The Bitch Slap: Your Customer Service Model Sucks

customer service sucks bitch slapJust over a week ago, I decided to move. After spending a weekend in the mountains of Las Vegas (yes, there are mountains there, you blackjack-playing Luddite), I realized that I live too far away from them. Hence, you heard it here first: I am moving to Boulder, Colorado. A mere 30-ish miles away from my current abode in Denver but worlds apart in the world of real estate, I started looking for a place to rent. Knowing full well I’d be paying more (moving from Denver to Boulder is like moving from someplace in Jersey to Manhattan’s Gramercy Park), I set out to have a look at what my money would get me and the concessions (knowing there would be some) I’d be making to make this lifestyle move.

Holy Lindsay Lohans with Masters Degrees, Batman.

I pay a very reasonable $1250/month for a 1400 square foot 2 bedroom/1 bath house with full basement (partially finished), two car garage and a massive 12,000 square foot yard (which is, in and of itself, another fine fucking reason to move). For $1250/month in Boulder, I’m looking at a veritable shithole.

In fact, I’m looking at a shithole for anything under $1500/month. Boulder is a college town and college kids will live anywhere so long as there is beer in the fridge and a place to fuck. I get it — believe me. But that doesn’t give anyone the right to treat people like me — professionals with cash to spend, a potential customer — like unadulterated ass.

I’d found a fantastic sublet at a great value in a primo part of downtown and had everything dialed in to meet the landlord yesterday when I got a call over the weekend that, in spite of tenants in the building already having pets, the landlord was choosing to make the building a no-pets zone. Fuck me. It’s a tight market. They can do it. *waves by to that opportunity* So I kept looking.

I walked into a place on Saturday for a showing. It was a 2 bedroom garden-level duplex (the “garden level” aspect was artfully omitted from the ad as they generally command a lower rate for their subterrainian nature) listed at $1450/month. $200/month increase? I could deal. It was Boulder. Until I walked in, that is.

The carpet looked like something out of one of Axl Rose’s hotel room destruction days and the current tenants were (oh, what’s the word) slobs. Shit everywhere. And yes, the property was pet-friendly. So friendly, in fact, that the open litter box sitting on the floor next to one of the beds continued the theme of shit everywhere. I have no idea whether the kitchen had counters or not, what with all the crap piled on them. I bid the real estate agent goodbye, not even promising to be in touch.

The rest of the rental scene? Supremely shitty. See, vacancy rates in Boulder are astronomically low (under 1%) so people with properties listed on Craigslist and other sites can charge a metric shit ton for a hovel and get away with it. They can also let email inquiries fester for days and weeks on end without even the dignity of a reply. As someone whose inbox sometimes gets the better of me, it never gets the better of me when people are looking to hire me (unless I’ve recently changed mail programs…yeah, that happened recently).

So this? This is where you’re getting Bitch Slapped, because your customer service model sucks incomparable amounts of ass.

“Where the Fuck Else Are You Going to Go?” Isn’t a Sustainable Business Model

I have a full comprehension of the laws of supply and demand. While I’ll never quite understand the airline ticket pricing model, I know that scarcity will command a higher price. But fucking seriously? If you think that “Where the fuck else are you going to go?” is a sustainable business model, you need to think again. It is one thing to charge a fair price based on value. It is another to have absolutely zero respect for your customer’s time and say, “Yeah, this sucks. Want it? You won’t find anything better.”

If you find yourself operating in an industry where your service or product has a premium attached to it due to supply, a couple of things better goddamn well happen:

  • You’d better be worth it – As business people, we have a neverending obligation to our customers to deliver. And just because demand is high doesn’t mean you can deliver a product that is anything less than a fair value. Murder scene carpet and kitty shitter surprises when you’re asking me for $1450 for a place to call my home is not offering a requisite level of value in any market.
  • You’d better respect your customers – You know what was the most precious thing about Saturday’s hovel showing incident? The real estate agent had the unmitigated nerve to pitch me when I mentioned I was moving to Boulder with the ultimate goal of buying. Seriously – if this lady thought it was acceptable to show me a shithole and laud it for location, location, location when I was only renting, what on earth would she consider to be an appropriate level of service should I ever be her client to buy a home? Two things happened here: she disrespected the property owner AND a prospective dream tenant with excellent references and a checkbook in hand for a deposit. Imagine my surprise when I got an email on Monday morning saying they were lowering the price on the unit to $1450 from $1500 (when I had an email saying the rate was $1450 all along) as the owner was anxious to get a tenant in there. Really. Maybe you should have thought about that before showing me the set for Zombieland.
  • You’d better know your market – Here’s the bitch of the $1450 hovel: the property around the corner. I walked into a gorgeous 2 bed/1 bath duplex with a yard and 2 car garage on Sunday for $1600 that was half a block away. If you’re going to have the audacity to make the argument to your customer that your product is worth the price in a competitive market, you’d better fucking know what the competition looks like. Arrogance is saying you’re worth it without truly knowing that you are…or not caring to find out.
  • You’d better remember that everyone is a potential referral – If I ever see this real estate agent’s name on anything again, you can bet your skinny ass that I will run screaming and share with anyone who asks The Holy Shit Hovel Incident of 2012. Never give anyone a reason to say less than fantastic things about your ethics and work product. personalities don’t always mix, and that’s okay, but the quality of work and ethics involved in a business transaction should never surface as a sticking point. I continuously refer business to numerous individuals who do nothing but produce supremely brilliant work at fair prices for clients who can’t stop raving about them — even if they weren’t a fit for something that my business needed at one point. That’s because they’re great people with great products. This real estate agent’s product and attitude about it? Sucked.

