Customer Obsession.

You either focus on the customer or the competitor. One will use your services and pay your invoice; the other won't. The real estate industry is a fast-moving, highly innovative space. The challenge is most of what we call innovation is the duplication of what competitors do in the marketplace.

The fastest-growing companies in any industry are the ones that can identify unmet, unidentified and unsatisfied needs of the customer and satisfy them.

As human expectations evolve with technology, we now buyer brands, products and services, because of what they enable us to do. Harley Davidson riders buy the bike because they buy freedom and the appearance that people in small country towns are afraid of them. When you use Uber, you gain the speed of the transaction.

Most agents compete on fee, and it's a race to the bottom. The best in any industry compete on value - they compete on what they do for the customer. Market leaders in any market stay close to the customer, identifying the significant opportunities to create a competitive advantage. Let's look at a few ways to scale the human touch.

Customer focus groups One of our clients held a property management forum. They invited 28 first time landlords into a room to find out about their experience and what challenges they had. The challenges weren't unique, but they were liberating. Simple things like how do I know I've bought the right property? How do I have a better relationship with my Property Manager? What's essential and non-essential maintenance? When do I increase the rent and by how much? What are the notice periods?

Then something interesting happened. A Landlord asked, when should I buy my next investment property? How will I know? This lead the facilitator to ask a simple question, by show of hands how many of you would like an equity check on the home you live in? All 28 hands went up. Six months on from that forum 14 of the Landlords are now in the market as a buyer, three have sold their existing homes and bought new ones. The biggest market to serve is the one filled with your existing customers.

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Research departments Finding out why customers decided to use you is the most valuable form of research. Imagine an independent research team selected five vendors and conducted a 1-hour interview with them. Simple questions like how many agents did you interview? How long was your relationship with the agent you chose before you selected them? Did you negotiate on a fee or did you proceed at the fee quoted?

When you do high-quality research like that, it allows you to tailor your pitch with real data. Data-driven decision is what drives the speed of the businesses momentum.

Feedback - the good, the bad and the ugly Most look for feedback in the wrong places. When you lose a listing, you often call the vendor to find out why. They let you down gently and never really provide useful feedback. Instead, you lose confidence. The shift to interviewing customers and asking one simple question changes the game, what made you decide to use us?

The answer to that question becomes the opening dialogue to all future presentations. They've just revealed the secret sauce.

Jobs to be done methodology Technology is forcing a shift to re-imagine what's possible, by understanding all the jobs the customer gets done in and around the transaction. Simple things like preparing the home for sale, through to disconnection of utilities. We're making great progress with firms setting up concierge services. The only challenge is I link concierge with a hotel, that organises tickets to a concert. One of our UK clients, renamed that department to the moving team. They do everything related to moving, and it's had a marked impact on internal and external customer recognition.

Service lines The big opportunity is to go deeper with your existing client, finding out their needs and how you can serve them with vertical or horizontal integration. One of our clients has 18 different service lines in their business. The size of the opportunity is so great; it's worth the pain of change. Most agencies are made up of residential sales and property management. Their's plenty of other opportunities like marketing, strata, insurance, projects, commercial - retail, industrial, commercial, finance etc.

If Steve Jobs had asked the customer what they wanted, they would have said a bigger CD wallet. They never had the vision of the iPhone. When the iPhone hit, we all learnt about needs we didn't even know we had. And it's the same in your business, stay close to your customer, they don't even know their problems. The more you can develop and understand those customer problems, the faster you can differentiate in a meaningful way and create a lasting competitive advantage.

This article first appeared on Elite Agent.