The real estate industry has always focused on the listing side of the business as a way to attract buyers. The more listings a Realtor had the more buyers the Realtor would attract. Providing outstanding customer service as a way to attract buyers was a secondary consideration.
Times have changed. Today's buyer will not tolerate poor customer service. If they feel that their needs are not being met, they will move on instantly and find someone who will meet their needs. Realtors need to be re-trained to provide a level of customer service that effectively communicates, connects with and establishes a rapport with buyers.
Integrating technology into their business processes, and in particular using the Internet to generate leads, is one way Realtors can greatly improve their customer service and conversion rates. It can also help build a continuous pipeline of customers.
The new consumer-centric process begins with a Web site that attracts visitors. It should offer valuable content to encourage registration and capture contact information. Research shows that consumers typically register on Web sites as long as the information they are trying to access has value to them.
The Realtor then needs to follow up-and quickly, but can only do so if he/she is immediately notified of a buyer's registration. Studies by the NAR have shown that an immediate response to a buyer inquiry is essential for converting Internet leads. Another study by real estate customer relationship management company Virtual Homes, Inc. shows that 73% of Internet leads that were successfully reached and qualified through their system were contacted within 3 minutes of registration (Figure 2).
Figure 2: Of 13,000 leads generated since July 1, 2007, 10% were of referral quality. Of those referrals, 73% were reached on the first call (3 minutes). The remainder was reached with 2-4 calls. (Virtual Homes Research Study -Virtual Homes Real Estate, http://www.virtualhomes.com.
In fact, most buyers visit multiple Web sites, so first responders have the best chance for success. For longer-term buyers, technology tools that allow agents to easily manage nurturing activities and future follow-up are essential to maintaining a pipeline of future business.
Most real estate companies do not have the expertise, time or investment capital to internally develop the Web site lead generation, notification, and follow-up processes necessary to convert Internet business. However, success depends on it. Therefore, it is important to find a vendor that offers engaging content on their Web site, and the tools to manage and develop long-term business opportunities.
Customer relationship management (CRM) systems are crucial for managing customers, prospects and clients. CRM systems help Realtors create relevant dialog's with buyers and accurately elicit and capture a buyer's needs and wants. Since most Internet leads are at least 6 months out from making a decision, a CRM system becomes crucial in helping nurture the sales process over long periods of time and in maintaining a pipeline of business.
Furthermore, Internet communication technologies such as Webinars, IM and micro-blogging sites such as Twitter and Pownce can also help Realtors interact with today's buyers in ways their customers prefer. These technologies also maximize the reach of the Realtor by providing constant, up-to-the-minute accessibility. Social networks like Active Rain, LinkedIn and Face Book provide additional options.
Since the Internet is the new marketplace and younger agents are the best suited to service the tech-savvy Internet buyer, then attracting new and younger agents will be critical to the future success of real estate companies.