HOUSTON – (By Michelle Leigh Smith for Realty News Report) – Never underestimate the power of a first impression. In a day where many companies have their phones answered by an automated response that directs callers to a directory of names, callers who are greeting warmly, with a soft voice of concern are more likely to stay engaged. That’s where Lucy Franklin shines.
She welcomes agents and visitors and personally walks guests to a conference room – the Briar Hollow, the Westheimer or the Kirby. Lucy Franklin shows no partiality and plays no favorites.
“To me, every call is important,” says the tall, conservatively dressed receptionist. Franklin joined the Martha Turner team in 1990, when the office was on McDuffie at Westheimer, at a time when very few people had cell phones. “Martha had one of the very large ones and she had one in the console of her car, set up for hands-free driving,” she recalls. “Most of the agents had pagers and we’d beep them when they had a call.”
Gas was 80 cents a gallon and texts and selfies did not exist.
“I don’t know how we’ll exist without you,” says agent David Atkins of Martha Turner Sotheby’s International Realty.
Indeed, they won’t. An automated voice can’t replace Lucy Franklin. A human receptionist will be hired in 2023.
Franklin studied at Huston-Tillotson College in Austin and was working at a technical school in downtown Houston that often placed clerical staff. When the call came in about an opening at Martha Turner Properties, she took the chance.
“I took it to my boss and she said, well, I don’t have anyone I could send,” Franklin says. “I let her know I was very interested so she sent me. I went for three interviews and was hired, on a probationary period. I thought this job sounded like it would be a lot more fun, so I trained for two weeks and answered the phones on the weekends while my two-weeks’ notice was in process.
“My hair was shoulder length then and we were expected to wear dresses, pantyhose and heels,” says Franklin. “I have loved coming to work here every day, even with the traffic or bad weather and I am really going to miss it.”
To the end of her tenure in late 2022, she was ensconced at the firm’s massive marble monolith, a monument to class, visible immediately when one steps off the elevator on the 17th floor of Amegy Tower at 1717 West Loop South.
Monday mornings are the busiest times for incoming calls, as are Saturdays. If the phone momentarily stops ringing, Franklin might enjoy a bite of salad or bacon at her desk. In addition to phone duty, she makes sure each incoming package reaches its intended destination. She’ll greet the agents as they arrive, updating them with any specifics that will they need to know. No matter how she may be feeling, her response to a question about how she’s doing is always, “Terrific!” Franklin borrowed that upbeat response directly from her mentor, the late Martha Turner, a legend in Houston realty.
Franklin has seen the firm through three moves, from lower Westheimer to Briar Hollow to Amegy Tower, after the merger with Sotheby’s International Realty in 2014.
“The one thing Martha instilled in me was to make every person feel important – from the custodians to the buyers who were targeting Tall Timbers or an exclusive section of River Oaks,” she says.
Franklin graduated from Lamar Consolidated, a large high school in Fort Bend County, where she played all the sports – volleyball and track. She is the eldest of eight children and she now resides with one of her sisters and her father.
Image consultant Helen Perry asked Franklin if her etiquette students could call her during class so they could hear “the right way to answer a phone call.” Perry has referred to Franklin as an icon for exemplary training in both phone etiquette and customer service in her professional awareness for decades. “Every call is answered with a fresh, enthusiastic greeting, never sounding rote or mundane,” says Perry.
“Franklin’s compassion and innate ability to put everyone at ease has been a true asset to the company,” says Robin Conner, president of Martha Turner Sotheby’s International Realty, Houston office. “Her presence, her character and her faith are why this company is at the highest level. She has kept us straight, prayed for us, loved on us.”
The firm hosted a Standing-Room-Only retirement party on December 20th in the Walter Johnson Conference Center on Amegy’s ninth floor. Members of the Martha Turner Sotheby’s International Realty pooled their resources and gifted Franklin with an impressive retirement gift.
“When I told my colleagues I was coming to work here, they all said, “Oh, you’re going where Lucy is!” says agent Carol Lance, from Martha Turner Sotheby’s International Realty, Memorial office.
“It was my privilege to office to the left of Lucy, and I have to say her positivity always made my day,” says Realtor Blake Plaster.
Relocation director Tess Chaney recalled that when she came to interview, Franklin was the first person she met and her professionalism was a large part of why she signed on.
Realtor Linda Platt drove in from Martha Turner Sotheby’s International Realty Round Top market for the farewell, noting that she went to high school with Franklin.
Glenn Bauguss, widower of Mrs. Martha Turner, says, “Lucy has been the left tackle on our offensive line. Martha relied on her like no one else. The way Lucy responds to everyone – customers and staff alike is very special, and very hard to find.”
Conner agreed, saying, “She’s been our safety as well.”
Tom Anderson, co-president at Martha Turner Properties who joined forces with Martha Turner 18 years ago, shared that Franklin was the first person he met when he arrived at the first sales meeting and was so nervous. “Lucy put me at ease and I have been thankful for her ever since,” Anderson says.
Like the forever prim Miss Hathaway on the Beverly Hillbillies or Miss Moneypenny in more than 20 James Bond films, the role of the receptionist is fraught with the unexpected. Franklin memorized critical phone numbers because Turner often called and asked for a client’s number. “She’d say give that to me real quick,” says Franklin. “We were blowin’ and goin’.”
Realtor Neal Hamil, former Executive VP of Ford Models, Inc. and Elite Model Management who joined MTSIR when he moved back to Houston from New York, sings an old Lou Rawls song to Franklin, a riff on “My Lady Love.” “I sing it to Lucy as My Lucy Love and I think she’s terrific!”
Franklin ends her career at one of Houston’s top real estate firms this week. “I’ve never been one to stay home or watch daytime TV,” she says. She is looking forward to spending more time with her family and taking her dad on outings.
In the early days, the firm had an intercom where Lucy often made staff announcements and at the end of the day, she would say, “We are shutting down now, good night.”
Martha Turner would follow, saying, “Good night, Lucy.”
Dec. 27, 2022 Realty News Report Copyright 2022.
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Photo: Courtesy Martha Turner Sotheby’s International Realty
File: Realtor’s Friendly Voice Retires