After a mere week in the Boulder rental market, I picked up the phone and called a mortgage broker (do not pitch me that you have a great one — I thank you in advance) and am now looking to buy. In essence, I’m disgusted with the lackadaisical attitude of the Boulder rental market and have now decided to go around it. Ultimately, it’s a better decision, albeit one with another unpleasant process attached to it for a self-employed individual (The Mortgage Olympics).

But the events that led up to this Bitch Slap? Simply beautiful.

An entire real estate market demonstrated to me in merely a week how much it valued me (a qualified, cash-flush, ready-to-buy gal with 3.5 years of supreme landlord references) as a prospective customer. As a result, I will not ever become a customer. It’s also made me think about how I can step up my business’ game. How can I consistently assure that I’m delivering the best value for my rate? What needs improving? Who needs attention and how can I put systems in place to assure that it is delivered — and with enthusiasm?

We’ve all run into tight markets and maybe some of you are fortunate to operate in them. But “Where the fuck else are you going to go?” isn’t a sustainable business model. And if you think it is and choose to participate in one, you’re the asshole, not me. There are always ways to get around a jackass who has something that you need.

Me? I’m now buying a house when the right person could have had my $1500-some-odd-dollars locked into a lease for 12 months. A mortgage broker whom I’ve known for over a year now has a new client because he never acted like a dick who had more business than he could handle. Multiple real estate brokerages and property managers now have a gal who knows how she was treated when she was searching for a home — like an afterthought instead of a potential asset.

So thanks — it created the perfect storm for me to take the first step back into homeownership and avoid an industry that would have appreciated my business yet did nothing to earn it. And my landlord of 3.5 years is also a real estate agent. She’ll be earning a nice commission from a tenant who has appreciated her for valuing me as a tenant for the past 3.5 years.

I’m excited about moving this year and it’s everything I can do to wait and let the mortgage process take its course. But I’m quite grateful that an entire region came together with some supremely assholian business behavior and inspired one of the better decisions I’ve made.

Now — pull your head out of your ass and start offering an appropriate level of value for your rate. Value should exist (and persist) regardless of market conditions. Never forget that the email inquiries and phone calls could stop coming at any time. And if that happens, you are probably the reason.

You’ve been slapped.

21 comments
Alex Raymond
Alex Raymond

Welcome to Boulder! Look forward to seeing you around town - it's an amazing community up here.

Sarah
Sarah

One question occurred to me: you realized that you missed the mountains when you spent a weekend in the *Las Vegas* mountains. Why Boulder? It looks like you already know what you like and Vegas is probably cheaper than Boulder.

GirlGoneWest
GirlGoneWest

Oh gosh, Boulder is awful. The lifestyle there is great - people are outdoorsy and enjoy good food and beer and music - but the cost of living is insanely prohibitive to what I think SHOULD be the target market: the young professional! Denver is FULL of them, which I why I live here instead. My brother pays something absurd like $1200/mo for his bedroom in a 4 bedroom duplex. The place is an utter shit hole, but costs like $4000 a month. And then they have the audacity to charge the tenants for shoveling the sidewalk...which my brother does!!! Boulder landlords are getting away with MURDER - one of the reasons my bro wants to become a landlord out there. If you can't beat 'em, join 'em...?

Suzan B
Suzan B

As a (former) resident of Boulder who has a dog I completely agree. I got tired of looking at places that were $1,000+ a month that looked like someone died on the carpet. Those prices were a big part of why I moved to Denver and commute into Boulder for client work. Stop the "what the fuck else are you going to do" way of doing business. It's no way to do business.

Angi Harper
Angi Harper

It's even worse when they use this model and there IS somewhere else to go. I could go on and on about some of the tree services here and there are a dozen companies. A couple really good ones get all the business because the other ones won't return your calls, then won't bring your estimate back, then won't make an appointment... Really? My money would be a hardship? Work isn't what you signed up for when you opened your business?

