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Text Messaging/Users/adamp/Desktop/Stuff for FAR/Magazine Assets/OCT08/images/techYou
Thumbs Up!

Add texting to your communication arsenal.

While waiting in line at the bank one morning, Roberto Paredes heard the familiar chiming sound that his Palm Treo 500 smartphone makes when he receives a text message. The sales associate with Century 21 Richardson Agency in Pensacola quickly discovered that a prospect was inquiring about a listing he’d seen on Paredes’ Web site (www.rpsellspanhandle.com). So, he took the opportunity to send a short reply to let the prospect know he’d be in touch as soon as possible.

In times like that, Paredes says, this handy tool lets him respond immediately—and make a professional first impression.

Text messaging is, basically, sending short messages to and from a device such as a cell phone, personal digital assistant or pager. All the rage among teenagers and 20-somethings, the trend is catching on in the business world too.

“My first client was a friend, and I’d text him updates [on the transaction].” As he acquired new customers, Paredes would keep them informed, with their permission, via text messaging as well. “I like it because it’s convenient and straight to the point,” he says.
Here’s how Paredes makes the most of text messaging:

Mind Your Manners
Paredes advises using discretion before texting just anybody. “Ask if people feel comfortable with it,” he says. “Some people hate text messages to the point that it’s an insult to text them, and other clients will respond to a text message before a phone call.” In addition, not everyone has free texting, so you may be costing a client money everytime you text.

Using abbreviations, acronyms and emoticons (smiley faces and other symbols used to convey emotions) is fine for friends and family, he says, but a no-no for business.

Time-saving Shortcuts
A visitor to Paredes’ Web site who clicks on a specific button, requesting more information about a listing or any other topic, is transported to a page that asks for his or her name, cell phone number and e-mail address. To save time—and ensure that he never misses out on potential business—Paredes set up a filter that sends an automatic text message from his Web site to his smartphone when an inquiry is received, allowing him to follow up right away (as he did at the bank that day). On the rare occasions when a prospect doesn’t provide a cell number, he follows up via e-mail.

He also uses templates to save time. “Say I’m in a meeting or showing houses and a client calls. I can press one button that gives me the option to see a list of prewritten [responses]. Some standard messages are: ‘I can’t talk right now,’ ‘I’m with a client, but I’ll call you back.’”

Superior Customer Service
When Paredes has an upcoming appointment, he texts his customer a friendly reminder. “They’ll usually shoot a message back saying, yes, they’ll be there,” he says.

If one of his listings has a showing, he notifies the seller via text message. “If another sales associate showed the house, I’ll say, ‘Your home was shown today at 3 p.m. Feel free to give me a call if you want to go over the results.’ If I showed my own listing, I’ll text my client to say the house showed great and that I’ll follow up later.”

Don’t Be Too Hasty
The simplicity with which you can send text messages can inadvertently cause embarrassing mistakes, Paredes says. He recalls the time when, for two days straight, he sent text messages to a customer named George before discovering that he was contacting the wrong George. “We’d become friendly, so when he saw that it was obviously an address to a house that he wasn’t interested in, he played along [as a joke],” he says. “Another time I sent a client a picture of my dog instead of a house. You could easily offend someone if you have a conflicting sense of humor.”

Fortunately for Paredes and his customers, that wasn’t the case. “We had a good laugh,” he says, adding that it’s important to always verify what—and to whom—you’re texting.

Paredes’ cell phone plan costs about $100 monthly, which includes unlimited calls, Internet access and text messaging. “It’s part of my business expenses, and it’s a critical part of my technology,” he says.

This award-winning column won second place in the 2008 Florida Magazine Awards for Best Column. It is for general information only. Opinions expressed here don’t reflect an endorsement of the views by Florida Realtor magazine or the Florida Association of Realtors®.