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Oct 062012
 
Scripts

Courtesy of Flickr

I just read a great article from the “eMyth” blog.

Their blog post talks about caring the right way. The catchy title ,”How Not to Care” says quite a lot. Initially, you think they want you to stop caring. But, in truth, they’re wanting you to care better.

I hear this all the time while calling a service center. “It’s been my pleasure to serve you today. Did you have any more questions I can answer?” It’s a lovely script, and that usually comes right after I’ve said, “Thanks for answering that. That’s all I needed.” So, I have to repeat myself, “No, that’s all I needed.” And satisfaction turns to annoyance.

Sometimes I just want to hang up the phone when I get to this point since inevitably there’s another 30-60 seconds of back and forth when I’m done with my inquiry. “I hope I met your expectations.” “You’ll receive a customer satisfaction survey by email.” “Did I answer all your questions today?” (Repeating it for the third time.) I am now wishing I had just sent them an email.

I used to work in a call center at GEICO. While most of my years there were spent handling executive level complaints, I did spend a couple of stints as a supervisor and as a sales person on the phones directly. That gave me an appreciation for why companies begin doing call scripts. (Quite another long blog post for another day.) But, they’re usually wrong to start writing them.

We’d like to see companies let their agents have freedom. Some of their employees probably like having the scripts for “security” so they don’t screw up–and they can blame the script author when they do. Let them have freedom to answer the phones any way they see fit. When they do, the customer will be happier, and so will the company rep.

Zappos gets it right. If you’ve ever heard their story–not just the fact they sell shoes–then you know they get it. They let their employees have great freedom to answer calls.  They are allowed to respond to complaints the best way that fits the customer, and they get results.

In real estate, I see this issue, too. Since we’re almost all independent contractors, each real estate agent works on their own. We pay our own marketing, our own association fees, our own payroll taxes. Everything is done individually (yet another long, boring blog post). We have tons of marketing companies vying for our dollars. Most of them come with call scripts. What to say to someone when they first call you. How to get someone to buy your house. How to get someone to list their home with you. The best sleazy line was, “Oh, I almost forgot. I have this system that…” No, I didn’t forget because it’s the main reason I called you. (I never used that one.)

At first, I thought they had a good thing going. I eventually realized that treating someone well, answering their questions unscripted and providing sound advice was far better than reading off a script. And customers appreciate it more.

 

Oct 042012
 

Google Plus LogoI have to admit I was wrong.

Last year, I read an article (no idea where to give credit unfortunately), that said that Facebook is hitting the point where it could topple by an upstart. I laughed. Facebook fall? No way.

After all, FB has by some estimates 950 Million users (using their own data). If you think about it, we’re looking at almost a seventh of the world’s population!! That’s unbelievable market presence. Can even Coke even claim nearly a billion buyers each year? Google can probably count a billion users each month, but do they spend hours on Google sites?

Plus, the platform is phenomenal. It handles its massive web traffic really well (versus Twitter’s frequent Fail Whales, and MySpace’s long load times due to the junk on pages–wait, what’s MySpace?). It’s picture and video albums are loved by family and friends as one of the easiest ways to connect with people. The status update system keeps people close and engaged with each other. Even their ads aren’t that intrusive, and tend to be relevant to most users.

So, Facebook has a ton going for it. It would be really tough to unseat when you have so many people using it. Plus, no one has really built a platform that works as well with as many features.

But, here comes Google + (or “Google Plus”) . They’re using a modern web feel. They’re using many of the benefits of Facebook, but have built a cleaner website look.

They released their service last year on an invitation only format.  I can respect that approach.  It was in “Beta” (still in its testing phase) for a while, and they added users somewhat slower than they could have.  This allowed them to test the systems and measure what interested people about the service.

I think they have potential. The look is slick. The features are easy to use. They keep adding features as they go along, but are sticking to the approach of keeping it simple and pleasant to use.

