. What impact would that have on my business? 

[Christian]: I think that would have a huge impact because they are gonna be focused on your success and your repeat referral business based on the outstanding experience you provide which unfortunately a good experience is not a common thing or focused in real estate. Even…even from an agent perspective. 

So I mean I think it would…Yeah we were talking about how you’re differentiating yourself. Having a good client experience I guess is a general thing. You can do it in many different ways but being that…having that as a focus that is going to differentiate you more than anyone else. And you know a big part, a big key part of that is what systems you have in place in order to have clear and consisting communication because the single biggest thing you can do when it comes to, you know, servicing your client is communicating well, being available. You know to me it’s basic stuff but you know when I hear you know other people’s clients or friends of mine who have had bad experiences it almost always centers around “I didn’t know what was going on. I couldn’t get a hold of my agent you know they didn’t tell me anything”. And that is a really simple problem to solve. 

[Nathan]: So let me ask the questions to the broker. I mean I have my own answer if you would but so what does that look like? What’s…what’s an example. I don’t want to use I use myself in fact which is great, right. 

So I just closed on a very nice home for a client of mine that is from Brazil. They relocated here for work and they are back in Brazil doing some stuff. They needed the home painted. They needed new flooring installed and several other things. They were gonna be and actually are as we speak gone to Brazil. Who do you think is taking care of getting that painting estimates and getting the house painted, letting contractors in and getting contractors in for the floor. Finding the selections, making sure…To me that is client centric. I’ve gotten my check, it’s already cashed. It’s in the bank. But I want to make sure when they get back from Brazil that this home is ready to go. That they can move in and be seamless and I know plenty of agents who once they got that check they would have been like “You’re on your own”.

[Chris]: Oh yeah.

[Nathan]: So to me…To me that’s…that’s client centric. Like I don’t want to say I am going above and beyond but I feel like that’s…that’s what I need. I’ve got another client getting ready to sell their home. They’re older. They’re moving into a retirement community. They have to move all their furniture. They’re 80 years old. Who do you think is moving it? Me.

[Christian]: Your contractor filling for Home Depot?

[Nathan]: Nope me. I am the one out there. My title company is actually gonna assist me and we’re gonna get these people moved. Those are the things to me that there’s…you can’t even put a value on it. And it reaps rewards. So if you do things like that for your client you will win all day. That to me is what it looks like. I would assume to you all that’s the same kind of thing or different examples. 

[Christian]: Word. I want to hear what our listeners think. I want comments. I want dumpster fire. I want bickering. No I don’t want that. I just want to know what people just think.

[Chris]: Yeah I want the client to tell us if an agent centric is better. [laughter] No one thing is we’re all on the independent side but I don’t want our listeners to think that being client centric is exclusive to the independent side. I don’t want them to think that you know the franchise or large firm cannot be focused on not being client centric because we have a great example of a client centric person which is Joe Rand. Who is Rand realty, metro…not metro. Better homes and gardens Rand realty out of New York. And he literally wrote the book on this.

[Christian]: He’s got a new one coming out that talks about it. 

[Chris]: Exactly. It’s coming out and it is incredible. And it’s all about being good at your job. And that is what client centricity is about. As the agent it’s about being good at your job and if you’re with a client centric broker they are going to help you be good at your job and not just at lead generation converting and selling. But long term business building, creating a referral book that is going to help you set yourself apart like the best agents. Because the bets agents are the ones that are getting 80-90% repeat referral business because they have done the work, they have built the relationships, they have focused on the client. 

And that’s it. It’s not…It’s not exclusive to a small firm, it’s not boutique, it’s not independent. It’s not franchise. It’s about the leadership and whether or not the leadership is setting the example with the agents that…It is not OK to not focus on your clients. Or if they’re setting the example that as long as you keep closing the numbers we’re gonna be happy with you. That’s it.

[Nathan]: Yeah I agree.

[Christian]: Yeah you’re right. Amen. 

[Nathan]: Alright and drop the mic. Mic dropped.

[Chris]: I can’t drop it it’s on a suspended arm. 

[Christian]: That’s true it’s suspended yeah. 

[Chris]: Alright so before we wrap up for this episode any final thoughts on agent centric versus client centric and I think we’re starting to beat a dead horse here but final thoughts? Nate, Christian go. 

[Nathan]: It’s not rocket science people. We didn’t invent anything new. We’re not coming up with something that’s different. It’s…I don’t know. It’s kind of the human thing. Be kind. Do what’s right if that makes sense. So it should. I don’t know thought the easiest things to do are the hardest things to get done so…

[Christian]: Yeah I agree you know. You know it seems like it should be kind of the basics for like how we do business but unfortunately it’s very rare so hopefully it becomes less rare but then we’ll have to figure out some other way to distinguish myself in our brokerage so [laughter]…but I will cross that bridge when it gets there. 

[Chris]: Absolutely. Couldn’t agree with you guys more. I think that one thing that agents should look at if they’re trying to figure out if being client centric is for them, look at every single other business industry period. And whether or not they put their clients’ needs above everything else. Or if they decide that selling and then forgetting about them is the best thing. If they’re…you can look at any company, any case study, any MNA they’re all going to involve how the customer is treated and how the client experience is. I mean you can look at Ask Jeeves versus Google. Does anybody talk about Ask Jeeves anymore? No they don’t. Google has…

[Christian]: In the last 15 years. 

[Chris]: Google has focused on the client and they have provided what the customer wanted. You can look at Zillow that’s because we didn’t do our jobs. So let’s start now. 

It’s been a great episode. Thank you everybody for tuning in. This is re:Think Real Estate. Please go to rtrepodcast.com. Subscribe to the newsletter so you get a notification every time we launch a new episode. Go to iTunes leave us a 5 start review and share this. Please share with your friends, anybody in real estate that you think needs to hear it. Share the message. We’ll talk to you next week. 

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