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Op/Ed

Ratings companies have evolved into two camps that couldn’t be more opposite

(EDITORIAL) The ratings and reviews game has evolved considerably in recent years, and now, two clear camps have emerged… which do you think is better for consumers?

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A line in the sand

Nearly every industry today is either participating in or being assessed by ratings and reviews. It’s what consumers want – it has become a consumer-centric fundamental.

Because time is scarce, consumers are increasingly seeking what they hope are reliable, trusted sources that collect and post both product and service experiences of real customers. The idea is that having access to the actual experience of others will lead to making better, more informed decisions and choices in selecting their next product or service provider.

In meeting this consumer interest, a pursuit of five star ratings has created a Star Wars battle line with two distinct camps:

  • Marketing Spin Camp – best foot forward, filtered results, selected feedback, and heavy bias of positive news
  • Transparent and Accurate Camp – reliable, measured, complete, unscrubbed and unmanipulated information from real past customers

So one camp chooses to Photoshop the picture while the other offers untouched results; one camp chooses pleasant fiction and the other chooses the reality of non-fiction; one camp elects to edit and cleanse, the other offers accountability and transparency with some blemishes; one camp seeks an immediate, short-term, gamed advantage to win customers while the other trusts that truth is the foundation of long term relationships; one camp doubts its ability to deliver great results and chooses marketing spin while the other camp believes consumers can be discerning and their service providers can deliver.

Facts sure can ruin a good story

In response to Brad Inman’s comment in an April 19th, 2016 interview, “…what I’d love to see here… (is) a higher-quality agent… better ones”, the former president of an organization promoting the Marketing Spin Camp stated, “Ratings are not the way to a higher-quality agent because ratings are a marketing tool… I don’t care what anybody says about that.”

The power of Marketing Spin is in telling a tale. Since the facts can ruin a good story, those in the Marketing Spin Camp often find it more convenient to avoid, ignore, omit, or not even bother to learn the facts. These facts have been researched and available for some time now, including in a 2008 report, before most in the Marketing Spin Camp entered the North American real estate market.

Transparency, accountability, and feedback both change and positively alter behavior in sports, business and politics. The evidence is clear, empirical, and unambiguous.

Ratings and reviews when properly designed, delivered, and data aggregated (scientific methodology with research expertise) do create the kind of accountability, transparency, and feedback that influence and alter professional behavior creating both measurably higher quality and a more satisfying customer service experience.

Spin a story, discredit the real estate industry

The facts – Here are the measurable results that are specific to the real estate industry and related to how service quality assessment of every closed transaction can influence agent behavior, the quality of service they provide and make them better (data based upon more than 2,000,000 customer satisfaction assessment surveys):

• 54% more Very Satisfied customers with the overall service experience than the national average
• 86% fewer Dissatisfied and Very Dissatisfied customers with the overall service experience than the national average
• 400% greater likelihood of agent making a post-closing service follow up call than the National Average
• 65% greater Satisfaction with quantity and quality of communication
• 72% greater Satisfaction with attention to transaction details
• 78% greater Satisfaction with negotiating assistance
• 54% increase in sales of returning past customers
• 56% increase in referral sales from satisfied past customers

Star Wars – the battle for five star ratings is bigger than the quest to win today’s customer. Honest and accurate ratings and reviews are about TRUST and long-term customer relationships.

Adopting practices of misleading information, selected feedback, and manipulated data are a “win the battle lose the war” strategy that also sacrifices the opportunity for ongoing improvement, real service excellence and true five star results.

Presenting manipulated, selective, or cleansed customer feedback as accurate and honest is also likely a violation of the Code of Ethics.Click To Tweet

You have the power to do the right thing

The 2015 independently commissioned D.A.N.G.E.R. Report identified agent service inconsistency and the invisible interactions between agents and consumers as the highest threat to the survival of the industry and the value of Realtor® services.

Believing that ratings are only about creating positive messages or merely a marketing tool that cannot influence professional behavior is factually incorrect and a sad surrender in the face of what can and is actually being done.

“Like them or not, reviews are now central to the consumer decision-making process. Go all in or stay out of the game. People will sniff BS a mile away if you try to peddle filtered or otherwise less-than-open reviews.” -Brian Boero, Founding Partner, 1000Watt Consulting

While we may frequently feel that events in business and life are beyond our control, each of us has the power to do the right thing, to do it well and to do it now!

#LegitReviews

Kevin is a Co-Founder, President & COO of Quality Service Certification, Inc. (QSC) and earned an MBA from The University of California – Irvine. With over 20 years of Real Estate experience, his primary focus is on consumer research, developing better service management systems, and sharing the importance of consumer-centric service standards, transparency and accountability to create measurable and meaningful differentiation and long term advantage for those professionals that put customer needs first.