Tara Coomans
Tara Coomans

I'm astonished with this trend. I've seen it more in the last few weeks than ever before. Apparently there are market forces at work that enable companies to treat their best, nay, ONLY customers like rotten tomatoes. Seen the American Airlines article in the LA Times today about their "all you can fly" premier pass and their stalking department that tracks down those who dein to use it per the contract? Or how about the article last week in the WSJ about how Facebook's relationship with their advertisers is described as "hostile" right on the cusp of a bizzilion dollar IPO?  Recession. No Recession. The only way this behavior ever becomes acceptable is for consumers to say "Nope, no thanks. I'll take my money elsewhere." As you have.  For the record, I'd like you to know that the experience you had in real estate isn't exclusive to Boulder. I live in a super tight real estate market too...and we've had the exact experience you had. 

Lauryn Doll
Lauryn Doll

First,  Congratulations on deciding to move and become a homeowner!  I can relate to this on so many levels. I actually wrote about something like this for Leaders West about a month or two ago. Business owners try to compete on so many things, but fail to recognize the importance of treating people with respect at the end of the day. You can have the best food in all the land but if your hostess has piss poor eye-rolling problems, your servers take forever to serve and you treat my guests and I like crap, then please believe that's probably the first and last interaction I'm going to have.  Back when I used to mystery shop, I was TRAINED in spotting poor employee behavior in many scenarios just by looking at the nature of the yes/no and narrative forms I had to complete. Did your server greet you? Did you get your drinks in this amount of time? Did they rush through explaining the specials? Did you feel welcomed into this particular location... blah blah blah.  These days, I have no problem silently noting your behavior and making the choice NEVER to come back to your establishment and complaining about it all over the place.  And as I wrote about on my guest post for Jim Dougherty, no amount of social media and online marketing or SEO can cover a crappy service experience. Especially when you elect to lie on your customers as haters... http://leaderswest.com/2012/03/23/customers-hate-you-for-a-good-reason-and-its-not-because-theyre-haters/

NikkiGroom
NikkiGroom

Ummm oh my god, THANK you, Erika, for writing this. I have been in the exact same boat as you - well, a touch skewed, but essentially the same (broke up with bf, decided to find a schmanzy new condo to rent, had deep pockets, a vision for my new existence, and excellent references.) The shit holes I was shown were a disgrace to the human race. "Oh, what's that brown SHIT spewing out of the bath tub," "Um yeah, I wasn't aware of that, I guess they'll have that fixed." When I finally found the poifect place (stone walls, huge fireplace, wooden floorboards, fields next door - with horses!) the lady stopped returning my calls. Which makes sense considering she was extremely shady about who actually owned the property and who'd be taking the cashola -- and disappeared when I tried to get some clarity around it. The rental market needs to start showing some R.E.S.P.E.C.T. to young professionals who actually have their shit together and can, you know, afford a place without shit around the bed or coming out the bathtub. Just little things like that. End of rant.

Joseph Barrow
Joseph Barrow

Yep. Customer service is important - whether you live in a major metropolitan area or a small town like I do. My job in retail stresses and proves that everyday, and I admit I might maybe be a little hard on other retail workers. Case in point: my wife decided this afternoon to stop frequenting a ceramics shop because of the employee's attitude. The shop owner had cut a  deal with my wife on a piece of pottery, which was intended for a terminally ill mutual friend.  He helped her out and was willing to let it go for a pretty good discount - and his wife came up this afternoon with greed in her eye to refuse to honor the agreement. She wanted full price - even though today happens to be Half-Price Tuesday. So, my wife left and so did her mom - and me. Still, the relationships you build will dictate future business. This example I'm quoting underscored that maxim. Right now, I'm still offended enough to wish for brimstone on this woman for the way she treated my wife (and others for that matter!) and I miiiiight cool off later. So, I agree with this slap - for sure.

Peter
Peter

Oh, Red. I am glad someone is having as much fun with their move as I did. I just moved from NYC to a small city outside Hamburg, Germany, in January. And Germany takes the bass aackward cake for apartment hunting. I viewed apartments while the current tenant was still living there. t goes something like this: you show up to a viewing, and the current tenant (read: some douche bag with a mullet) gives you and about 50 other people (at the same time!) the dime tour of his one bedroom apartment. I would have been happy to see a vacated shit hole; it's somehow just not okay when the mess-maker is playing broker in sweatpants and a mullet. Go figure. It pisses me off just thinking about it....

Leesa Barnes
Leesa Barnes

The nice thing about this situation is that it won't last forever in Bolder. If the internet marketing industry is any example, the I-can-only-talk-to-you-if-you've-spent-$100,000-on-my-diamond-encrusted-mastermind-program attitude starts to collapse on itself. If you can't tell, I'm a recovering Internet marketer shyster ;)

Tea Silvestre, aka Word Chef
Tea Silvestre, aka Word Chef

Arggh! As if Real estate prices weren't already high enough, now with the Redhead in residence, I'll have no hope of finding something I can afford someday. But seriously, I totally dig this slap -- "where the fuck else are you gonna go?" needs to end. In all its forms. Everywhere. 

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