You may have noticed that Google’s search features now include social media outlets like Twitter and Facebook…if a friend of yours has linked to a site, it will tell you in the search results.  This year, Google Search made a move that placed more emphasis on Google Plus over Facebook.  If a person in your circles on Google Plus makes a recommendation and links to a website, that result will show in the search results.  Of course, that’s assuming you sign into your Google account when you do searches.

Their “Plus One” or “+1″ is already catching on as a great way to recommend sites much like Facebook’s “Like” button.  But, clicking “+1″ seems more like a shout out for a good page or article than “like”. Sometimes, we don’t want to like a comment that involves an illness or death of someone.  +1 works a little better.

They are pulling off integration with Google’s other programs–Gmail, Calendar, Android devices (and even Apple’s), Google Music, Docs, Google Chat, and Blogger. I think most people trust Google (there are always detractors), and it wouldn’t be hard to switch or use both, particularly if you use any of their other services.

It will be a long, tough battle. I don’t think Facebook will lie down and die like MySpace did. Maybe Google Plus will just find a “place” between Twitter and Facebook and have it’s own set of dedicated users.  As of right now it seems to be heavily populated with people who follow technology.

How do you think it will play out?

Apr 012012
 

If you know me at all, you know I’m a fan of Google products. They have the versatility to help me do my business better than most competing products from other software companies.

They normally have a great April Fool’s joke every year. This year is no different.

8 Bit Maps for NES? For the Win!

I thought it came out yesterday.  They released a video detailing a new feature of Google Maps. It was fantastic for anyone who has played some classic games a couple of decades ago on the Nintendo system.

The video is here. And then check out the neat maps tool (click on the map square in the upper right corner and select Quest format). It’s amazing seeing Macon in an 8 bit format.  They say they have additional quests you can do on it, but didn’t have the time to find them after spending time just checking out what maps would have looked like 20 years ago.

When you get the tool for your NES, just remember to blow on the cartridge to get the bugs out.

Was this their April Fools?

Actually, no.  Well, maybe. They only have one each year, and this might have just been a cool thing they were doing.

How About Some Fiber?

You may have heard that Google is doing the high-speed fiber optic cable in the twin Kansas City metros.  It’s promising technology that provides free internet at blazing speeds. It’s in a trial period like most things that Google does (the “Beta”).

But their real joke (which is a bit obvious from the start) is “Google Fiber” bars.  Complete with video, you can check out the amazing tech in the world of nutrition that they’re doing.

So, check it out and enjoy a good laugh!

[UPDATE]

It looks like Google is just throwing out April Fools jokes left and right!  You can check out two more great ones at the Chrome Blog – The multitasker’s ultimate weapon, and on the Gmail side, you have the best app for that ever.

 Posted by at 8:39 am
Feb 272012
 

It seems popular opinion about home ownership is that you are creating an investment for the future.  Nothing could be further from the truth, so let’s explore.

I first ran across this concept about a decade or more ago while reading Rich Dad, Poor Dad.  It’s a great read, and I highly recommend it. Robert Kiyosaki writes about his experience with his rich dad and contrasts them against his poor dad.

The core to the book emphasizes that Americans have traditionally bought into a lie about wealth and money. While there are a number of points made in the book, the one I want to look at is the idea that a home is an investment. Most of these ideas below are my own, but burst to light by reading Kiyosaki’s book.

The main myth centers around the fact that housing always appreciates. Over the past two decades we’ve seen dramatic increases in real estate. But, we’ve also seen a dramatic fall.  While falls in housing prices have always occurred, it is rare to see it happen the way it has in the past five years.

So, let’s look at the historical appreciation rate. I tried putting my hands on charts I’ve seen before, and couldn’t find them, unfortunately.  But, I have never seen a chart say that homes appreciate significantly more than the rate of inflation. This means that over decades, homes appreciate only as fast, or slightly faster than the rate of inflation. The highest I’ve seen covering 50+ years of real estate is a 1% annual return.  Some show less than inflation, but most were right at the inflation rate. Most of the differences were in how the data was calculated.

