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Wow customers with extraordinary service/Users/adamp/Desktop/ElizabethGifford

In this economy, it’s not enough to provide adequate customer service. These five stories of outstanding service will inspire and motivate you to go beyond the call of duty.  In this economy, it’s not enough to provide adequate customer service. The survivors are willing to provide that extra-special oomph, say some Florida sales associates.

Here are some examples of sales associates who are thriving, just by doing that.

Pit bulling for the customer

Standing at 5 feet 1 inch, Anne-Marie Wurzel of Coldwell Banker in Winter Springs doesn’t look like she’d be the Lara Croft of the unwieldy transaction. But appearances can be deceiving.

“I get on the phone and straighten things out. I'm pretty relentless and am known as a pit bull in my office,” Wurzel says.

At one home inspection, the buyer told Wurzel she’d been shopping around for an insurance policy but quotes were high—around $2,500.  

“I called a trusted insurance professional and put the buyer on the phone with him to get the required information. He called back while we were still at the inspection with a quote between $800 and $1,200. She was thrilled,” she says, adding that the buyer bought the house for $208,000 and referred another current customer to her.

Wurzel isn’t intimidated to “go to battle,” no matter the issue, she says. Last year she increased her business 25 percent over the previous year, and this year she’s on track for higher production than she achieved in 2007.

“Every short-sale listing I've had that's received an offer has closed,” she says. “Just recently I closed a bank-owned property, and every day there was a new issue that needed to be resolved. I don't think about ‘how long’ this is going to take me. I just keep going until it's done.”

Go fish!

The 35 sales associates at IST Realty in Miami don’t really blink at peculiar requests. They just figure out how to satisfy them, says CEO Paul King.

In early summer, a house on the market for 18 months finally received an offer. Trouble was, the buyers wanted a home with a Koi pond, which this house lacked. IST arranged for the home to have a pond by the time the couple moved in. The buyer was thrilled that someone else would handle the construction and happily agreed to put up a nonrefundable deposit for installation.

The sales associate supervised construction while the sellers packed up. The associate also ensured that the pond met the buyers’ specifications, and the house closed for $700,000. In the process, the sales associate became friendly with the buyers, who gave the firm referrals to other buyers.

Cosmetic facelifts or marketing?

Sometimes, the largest advertising budget won’t make a difference in a home sale, particularly when buyers are looking for cosmetic upgrades to older houses. So Gail Sterling of RE/MAX Gulfstream Realty in Bradenton offers some customers this option: They can use funds for home improvement that Sterling would otherwise spend on marketing the home.

In August, Sterling closed a short sale in Bradenton for $141,000, just four days after he provided funds for the owner to re-tile the kitchen. The owner was a contractor who could complete the job easily. But Sterling has had other situations where he either did the work himself or put up partial funding if the owner kicked in the rest to hire a professional.

The amount spent depends on the listing price. The higher the price; the more he would spend on marketing. He persuaded one seller to knock a $300,000 price to $275,000, but he was still concerned about her carpet. During the next 30 days, there were 15 showings. Although buyers liked the price, they complained about the carpet, Sterling says. So he paid $1,100 to replace it. Five days later, the seller accepted an offer.

Between January and August, he’s sold 19 homes. Per year, he spends about $10,000 on home improvements.

Making a house a home

Nothing kills a sale quicker than bare rooms, says Katerina Sellis, who works at Illustrated Properties in Palm Beach Gardens. So, she fills them with her own furnishings. When they’re not in use, she stores them in an 8- by 10-foot facility for $150 per month. She uses her mom’s truck and hires two friends to move the furniture for her.

Sellis has been building up her furnishings supply for about 10 years. Some are older pieces that she replaced in her own home; others are hand-me-downs from customers. It’s a good thing, too, because sometimes she has to simultaneously furnish three homes with three different couch sets.

And sometimes, she has to give up pieces of furniture to get the sale closed. “I’ve had some buyers that would kill a transaction for a $50 [end table], and they’re so proud of themselves when they get it. And everyone is so happy.”

Igniting kindness via Facebook

The customers were highly discouraged. Their home wasn’t generating much interest, and the reason was painfully clear: Curb appeal was nonexistent.

The problem was that this down-on-their-luck couple had some limitations that prevented them from mowing the grass, much less sprucing up their flowerbed.

So their sales associate, Elizabeth Gifford of Coldwell Banker Residential in Winter Springs, decided to pull on her gardening gloves and put out word that she needed volunteers. After asking around the office, Gifford connected with another sales associate, whose college-age daughter said she’d circulate the request on her Facebook page.

“I thought, ‘If two or three would come, that would be a blessing, and we could finish the work in half a day,’” Gifford recalls.

Five days after the Facebook plea went out, at 10 a.m. on a Saturday, Gifford showed up at the customers’ home alone and started weeding. Even she couldn’t predict what happened next.

“It was like being at the best circus ever, having a clown car arrive with nonstop people getting out!” she laughs. “There was a family with two little girls, high school and college students, and in the whole group, not everyone knew each other.”

Gifford had expected people only to weed and clean out flower beds. But in a little over two hours, the crew had weeded the entire front and back, cut down overgrowth, edged and cut the grass.

That was in June. Gifford posted new photos of the home, and showings have increased. “It lifted the sellers’ spirits, which was worth more than anything,” Gifford says.

SOURCE: Heidi Russell Rafferty is a Kentucky-based freelance writer