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Customer Satisfaction Counts In Large Amounts

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jan08_cover_300dpi.jpgThe statistics tell the success story of GMAC Home Services

By Maria Patterson

Five years. That’s all the time it took for one company, GMAC Home Services, to reinvent the very meaning of the much-used, but often misused phrase, “customer satisfaction.”

In 2002, when John Bearden became the company’s president and CEO, he took a long, thoughtful look around the real estate industry. He didn’t care much for what he saw: an industry beset by plunging commission rates and consumers growing more fickle by the day.

Bearden was equally disturbed by what he didn’t see: not a single national real estate company providing comprehensive and meaningful customer service on a consistent and predictable basis.

Bearden decided that company would be GMAC Home Services. Simply put, he was looking for a way to serve up a consistently better service experience for the consumer, to help his brokers build the financial net income of their businesses, and to help agents cultivate more loyal and profitable customer relationships. In other words, to help differentiate GMAC Real Estate as a brand that stood for something tangible: day-to-day, transaction-to-transaction excellence in customer service. The kind of service that pleasantly takes customers by surprise and brings them back for future home-buying and selling needs, along with their friends and family members through positive word-of-mouth referrals.

Today, close to six years later, his team has completely integrated a customer-focused business plan and an unprecedented culture of customer service throughout the company’s four operating units, including GMAC Real Estate Franchised Operations, GMAC Real Estate Company-Owned, GMAC Global Relocation Services (see sidebar) and GHS Mortgage. The results have forced more than a few industry observers to sit up and take notice.

When Bearden and his team embarked on creating a new model for customer service, they were keenly aware of the challenge of accurately and thoroughly measuring quality service in the real estate and relocation industries. Quantifying customer satisfaction for many years had been a concept, but not a practice.

“Agents are notoriously independent, and that’s what makes them so successful and enjoyable to work with,” Bearden says. “But trying to persuade tens of thousands of these independent-minded entrepreneurs is very challenging at best. Looks good on paper, but reality is a much different story.”

Bearden and his executive team at GMAC Home Services knew that if they truly wanted to establish the company as the national leader in customer service, it would require an initiative like none other.

Premier Service: A New National Model

Thus, in 2002, Premier Service¨ was born.

“Through Premier Service, we set an extremely ambitious goal for GMAC Home Services,” Bearden explains. “And it was that we would become the sole leader in providing customer service, and the only national real estate company willing to measure, and then recalibrate as necessary, our performance by using an independent, third-party company to survey the customers we serve. We also set a goal of establishing Premier Service as the most comprehensive and effective customer-service initiative offered by any real estate company, bar none.

“There was a fair amount of skepticism in the industry about our plans, and especially about our claims for what we would achieve through Premier Service.”

Results That Speak (Loudly) for Themselves

When you look at the national awards the company has racked up over the past three months, it appears that GMAC Home Services might be getting the last laugh, and customers couldn’t be happier.

Indeed, with more than 500,000 customer internal surveys already conducted, the company posts an extraordinary 94% customer satisfaction rating (with 82% of customers “very satisfied” and 12% “satisfied”).
What’s more, for the past two years, GMAC Global Relocation Services has received a perfect 100% customer satisfaction rating following a comprehensive survey of global clients that gave the company a Premier Service rating of excellent, very good, or good for “value received.” Also for the past two years, 100% of clients surveyed said they would recommend GMAC Global Relocation Services to prospective clients.

In addition, GMAC Global Relocation Services ranked “Highest in Transferee Satisfaction with Relocation Companies,” according to the J.D. Power and Associates’ 2007 Corporate Relocation Transferee Satisfaction StudySM.

There’s more. Through the company’s Premier Service program, GMAC Real Estate sales associates: Serve as their customers’ “trusted advisors” and partners in the truest sense of the phrases Seek, in all they do, to be their brokers’ partners in success As a result of a national survey released in 2007 conducted by the independent research firm Quality Service Certified (QSC), it found: In 2007, 94.2% of sellers were either very satisfied or satisfied with their GMAC Real estate sales associate. Also in 2007, 94.8% of buyers were either very satisfied or satisfied with their GMAC Real Estate sales associate. 850% of GMAC Real Estate sales associates have achieved 100% customer satisfaction (with every client being very satisfied or satisfied). Nationwide, two of the top three real estate companies for 2007, as judged by consumers participating in post-transaction customer satisfaction surveys, were GMAC Real Estate franchisees: Real Estate Professionals GMAC in Redding, California, and Vanguard Realty GMAC in Jacksonville, Florida.

One of the Industry’s Best-Kept Secrets

The company’s growing ranks of exceptionally satisfied customers might disagree, but Bearden says GMAC Home Services is one of the North American real estate industry’s best-kept secrets.

“Are we the biggest? No. Are we the best-known? No. Are we the best, especially in terms of satisfying customers and pointing the entire industry in a new, more positive direction for the future?” he asks.

“You’d better believe it. And next up will be phase two of our rollout plans for helping to transform the company and industry even more,” he says.

With the customer service component clearly in place and generating bona fide results, the second part of Bearden’s four-part plan to reinvigorate and push the industry into new areas includes: The launch of a new technology infrastructure like no other the industry has seen. The implementation of the technology desktop will make it easier for agents to manage their businesses, effectively track and manage leads and close more transactions while providing an unequalled experience for consumers. Additionally, the technology desktop has been specifically developed to provide leads to other service providers (such as mortgage, title, etc.), thereby creating new revenue streams. Less reliance on “brick and mortar” since Bearden believes real estate offices will have a greatly reduced role in the way real estate business is conducted in the future. As Bearden says, “If we know that 80 percent of consumers today are using the Internet to do their research, we need to be developing technology to work with them on their terms, not dazzle them with fancy and expensive offices.”

Bottom line: GMAC Home Services, whether in real estate, relocation or mortgage, is best in quality across the board. RE

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