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Well, I don’t know what took so long, but Microsoft finally seems to have read its emails, listened to its voice mail and talked to its customers. According to a headline over at Engadget, Microsoft is going to support Windows XP until 2013. It’s about time!

Customers worldwide are breathing a sigh of relief as the Redmond Behemoth seems to have remembered a fundamental premise of running a good business: Listen to your customers!

There’s no magic in that premise. Your customers will tell you everything you need to know to be successful. After Microsoft launched Vista, both customers and industry reviewers provided it feedback. As expected, some people hated it (usually those whose computers were manufactured by Henry Ford Senior) and some loved it (those of us who understood that an OS change means, well, some things are actually going to be different). But more and more, especially amongst corporate clients with large installations, lots of proprietary software and sometimes older hardware in the field, the message was simple: Please don’t take Windows XP away. We might get to Vista in the future, but right now, we’re happy (and in a recession, without extra finances) still using XP.

Unfortunately, Microsoft, whose engineers and sales people are rightly enamored with their own products, just wasn’t listening. They were so certain they were right, so sure they could push the change through, that they turned a deaf ear to their clients. Even after giving a little – pushing back the mandatory cut-over date for computer vendors to sell machines with Vista only – Microsoft continued on the path of most resistance. They said: Vista or Nothing!

So customers started opting for nothing.

Now, don’t get all excited. People weren’t actually switching to Mac or anything (as if) or suddenly learning Linux code (huh? I just want to type a letter…) but they were opting simply not to upgrade their systems. Microsoft didn’t lose market share to the competition with their silly blustering sales approach, but they did lose sales. Their “our way or the highway” approach forced their customers to decide they could live a little longer with their older OS.

For most customers, it wasn’t a crisis, either. Most of us do email, write blogs, do a letter or a puny spreadsheet. Hardly do most users push their computers to the limit. So Windows XP was perfectly fine. For now, we could continue getting along in our lives and business with XP. Maybe add a little more memory and drop in some extra hard drive space. Really – most of us are perfectly fine running Solitaire and watching YouTube on a four year old XP unit. So we simply decided not to upgrade. It wasn’t a crisis, for us.

Unfortunately, not upgrading WAS a crisis for the computer manufacturers, whose sales slowed rather than soared when new technology like a snazzy-new OS emerges. Under Microsoft’s sales approach, they even faced the possibility of being unable to sell units with XP on them – for emergency replacements of broken equipment out there. Certainly no home user could have purchased an unbundled computer and loaded their own copy of their old OS on it. So Microsoft caused their “other” customers – the hardware vendors – some problems too. And they just wouldn’t listen. So those customers, also, started buying less copies of Vista, because they had less machines to sell.

Finally, Microsoft got the message. Both in the market research department and the finances department. Don’t listen to your customers and you won’t have any. No listen = no sales.

This is, of course, an excellent lesson for REALTORS. How many of us are truly listening to buyers and sellers? Not too many – since less than a third of us own Smartphones (NAR’s latest numbers) and most lsitings online look ridiculous. Fuzzy images and no videos aren’t going to attract customers who say the number ONE and THREE things they want to see online are – um – PHOTOS AND VIDEOS! Hello? Is anyone listening?

Make me register to look for listings and I’ll go somewhere that doesn’t make me do it. Make me wait three days for you to get back to me by email and I’ll find someone who will answer faster – maybe just two days. Show up at my house with a printed listing presentation but try to convince me that you’re a high-tech marketer, while you can’t even turn off the ringer on your four year old cell phone and I’m going to really, really consider putting my own listing on the FSBO website.

Like Microsoft, too many REALTORS believe their own marketing materials. We are so in love with ourselves, that we even post our high school pictures on our personal websites. It’s all about US! Me! I’m cool! I’m the best! Even brokers recruit agents with ads that say: Agent – it’s all about YOU!

Um, no. It’s not. it’s about the Consumer. Sorry – but if you forget that lesson, you’re going to have to mend some broken Windows.

Just ask around your office. Agents can tell you all about mortgage rates, and the housing stats and the local number of listings on the market. But can they tell you the average age of the first time home buyer? Can they tell you how many single females bought homes last year? Or how many purchases were made by people with no children at home (as they list their 34th four-bedroom home this month…). Nope. We study homes. And rates. And other REALTORS. And we believe our own marketing hype. But we forget that the customer has their own ideas – their own needs, their own minds. And we just keep plowing on.

Don’t believe me? Then somebody tell me why – YET AGAIN – there’s still listings that look like these on REALTOR.COM today?