This actually makes sense, since if housing continued to appreciate faster than inflation, and faster than wage growth, then eventually more and more people would be unable to afford a home as the cost to purchase that home becomes too expensive.  So, market pressures will pull housing costs back down as we have seen since 2006.

The second factor to point out is the cost of a mortgage. Not all homes are mortgaged. In fact around 40% are owned without any mortgage.  Those that are face a serious cost.  It can cost around $4,000 for a $100,000 home to close with a mortgage. Now, add in the cost of the interest.  Over a 30 year mortgage, you pay about 70% of the cost of the home in interest, plus the cost of the house. Again, with our $100,000 house, and a 4% interest rate, you’ll pay $71,868 in interest over 30 years, and additionally pay the $100,000 initial cost of the home.

Now, people say that the home is appreciating.  Well, inflation has been roughly 3-4% annually.  Factoring out the present value, the future value would be $242,726 in 30 years at 3%. That’s still a gain over the investment of $171,868.  I could go into more details on why that gain is relatively small, but let’s be brief before your eyes glaze over.

Third, let’s factor in expenses. It’s been said that expenses on an average house run about $2,000 a year. Not a lot of money, but not a free ride like on a rental. Without even factoring that the maintenance costs keep going up each year, over 30 years, that’s an additional cost of $60,000.  So, after your interest payments, you’ve earned $70,858 on your house value.  But, you’ve paid out $60,000 in house repairs and that leaves you with $10,858.  Now, let’s take out that $4,000 in closing costs and you have just $6,858.

But, wait, there’s more! Your home is now out-dated. In appraisal terms, it faces obsolescence. If all your neighbors upgraded to meet new green energy options like solar or geothermal, or they upgraded to 5 bedrooms which is the new norm (30 years from now), or any of a myriad different changes, then your home is obsolete. You must spend tens of thousands of dollars to upgrade it.

Again, for brevity, let’s not factor in all the problems that could creep up like neighborhood blight, rising costs of energy, facing more rentals in the neighborhood than home owners, and a rash of foreclosures that prevents you from selling.

Look, I’m not trying to scare you out of a home. In fact, it is one of the wisest decisions you’ll ever make. Home ownership is tied to being more successful, happier, and your children will love that you aren’t scared of the marker on the wall causing your rental security deposit to disappear.  You can paint how you want, renovate like you want, and in single-family housing, be as loud as you want (well, almost).  And, when you rent, you don’t get a dime when you leave to go toward your next place.

But, the truth is simply that it will cost you more to own a home than you think. Yes, at the end of that 30 year note, you can cash out a hefty amount. If, and only if, you haven’t been faced with obsolescence. But, the final point is that you still need a place to live. And that will still cost you money.  Buying without a mortgage is the best choice since you can get a better deal, have lower closing costs, and no threat of foreclosure.  But, you will still need to renovate and maintain the house.

My gut tells me that owning a house long term costs about the same as it would to rent, even with the low interest rates we see today.  I would love to see statistics proving that, but I’m no statistician and stats don’t sell houses like I do.  It is definitely true if you continually move and never pay the mortgage off.  So, assume that you are purchasing a house for the peace of mind of having your own place among other reasons, not because it’s a good investment.

For a great way to search for that home, check out my special search site.

Dec 072011
 

Hi!

Welcome to my site! Again!

Unfortunately over the weekend I discovered my website had been hacked. Nothing fancy. It was probably something that had been embedded in the code several months ago when WordPress (who makes the blogging software I use) had a vulnerability. Some hackers took advantage in order to place ads and links to their stuff last Friday. Luckily, I use tools that identify malicious code and let me know it’s there.

It’s embarrassing, but actually quite common. Most webmasters won’t admit when a hack occurs.

However, I thought it best to wipe the slate clean and make a fresh start. There were some changes I wanted to make in my design anyway, so away it went! (The old website)

Please bear with me as I will be updating information and getting things back up to what you would expect in the coming weeks.

For now, if you need information, please give me a call at 478-955-1624, or send me an email at jrainer@remax.net.

 Posted by at 11:08 pm