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Op/Ed

Compete by using data ruthlessly, but note this often forgotten ingredient

(EDITORIAL) The use of analytic data is already well-documented in identifying likely customer behaviors and responses. But there’s something at the core we aren’t always talking about here.

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Through the power of predictive analytics, I can tell you when your employees are looking for new jobs, based on such factors as the timing of their sick leave requests, their word choice in company memos, and the number of emails that they send and to whom in your organization.

If I want to outsource that responsibility, I can tell you through the efforts of any one of a number of third-party vendors what the likelihood of your employees leaving you is, simply by examining the employees’ behaviors on social media sites, such as Facebook and LinkedIn and aggregating that into a risk factor.

The use of such analytic examinations in human resource functions isn’t a widely established practice yet, but it’s already well-documented in identifying likely customer behaviors and responses. For example, in perhaps an unlikely place, consider amusement parks.

In research conducted by Pikkemaat and Schuckert, they identified key factors that determined customer behavior, including warning signs of customer behaviors that would lead to the failure of parks altogether.

Having the ability to know what your customers think and believe and how those factors will predictably translate into action is an amazing tool, one which allows you to harness hundreds and thousands of data points and utilize them in preparing your business for success.

Predictive analytics are being used to seemingly trivial things, such as determining which items Amazon recommends for you to the challenge of predicting civil unrest in Latin America, which Virginia Tech’s EMBERS project has been doing since November 2012.

I’m not denying either the importance or the power of using predictive analytics to help you better understand your employees or your customers. Having data and utilizing it in a timely fashion to drive planning is the hallmark of a good business plan. You should be appropriately investing in these segments, but at the same time you’re doing so, you shouldn’t forget that behind each of these data points is a real human being.

We’re drowning in information, while dying for wisdom; we have so much data at our fingertips about the actions of people that we often fail to consider the person individually.

Some of this is the ease which data can be amassed and quantified; quantitative research is fairly simple to conduct, assuming that your data points are clear from the beginning, and that you have enough of them, appropriately sampled, to make a generalizable conclusion about the population.

Some of it is science; Dunbar’s number, a theory proposed by anthropologist Robin Dunbar, proposes that humans can hold space for approximately 150 close stable social relationships, although we can obviously tangentially know many more than that. With the human limitations on getting to know one another in a meaningful way, and the speed at which we can now analyze the actions of the group at large beyond our immediacy level, it’s often easier just to let that amalgamation of information serve as an entrée to understanding who your customers and employees actually are as people, rather than just relying on reports on them.

But those reports don’t tell you the whole story. The human touch is what provides the value to your data, and helps you understand how the practices that you take as a leader and those that you implement in your company actually impact people.

So here’s a challenge for you. Gather the data, but leave your office more.

Take the time to call or talk to your team face-to-face rather than just relying on emails or texts to communicate. Write a hand-written note of appreciation when things are going well, or more importantly, a word of encouragement when things aren’t. Ask your customers and staff for input, but only when their input actually matters, and ask them for their support when you need it, with logical reasons why they should care.

Former Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill was in public office for nearly five decades, partially because of a lesson that he learned in his first campaign in 1937. Walking outside of his house on election eve, O’Neill was stopped by a Mrs. Elizabeth O’Brien. Mrs. O’Brien was O’Neill’s high school elocution and drama teacher, and a neighbor who lived across the street from him, and had for years.

“Tom, I’m going to vote for you tomorrow even though you didn’t ask me,” Mrs. O’Brien said, looking up at the politician. Her statement shook him; he’d had a neighborly relationship with the woman for years, and had helped her around the house with small chores from time to time

“I didn’t think I had to ask for your vote,” he said.

She replied, “Tom, let me tell you something: People like to be asked.”

People like to be asked, included, and made to feel welcome, customers and employees alike. We all want to feel as if we have value to our workplace, and to the places we brand ourselves with by being a customer of.

