Tools May Be Great, But…

The most frequently pressed number in a voicemail system: "0" for Operator

Now that I am a consumer in the real estate market, having moved from New Jersey to Texas (like so many others) and therefore having placed my house in the hands of a Realtor, I get to have some cool experiences. I wanted to share one of them with you all, especially the real estate professionals, because it struck me that this is probably not a perspective you get often from your buyers or sellers.

Tools. They’re great. I know many of you use tons of them. But you are going to want to consider how the consumer on the receiving end might perceive them. I got an email today from my agent, Sue Adler — or more precisely, I did not get an email from my agent, Sue Adler — which triggered this post.

Done correctly, tools can and do help you work more efficiently, more effectively, stay in touch better, and improve customer service. But more often than not, tools can make you seem impersonal and distant, like you just don’t care. And that’s probably not a good thing in something like a real estate transaction.

Showing Suite

Showing Suite feedback report screen

Sue uses a product called Showing Suite, which is an online app that consolidates and automates getting buyer feedback on a listing. From their website:

Showing Suite™ boosts real estate productivity by automating the showing feedback process, allowing prospects to schedule showings on your website, and employing email marketing to communicate with both clients and incoming leads. Along with saving REALTORS® hours of time every month, Showing Suite keeps clients and leads happy and informed during their real estate transaction, resulting in obtaining more listings and selling them in less time for more money.

Now, I’m certain that the software works well, I’m sure it’s a timesaver, and all of that. But let me suggest that Showing Suite most definitely does not keep clients and leads happy and informed.

As a consumer, the feeling I got from getting the email was a mixture of “Oh goody, more spam” and a raised eyebrow. Here’s the email itself:

Dear Rob,

Congratulations, your property at 5 Oakdale Ave has been entered into my system.

This is a great tool and service provided by me to you at no cost. It helps us identify what we need to do to sell your property for the most money in the fastest amount of time. With this feedback service you will be able to see all your showings, feedback and statistics of the feedback on the property at any time.

Who talks like this? Certainly not Sue, whom I’ve known for years as a friend, colleague, and client. The email itself is the asinine impersonal automated crap we all are used to getting from banks, online retailers, and other faceless computers posing as people.

Now, in my case, because (a) I know Sue very well, and (b) she has actually been sending me personal emails throughout the process with feedback, and (c) she has also been calling me to keep me informed of what’s been happening, I knew for a fact that she was working hard to get my house sold. But suppose that she was just some real estate agent whom I had met for the first time last week. Suppose she hadn’t gone through the trouble of sending me real emails that she had written herself, or calling me with updates. In that case, maybe I’m a really weird consumer (or, I might be totally representative), but getting dropped into some automated system strongly suggests to me that she isn’t doing any work at all, and chose to hand me off to some voicemail-hell equivalent. Yeah, I feel real important now.

The Danger of Efficiency

There are precious few automated tools that can both increase efficiency and customer satisfaction. You know those voicemail systems that you get when you call your bank or telephone company? “Your call is important to us. Please listen carefully to the following six choices so we may properly direct your call.”  Bullshit. If my call were important to you, you’d have a live person answer the damn phone. I have never met anyone who goes, “You know, I called my bank the other day and got a person; I wish I could have gotten the voicemail navigation system instead.”

It’s precisely because you want to make the customer service more efficient that you’re going to sacrifice customer satisfaction. In the case of inbound customer service call centers, perhaps the gain in efficiency is so high that it’s worth making the customer feel a little less like a person and a little more like an account number. But in the case of a high-touch, high-emotion transaction like selling someone’s home… let me suggest that the more you remove your human self from the equation, the less happy your client is likely to be.

This is especially the case when you present the bill for some 5% of the sale price (and yes, I know you only get half, but the seller is still writing a check for some $20,000), but have used all sorts of time-saving, money-saving tools in the meantime at the expense of making the client feel like a person.

Remember, Consumers Have No Idea What You Do For a Living

With real estate, the average consumer — unlike a guy who has been in the real estate industry for the last nine years — has no idea what you do for a living. As far as they’re concerned, you show up, do a listing presentation, put up a yard sign, do some data entry into the MLS, then several weeks later, you show up at the closing and demand a check for thousands of dollars. They don’t see the behind-the-scenes work that you’re doing, talking with buyer agents, contacting former clients, calling investor clients, emailing other agents, sending out emails to your private database, negotiating the terms, talking the various inspectors and lawyers and whomever through the whole thing… and they don’t see you calling up agents whose name comes up in the lockbox asking how they and their clients liked the house. The whole work of a real estate agent is a mystery wrapped in an enigma for consumers.

The one way that the consumer might get a clue is if you communicate with him constantly. In the early goings, something like getting buyer feedback is a reason to communicate with the client. If you’re going to outsource that work to some tool, some website, some other person or company… well, be careful.

