By Valerie M. Sargent

Recently — when the contract for my call dropping, battery dwindling, no-coverage-at-home cell phone finally expired — I made the decision to jump on the bandwagon of addicts everywhere. That’s right, it was time for me to (gasping inwardly) become a BlackBerry owner. What would become of me with so much technology at my fingertips? Would it indeed become my “crack”berry?

Like any good customer today, I went online and pored through all of the phone choices available with my chosen carrier beforehand, deciding on one I thought was the best deal, with the options I needed; and armed with that information, went to the store. The experience that followed at the store with my salesperson, Zak, was nothing less than delightful. It really got me thinking about the importance of customer service in our industry, and how critical it is now, more than ever, to build a relationship with the prospect to ensure his or her comfort with the very personal decision to rent this new home, this new place to build a life. How we treat our prospects determines our likeability, and as a result, our “lease-ability.”

When my number was called in the store, Zak greeted me warmly with a genuine smile that instantly set me at ease as we exchanged introductions. I had been in cell phone stores before where the salesperson seemed entirely focused on their sales goals or too busy or distracted to help me. Not Zak. He was eager and friendly from the start, and I immediately felt he was someone who could help me based on his approachability and willingness to assist. It’s the same in our business. When someone is coming to see an apartment for the first time, the greeting you give your prospect sets the tone for the entire visit. I can’t tell you how many community lobbies I have walked into where a greeting was delayed, fake or unfriendly. Those greetings do not help create faith in a leasing consultant; they simply make a prospect feel unwelcome, which makes them less likely to lease an apartment if they don’t feel comfortable from the beginning.

When Zak asked how he could help me, I told him specifically what I was looking for, informed him of my research online and told him I had narrowed it down to a few options on which I hoped to get some feedback. Because I was adding a line with them due to another phone I had for a client (testing their service at home before porting my main number), I had concerns about a shared plan that would meet my requirements for both lines. This reminded me that back at our communities, we need to keep in mind that our prospects are more educated than ever, researching online and finding out about us beforehand. When you meet them in person, your conversations have to add value to what they have already learned and clarify any questions they might have. You then want to draw them out and engage them during the qualifying and leasing process in order to guide the tour appropriately to ensure you show them exactly what they are looking based for on what they’ve told you. The key is to listen effectively and be an expert communicator.

Zak was phenomenal at explaining how things worked, pointing out critical differences and giving his opinion on phone performance, all while making it very comfortable for me to ask questions. He used encouraging phrases such as, “Awesome.” “For sure.” “No problem.” Youthfully affirmative language that let me know everything would be taken care of as I needed. Zak didn’t have to “close” me — I closed myself once he showed me exactly what I needed and made sure I was content with my choice. That’s how a true sales process works: listening to the customer and delivering precisely what is wanted and needed.

When prospects present you with qualities they are looking for in a new home, your positive affirmation of their needs gives them confidence in you as a leasing consultant. When you then remember those things on-site and point out solutions that matter to your customers, this is paramount to you getting the lease. Show them what they need, as well as the things you surprise them with by showcasing important features they might want based on things mentioned throughout the visit. Prospects know when you have truly cared and listened to them enough to figure out what they might like before they even realize it themselves. By showing them specifically what they are looking for and listening to their concerns, you create opportunities for the prospects to close the deal themselves, making the entire leasing process easier for everyone.

Zak not only helped me get the right BlackBerry, he made sure the deal I found online was honored, and he upgraded my current client phone. Since I was adding a line, he assessed my usage on the first phone, determined how I would be using each one, and found a calling plan for both that ended up saving me money. I now had far more service and accessibility for much less money. Then, despite other customers waiting in the store to be called upon, he helped me convert my numbers from my other phones, set up my email accounts and gave me some basic lessons on how to work my new little crackleberry since I was apprehensive. I never felt he was rushed or that he wasn’t completely dedicated to our sales interaction. By the time all was said and done, I was educated enough that I could walk out of there and confidently know what I was doing in a basic way. Zak was my hero.

You have the opportunity to be someone’s hero every day when they come to see you about a new apartment. Taking the time to make someone feel instantly welcome and at ease in your office helps build trust and is the first step in making sure someone feels at ease in your community. When you then truly hear what your customer wants, care about what they need, and offer the solution they’ve been searching for; you have given excellent customer service. When you deliver service, you deliver results. Your likeability increases your lease-ability!

In truth, Zak was a very well trained employee with admirable product knowledge and outstanding customer service skills. We need more people like Zak in the customer service world. You can choose to be one of them. This reminds me — I still need to mail my receipt for a rebate. I suppose his impeccable customer service only gets me so far . . .

Valerie M. Sargent is Senior Associate at Yvette Poole & Associates, a consulting firm dedicated to unlocking the dynamic power of people through more well rounded training programs and integration into company cultures. For questions about this article or assistance with leasing and sales training, Valerie is based in Newport Beach, CA and can be reached on her new BlackBerry at (949) 637-0104, or