Relying only on an impersonal touch doesn’t give you that same level of intimacy, nor does it make anyone feel as if they actually matter. The data collected isn’t as important as the soul welcomed, nor is the ability of your company to make a predictive guess as what’s going to come next as vital as making people feel integrated to your company

Make a customer experience so strong at both the interaction and the heart level, and people will flock to work or buy from you. Ignore that in implementation, and all the data in the world won’t be able to rectify what you’ve broken.

Roger is a Staff Writer at The Real Daily and holds two Master's degrees, one in Education Leadership and another in Leadership Studies. In his spare time away from researching leadership retention and communication styles, he loves to watch baseball, especially the Red Sox!

Op/Ed

Dropping everything to unlock a door for a buyer damages the profession

The real estate profession is unique in that everyone is on call, but until better practices are put into place, the profession will suffer.

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Consider the following scenario:

“Welcome to Burger House may I take your order?”
“I’d like a Big House Burger, a large sweet tea and I’d like to buy 1915 Main St.”
“Great would you like a home warranty with that?”
“No. Just the house.”
“Will you be paying cash or getting a mortgage?”
“Cash.”
“Your total is $196,521 please pull forward to window 1 to pay. Your food and keys are at window 2.”

Well now that’s a silly scenario. Who buys a house at a fast food drive through? That’s ridiculous, isn’t it?

Not really, if you consider how buyers call in on properties and expect real estate agents to “serve them up” a house sometimes with no notice, no appointment, and very little exchange of basic information. Here’s what a typical phone call is like to a real estate agent:

“Hello this is Jane. How may I help you?”
“I’d like to see 123 Main Street.”
“Okay great. The list price for that is $125,000. What is your name?”
“John. When can I see it?”
“Okay John and in case we are disconnected what is the best phone number for you?”
“I am in front of the house now I’d like to see it as soon as possible.”
“Well that house is occupied and we are supposed to give the owner 24 hours notice. Can you tell me a little about what you’re looking for?”
“It doesn’t look occupied. I walked around the outside and I don’t think anyone lives here now.”
“Actually it is occupied. The owner still lives there. I need to call and request an appointment. Even if it’s vacant we still do need an appointment. Have you been looking a long time or did you just start looking?”
“I have been looking a few months. When can you get here?”
“Okay I need to call to set it up. Are you working with another agent?”
“No I just call the listing agent when I see something. I’d really like to get in now. I only have an hour so can you get here quickly?”
“Let me call the seller John and get approval. I need to clear it with him first. What’s your last name?”
“Are you coming now to show it to me or not? I don’t have time to answer all these questions.”

I hear the buyer’s frustration – he wants an appointment right now

He’s not willing to give up personal information in exchange for an appointment. But the agent has a stranger on the phone who wants to meet right now, we don’t know if the person is qualified to buy – or even his last name.

The agent taking the call is trained to screen buyers to make sure (1) they are qualified to buy and (2) they are not working with another agent. This is standard practice in the real estate business. But the caller is having none of the vetting process – he just wants to see the house and see it immediately. See the disconnect here?

The next step the caller typically takes is to ask the agent, “Do you want to sell the house or not? Because I want to buy this house.” He hasn’t seen it yet, we don’t know if he can financially afford it, yet he wants the agent to jump in the car and rush over to open the door.

It’s a scare tactic. The buyer thinks agents are so desperate to make a sale they will risk their own personal safety – and waste of time – versus not sell a house.

Pulling the “safety” card

Whoa – yes I just pulled the “safety” card. To those who are not in this industry who may be reading this, answer this question: “If it was your wife or mother or little brother who was being asked to hop in the car, to meet a stranger at an empty house, perhaps at 10 am or 8 pm, would you be so quick to judge?”

Because that is exactly what real estate agents are asked to do every single day.

Get a call, meet a stranger, maybe sell the house. Maybe we lose more than a few hours of our time. Maybe we lose our lives. I know it’s a sobering thought – but in what other industry does the phone ring, and the person on the other end run to meet a stranger outside the office without screening them for the ability and motivation to buy? It happens every day in real estate.