You can do as Sue does and make sure to send personal emails and make personal phone calls with each showing, so that when the automated email shows up, your client isn’t thinking, “WTF am I paying this lady for anyhow?”  (Of course, if you’re doing all that work anyhow, one wonders what the value of an automated system like Showing Suite is… but I digress.) Or, you can make sure to add some personal notes on each of those forms so that your client knows you haven’t just dropped him into the Automated Machine of Feedbackery and forgotten about you. (If the said tool/system doesn’t allow for such personal notes… um, find another system that does.)

Otherwise, might I suggest that you suck up the inefficiency and write personal emails and make phone calls to the client? It might take five minutes, but that will be the best five minutes you’ve spent letting your client know that actually, yes, you are doing a lot of work for him, and that will keep your client happy. Or happier. Or less pissed off. Especially in this market.

Keep in mind: tools and technology do not keep a client happy, no matter what the advertising copy for a system says. You do. Those things that help you keep your client happy, use them. Those things that interpose some impersonal “efficient” layer between you and your client, think twice.

Just my $0.02 y’all. All advice worth what you paid for it. 🙂


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Rob Hahn

Managing Partner of 7DS Associates, and the grand poobah of this here blog. Once called "a revolutionary in a really nice suit", people often wonder what I do for a living because I have the temerity to not talk about my clients and my work for clients. Suffice to say that I do strategy work for some of the largest organizations and companies in real estate, as well as some of the smallest startups and agent teams, but usually only on projects that interest me with big implications for reforming this wonderful, crazy, lovable yet frustrating real estate industry of ours.

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9 thoughts on “Tools May Be Great, But…”

  1. Rob, So funny, it just occurred to me that I never did a listing presentation with you so of course you were surprised to see this questionnaire. 🙂
    What I always tell sellers at the listing appointment is that when the buyer’s agent uses the lockbox, it will trigger this questionnaire for feedback, and when the buyer’s agent fills it out, and presses submit, it goes to you and to me at the same time so you are getting straight feedback from the horse’s mouth.
    Of course I pick up the phone and call for feedback as well because everyone has different communication styles so we want to try whichever works for that agent. Before I used this system, and personally relayed the feedback to the sellers, sellers honestly would think I didnt like their house because often they would hear negative feedback over and over again coming from me, the messenger. This way, they hear it directly from the buyer’s agent and it’s much more effective. Also, the market talks to you when you hear consistent feedback and I’ve had sellers call me and say” for example let’s reduce the price” or “let’s take down that wallpaper afterall.” based on the responses to these questionnaires.
    Bottom line is, the number 1 reason agents lose listings is because of lack of communication. Some sellers love this questionnaire and you may not, but you love when I call and email and skype, so just count on that my friend 🙂

    • Totally, Sue. My point precisely is that I love it when I hear from you. It makes me feel that you’re working hard for me, and that you care, and that I’m important to you. My point is that you’re so great with the customer service aspect that the way Showing Suite handled the communication actually went against my experience of working with you (so far). And fact is, not every agent is as good as you are in communicating — these types of tools hurt them far more than they hurt you.

      I do get your point about sellers wanting feedback directly from buyers. I just think these tools should have a way for you guys to add your two cents so the seller knows you’re working for them all the time. Remember that not every seller is like me; most have no clue what you do.

      But for the record, you just rock, Sue. 🙂

    • Good luck with this listing Sue… in the white hot glare of Rob’s observations/thoughts/etc. Hopefully a buyer agent won’t leave a door unlocked which results in the home being ram-sacked… or a pack of badgers moves in and shreds the electrical system…. or a tree falls through the living room. Because if anything bad happens, the entire universe will know. And it will be your fault – you are the listing agent after all. 🙂

  2. “…my $0.02 y’all.” Ack! He’s already starting to talk like a Texan.

    Great post with broad application to any ‘invisible’ work – any task where the bulk of the work effort is not visible to the customer. You need to help the customer understand what was involved in generating the result.

    And your comments about the personal touch is right on the money. Efficiency should be measured by how well you make the customer understand the process and not how little time it took you to perform the task.

  3. If the premise of this post is, “Don’t let programs like this replace personal communication,” I agree. I don’t think anyone would disagree. If the premise is, “Don’t do this at all,” then I completely disagree.

    As a seller, I would welcome a communication like this, and would love the idea of feedback being consolidated in one place. I know Sue (a little, but enough to know she’d be responsive), and would know that she’d never let this replace an email, text or *gasp* phone call.

    The perfect agent is high-tech and high-touch. Use as many systems as possible to get my house sold, but be there when I need someone to speak with.

    My 2 cents, pardner… :: tips cap ::

    • Hey Derek, the premise is definitely use tools, but make sure that the client feels like YOU are communicating with them. Like I said, if the tool had some way for the agent to put in her comments, that might have done it. The form letters need to have a way for the agent to put her personal touch on it, so they don’t sound so impersonal. Things like that.

      But agents really have to be careful about the tools they use – that’s the premise. 🙂

  4. I especially like you comment about clients not knowing what agents actually do from the beginning to the end of the transaction.

    BTW, Pstusiak… Hit Alt 0162 = ¢

  5. Hi Rob,

    It’s funny that you mentioned this, because there actually is a way to customize these emails to make them more personal. We even wrote a blog about it yesterday with steps on how to personalize the default emails here:

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