5 principles housing professionals should employ to help consumers

Applying a “Trauma-Informed Care” model to the housing industry

Six weeks ago when I published an article about applying a “Trauma-Informed Care” model to the housing industry, I had no idea we were about to embark on a globally traumatic event.

As a former social worker with experience working with traumatized populations, I wrote about the model’s effectiveness when working with highly anxious consumers. That model has become much more relevant in today’s climate. 

Kristin Messerli,

During a pandemic, it is more important than ever that housing and finance professionals understand the nature of our reactions to trauma and how to provide leadership to both grow your business and support your communities. As the bedrock of our economy, the housing ecosystem has a unique role to play in providing a sense of safety and security in the most uncertain of times. 

In this article, I will outline the key characteristics of trauma and how that influences consumer behavior, and I will break down the Trauma-Informed Care model again as it applies to our current situation. In my next article, I will address the same for leaders and managers. 

What happens when we’re stressed

Trauma is traditionally defined as a deeply distressing emotional or physical event, which often leaves people feeling powerless and out of control. Whether or not the pandemic is causing trauma, most people are experiencing high levels of anxiety and stress. 

In times of acute stress, our brains go into “survival mode,” in which our driving question persists, “Am I safe?” Anything beyond an answer to that question is often too insignificant for us to process. 

In this state, we tend to have exaggerated responses, emotional instability, and black and white thinking. (Anyone else have a huge fight with their partner about nothing?) We are also more focused on immediate needs and often have difficulty with thinking rationally about the future or making any kind of decisions. As consumers, this may result in impulsive buying behavior, or challenges in comprehension and retention of purchasing information. 

For example, I’m currently in the process of moving (while maintaining social distancing), and it took me two days with hours of product comparisons and conversations to decide on a set of pots and pans. I didn’t even need to buy any pots and pans! This (and many others I could share) is the kind of irrational behavior and thought patterns we often experience under stress.

Rene Rodriguez, an expert in the psychology of sales, created a free video series to describe how to bring leadership during uncertain times. In an interview on the topic, he explained that consumers are completely lost at sea, in search of a guiding light. “Trust, right now, is the biggest currency,” he says. “If you listen, [your consumers] will guide you step by step on what you can do to serve them.”

The smartest decision someone can make for their business right now is to consider ways they can become a shining light for their company, consumers, and network. 

A trauma-informed response for consumers

Whether you are experiencing trauma through the pandemic or not, everyone can benefit from applying a more trauma-informed response in our lives and work.

In my first article on the topic, I adapted the five principles of the Trauma-Informed Care model to the housing industry, which are safety, transparency, choice, collaboration, and empowerment.

Below I will outline each of the principles as it relates to the perspective of the sales professional and will follow up with another article from the perspective of the manager. 

1. Safety

  • Help your customers understand what to expect during this time. You may have no idea, but you have expertise about the market and industry that your consumers do not. Craft a message (which may change daily) that shares what is happening in the market, and what that means for homebuyers and owners. 
  • Be consistently flexible. Remember that most of your customers are in the process of making the biggest financial decision of their lives and purchasing the single-most important material object that provides them with a sense of safety. 
  • Be patient with indecision and frequent requests. Try not to lose your cool when your customers repeatedly change their mind or send you 15 messages per day. Consider auto-responders and virtual assistants as mentioned in my last article about adapting to a digital workplace

2. Transparency

  • Communicate regularly. Clear and direct communication with your audience places everyone at ease. Now is the time to lean into your use of social media (strategically) and digital communication. 
  • Share updates. Consider sharing a short video update or responses to common questions with your network on social media, and deliver it on a daily or weekly basis. Explain the “why” behind the market changes (or do your best!). 
  • Respond quickly to customer concerns. Specificity when possible helps to reduce anxiety (i.e. I will be in touch with you by tomorrow at 1pm). 
  • Always thoroughly explain the home buying process, and remember that you may need to repeat yourself more often than normal during a time of high stress. Even when time is tight, try to clearly explain disclosures, terms, and product options with your customers. 

3. Choice 

  • Send options and disclosures in advance of meetings (preferably with a video overview) to provide your customers with more time to review and consider their options. Many title companies do not allow closings to last longer than 30 minutes due to the social distancing requirements, so ensure all of the information has been reviewed thoroughly by video prior to closing. 
  • Don’t rush the decision-making process. This will increase anxiety and the likelihood they choose to go with another provider or back out of the process entirely. 
  • Leverage digital tools like Mortgage Coach to share mortgage product options. 

4. Collaboration

  • Use video for phone calls! Video is an easy way to build trust and a sense of collaboration with your customers. Especially during social distancing, video can decrease isolation and overall anxiety. 
  • Create a strategic plan with your partners to ensure safe collaboration and a seamless homebuying experience. For example, Realtors should have a process in place for virtual tours, such as discussing with the seller to leave the property temporarily for the Realtor to enter and provide virtual tours with the potential buyer. 
  • Continue digital marketing. Collaborate with partners (lenders, Realtors, title agency, etc.) and community leaders to continue delivering digital marketing and community education.

5. Empowerment

Trauma-Informed Care completely misses the mark without empowerment. A common misstep as a provider or professional is to try to become the “savior” for your clients/customers. However, to create “superfans,” customers need to believe in themselves as the hero of their own story. 

Best-selling author and storytelling guru, Donald Miller, explains that in order to tell a story that connects with today’s consumers, you must position your stories with the consumer as the hero. “Always be the Guide, never the Hero,” says Miller.

Self-advocacy and empowerment are the most powerful actions for individuals who experience trauma and a crucial sales tactic for long-term customer loyalty. 

The Trauma-Informed Care model is used by practitioners across medical and social service fields to build trust and lasting relationships with traumatized populations. During a time of high stress and uncertainty, this model has a perfect application for housing professionals and leaders to build long-term customer loyalty and business growth.

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