Just meet them at the office, right?

You may be thinking, so meet them at the office and then take them out. Spend a week in this business and you will realize just how hard that is to implement. The house may be on the east side of town and your office is on the west side. The buyer doesn’t want to drive to the office when he’s already in front of the house.

You’re already in the car when he calls and it’s just a few minutes to run over to the property anyway. Who wants to inconvenience the buyer and the agent who are both on the other side of town from the office?

Those are not even the best arguments for not going back to the office to meet the buyer. The best arguments come from the buyers themselves, who are trained or conditioned NOT to treat real estate agents as true professionals. We’re just door openers, people who get buyers access to the house.

Try quizzing a buyer about his wants or needs or motivations and you’ll find that many buyers don’t think they have to answer questions at all. They are so used to agents just making the appointment that when an agent tries to ask questions so he or she can advise and counsel that person, they resist.

“Just get me in. I just want to see the house,” is the mantra.

How practitioners can change this game

Things won’t change until agents stop playing the game and won’t make the appointment until meeting in person at the office, or at least answering a few basic questions. I would love to see every agent stop dropping everything to show a house to a buyer “just in town a few hours” on the chance the buyer is “the one” who buys the property.

Yes it’s a gamble, but in 15 years of doing this, I find it’s rarely the buyer who throws a tantrum and insists in instant access who is “the one.”

Buyers who are serious will answer our screening questions. They understand that we are professionals who need appointments to show them houses. And they respect our time and brains in the counseling/advising process. Those are the buyers we want to work with. Those are the buyers who deserve our time and attention. Not the buyers who pitch a fit when they call an agent’s cell phone late Friday night and get no answer. Not the buyers who are sitting in front of a home and demand an agent show up within five minutes.

I wish every agent working with buyers would read this and agree to stop caving in to buyer demands to instant access to houses and agents.

But if agents deny access, unfortunately the consumer will just pick up the phone and call the next agent on the list. And chances are that one agent on the list will be hungry enough, desperate enough, or just naive enough, to hop in the car and show the house.

Until we train our agents and enforce an office policy that discourages “Pop Tart” agents, consumer behavior won’t change.

This editorial was originally published in March of 2015.

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Op/Ed

Get off of Facebook and sell my friggin’ house already

(EDITORIAL) We all have to be online, but how do you balance dominating the web with farting around on Facebook?

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I’m not anti-social media

Yes, that was a baited title and No, no one said that to me.  But they could if I don’t do my job as a listing agent first and foremost.  I am NOT an anti-social media advocate (not at all, I <3 love social media!) but I AM a consumer advocate and if you are an agent your consumers are buyers and sellers, period.

Do you want to know what the awesome sauce of being a top listing agent is? It is servicing a listing as you would want your own home to be serviced.  Think about that for a minute.  If you had a home for sale, what would you expect the listing agent to do?  You may not have even thought about it in this perspective before, but it can be a pretty handy tool to up your game and build client loyalty and provide your consumers, your clients, with the type of service they RAVE about.

I would EXPECT my Super Star Ace Listing Agent to:

1) Dominate the Internet with my listing, including maps, pictures, details, school info etc.  I’d want to be able to Google my address and find my listing in many different locations.

2) I would want to be able to reach my listing agent quickly, in my preferred communications manner (text, email, phone).

3) I would expect detailed updates each time they showed the house (feedback) and monthly updates on all the marketing my listing agent has done that month for my property (and I’d like to know what is working and where the traffic is coming from, technically and geographically).

4) I for SURE want to be assured that when someone wants to see my listing, that the listing agent makes it very easy and accommodating for it to be shown.

5) If I saw my agent on Facebook, Twitter or other social media, I’d be cool with it as LONG as they were doing the above first.  If they haven’t had time to update me, show my listing or give me feedback, they sure as Heck don’t have time to be on any social media site.