Op/Ed

Should there be an age limit on the practice of real estate?

When a doctor’s hands get shaky, they can kill a patient. But when a Realtor’s mind gets shaky, a client can lose thousands of dollars. Should there be an age limit on the practice of real estate?

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I was on the phone yesterday with a lawyer who has aged considerably since we last hired him. I spent nearly 30 minutes explaining how a school calendar works, and that children have three day weekends nearly every month. It took three of us 30 seconds to understand, but nearly 30 minutes for a seasoned lawyer to grasp.

In another instance, I watched an elderly doctor with hands so shaky, he could barely take my family member’s blood pressure, yet they would be performing open heart surgery in under an hour on this same patient under these same circumstances.

In both of these cases, these intelligent professionals should find an exit plan – write a book and go on tour, begin consulting or educating, or retire. What they’re handling is so life-altering, that one slip can change so many lives.

In both cases, their own livelihood is at stake, as is their pride, and stepping down can be crushing not only financially, but emotionally.

Also in both cases, neither party was aware that they’re slipping, and as we all age, it is difficult to tell that we aren’t as sharp as we once were. I’m only 32, but I sure as hell can’t sprint up three flights of stairs like I could at 22, just a decade ago, but that’s so obvious – what is slipping that I can’t even grasp because I’m experiencing it first hand?

This brings me to the practice of real estate

In considering the plight of the lawyer and the doctor, I got to thinking – can’t an aging real estate practitioner slip and cause their client thousands of dollars, just as easily as the doctor can slip and knick an artery? Can’t a loss of faculties cause damage to a transaction, sometimes without the client ever even knowing? Can’t a slowdown cause frustration when communications break down over basic concepts like how to use a fax machine?

I wondered to myself, should there be an age limit on the practice of real estate? Perhaps it should be like drivers’ licenses where at a certain age, basic testing is required. Sure, continuing education is required to keep a license active, but anyone can have their assistant take the internet-based test for them.

Shouldn’t consumers be protected?

There is no real success metric in real estate that can be measured – with lawyers, cases are won or lost, and with doctors, patients survive, or they don’t. In real estate, a transaction can be damaged in immeasurable and typically unseen ways.

Then I thought about Cloris Leachman

Cloris Leachman is 87. If you’ve ever watched Raising Hope, you know that she plays Maw Maw, the senile old bat who is always up to some crazy antic. The show pokes fun at a topic that is painful and not at all funny – aging and senility.

Her character affirms all of our fears of the aging process, that at a certain point, we lose it. All of it.

But then, you must remember that Cloris Leachman is 87. She isn’t actually Maw Maw. She is a wildly successful actor who goes on press junkets, films the show, does sketch shows when invited, answers email interviews and fan mail, and tweets, on top of managing her personal life.

She remembers every line flawlessly, she delivers them perfectly, and she brings Maw Maw to life.

What would Cloris think?

Leachman brings up the dichotomy of the aging process – the elderly person who can barely dress themselves (Maw Maw) versus the same aged person who performs brilliantly year after year.

What would she think of my lawyer and that doctor? I’m guessing that because she has full control of her 87-year old faculties, she’d tell them to retire because they suck, not because they’re aging. She’d tell them to not put people at risk because they’re scared to step down.

Ability has nothing to do with age. This 87 year old can act circles around an aspiring 20 year old actress. Ability has everything to do with ability. Period. There are plenty of 25 and 45 year old coke-head Realtors that put clients’ transactions at risk, and there are many more lazy agents who can’t negotiate, take crap deals, make a mess of paperwork, and expect a paycheck.

Ability has nothing to do with age

Lou Holtz said, “Ability is what you’re capable of doing. Motivation determines what you do. Attitude determines how well you do it.” Bingo.

So no, there should be no age limit on the practice of real estate, but there should be a stupidity limit. I’m pondering ways to impose such a limit, so stay tuned.

Originally published April 2014.

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Op/Ed

How to create an authentic and memorable brand

(EDITORIAL) Your marketing is only as strong as the brand you create. Make sure you’re creating something with gusto.

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Building a brand is one of the most important aspects of marketing. You’re creating an image or reputation for a product you will present to the public – that’s a pretty tall order.

One of the most significant things to keep in mind is that you are promoting something you believe in. This thought is echoed by author Cindee Bartholomew, who is an expert in self-publishing and branding.

“Be authentic. Be you. Be real. Be honest. Be bold!” Bartholomew says of creating a brand. “If you don’t believe in you, how can you expect anyone else to? Get the word out and keep your name where it is seen often. Contact bloggers. Develop a street team of loyal fans who will promote you. Advertise within your budget.”