6) I’d EXPECT my listing to be on my listing agent’s blog or website (I would not take kindly to the idea that my agent’s blog or website is NOT the place for my listing to be, so if you, Blogging Purist Agent, don’t have a main site where your listings are highlighted, I’d rethink that strategy, my main clients are my listing clients, not blog visitors who don’t want to see my listings, this is a REAL ESTATE BLOG and I SELL MY LISTINGS).

7) I would NOT want to know that my listing agent has a bad reputation for spamming anyone.

8) I would expect my listing agent to be fully abreast of my competition not only when they list the property, but monthly so that we  can make decisions together regarding price changes based on informed knowledge.

9) I would want to know that my listing, regardless if it’s lower than the rest of my agent’s inventory, is getting the same treatment that all of the others do.  If they wanted my business, then respect it. Don’t just take my listing to build your inventory book and treat me like a red-headed step child.

10) Finally, I’d want to know that my agent is knowledgeable, approachable, professional and dedicated to selling my listing as quickly as possible for the highest the market will bear.

Have you done your job?

If you, fellow agents, have some disgruntled listing clients or clients who don’t want to reduce their price even when the market indicates it should, look at the above and see if you have done your job as you would have expected it to be done for your own property.  Where did you fall short?  What can you rectify now?  Build your business around the desired consumer experience and expectation and you can’t go wrong.

You might do all of things, you might do more, and they might seem elementary.  If so, Great, go have a blast on Facebook and bring in more great business from great clients, but if not, get your own house in order before looking for more houses to sell. No pun intended.

PS: I have seen agents (and even myself in moments of weakness) not provide the service above, and when I look back at my less-than-perfect self, I just shake my head, pull up my bootstraps and get back to being that agent that I want to be.  Where I most often fall down is simply letting the clients know what is going on.

I somehow forget that they don’t KNOW their single property site has been viewed 5,000 times, or that there is a foreclosure in the neighborhood that wasn’t there before, etc.  I need to always keep them as informed on their listing as I am so they can feel secure and up-to-date.  That is exactly what I would want to be if it were my home on the market….

This editorial was originally published in 2010 on The American Genius by Janie Coffey.

#giterdone

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Op/Ed

Is Instagram really anything more than a narcissism engine?

(EDITORIAL) The more Instagram followers we have, the more likes we average, and the more we want. Let’s discuss.

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Social media platforms are, I would postulate, some of the most significant contributors to our rapidly-developing culture of narcissism. This is especially true of Instagram, which is basically the social media version of a self-promoting picture book.

Full disclosure: I love Instagram. Between all the dumb crap that my cats do, and a weird recent obsession with trying to start up a fitness channel, I have plenty of self-validating content to post around the clock — and the subsequent “likes”, follows, and comments make me feel like I, a single participant in one of the largest social media platforms around, matter. That’s what’s so great about Instagram.

Unfortunately, that’s also what’s so dangerous about the seemingly innocuous platform. Everything we post — and I truly challenge you to find a counterexample here — is from a validation-seeking standpoint. While you can certainly make a case from this perspective for almost any social media contender, I believe that Instagram is the worst offender here.

Here’s why: rather than “asking” others to validate our words (and maybe an occasional meme or selfie) a la Facebook, Instagram is sheer self-promotion.

We use our bodies, our pets, our food, our surroundings, our belongings — basically any attractive asset available — to fulfill our insatiable need for validation.

The more followers we have, the more likes we average, the more we want.

Don’t get me wrong, this makes IG completely invaluable from a business standpoint. We can use our accumulated follower bases to influence and control our brands, which – while still self-serving — can have positive effects outside of our own personal growth.

Unfortunately, these factors also make Instagram downright devastating to that same personal growth.

Now, I’m certainly not going to stop using (and abusing) Instagram for my own personal gain — and neither should you.

I’m also not going to pretend for a second that anything I say or do on IG is for a purpose other than validating the superficial qualities of my own existence, be they trivial or otherwise.

And, should you agree with me, I would encourage you to do the same.

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