According to Forbes, there are 13 key components to building a successful brand: leveraging the testimonial economy, creating emotive appeal, focusing on generating value for others, using the internal dialogue of your clients, being known for a specific niche, identifying and targeting your ideal client, consistency, understanding branding is not about positioning, finding the intersection, sharing your brand asset in a thought leadership campaign, authenticity, watching what makes your heart pound, and defining your brand’s DNA.

This sounds like a lot (and it is) but, by taking it one step at a time, you have the power to create a brand that sells itself. The best way to start this is by asking yourself questions: What is my brand all about? What do I want to convey to the public? What sets my brand apart from others that are similar?

Being able to determine the answers to these questions will help you find the voice of your brand and your target audience. This is where finding the intersection comes into play, as you want to develop a brand that is broad enough to appeal to a diverse number of people, while you don’t want it to be too broad that it gets lost in the shuffle.

While keeping all of this in mind, it is important to be communicative with your clientele should you make any changes to your brand that may affect their consumption. Mattone Restaurant and Bar, an Italian-American restaurant in Chicago, recently underwent some renovations and menu additions. Owner Franco Francese stated that communication with his customers was the most important part of executing these changes.

“The biggest challenges have to do with how you respond to customer questions about the changes,” said Francese. Being on the same page and communicating consistently across the organization can be difficult.”

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Op/Ed

Culling the lazy, bloodsucker real estate agents

Liar. Cheater. Loser. Choker. Incendiary rhetoric seems to be in vogue this year. If we’re going to talk about improving the reputation of real estate agents, let’s stay away from oversimplifications. The answer is more complex than volume or business model.

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Liar. Cheater. Loser. Choker. Incendiary rhetoric seems to be in vogue this year.

“The consultants are like bloodsuckers. They’re ten times worse than a real estate salesman or broker, ten times, which is saying pretty bad stuff.” This was the biting yet confusing commentary from Donald Trump, a real estate salesman himself, at a recent political rally.

Inside the industry

The shots at real estate agents are coming from within the industry as well. Keller Williams’ Chairman Gary Keller recently said that agents who buy leads from Zillow “are lazy and don’t want to do the work.” Surely many of his top agents and teams who effectively use the leads would disagree.

Zillow’s CEO Spencer Rascoff recently told CNBC that the company no longer wanted to work with agents who weren’t “great” (they don’t spend a lot of money on advertising). So they’ll be “culling” those agents who aren’t up to snuff. While a practical business move, avoiding a term associated with slaughtering inferior or surplus animals might be item #1 for the PR team’s next executive media coaching session.

Real estate classism

Before we get self-righteous about these leaders’ word choices, though, it’s worth noting that this kind of language pervades much of the industry’s conversations on the quality of real estate agents.

There’s no shortage of snobbery and classist speech among agents and brokers.

Just ask a high volume agent how we should raise the bar of professionalism in the industry:
“Raise Realtor dues by 1000% and we’ll lose 90% of the deadbeats who bring us down.”

Talk to boutique brokers about their counterparts:
“That head shop will hire anyone who can fog a mirror. Their agents are bottom feeders who don’t sell anything and make us all look bad.”

You hear it from speakers at industry conferences:
“Let’s use the 80/20 rule. We need to get rid of the 80% of crappy agents who are making us look bad, so that the good agents who do 80% of the volume are the only ones left.”

There are some really important conversations to be had about the quality of real estate agents in our industry. We want clear answers as to how we fix them problem. We want the answers to be simple.

Unfortunately, big answers are often necessarily complex. When we group real estate agents into simplistic silos to try to fix our issues, we do a disservice to ourselves.

Volume does not equal quality

We can all agree that there are real estate licensees without the experience, ethics, education, or conscience necessary to serve their clients well. There are bad apples in our midst. They’re a poison on our reputation and should not be allowed to sell real estate.

Let’s not overreach with our reaction, though. This rhetorical journey usually ends with lower producing agents or those with non-traditional business models being given the scarlet letter and pronounced as a scourge on the industry.

Volume does not equal professionalism or quality. We’ve seen sweatshop practitioners become real estate celebrities, only to later lose their businesses and licenses when their practices came under scrutiny.

On the other hand, some of the lowest-volume agents often have the most experience to with which to guide their clients. Agents who are nearing retirement will often shrink their active client base significantly. The buyers and sellers who work with them are afforded all of the benefits of an agent with decades of experience and insight, as well as a greater share of that agent’s attention.

The client who works with an agent who has only one client at the moment may be the client who is receiving the most comprehensive personal service possible.

Then there are those “lazy” agents who buy leads, or pay fees/splits to others who prospect for them.  Since when was specialization of skill and division of labor a sign of laziness?

Selling vs. lead generation

Admittedly, this comes from my position of personal bias. We’ve brought agents on to our team who were low volume producers before they joined. Most had experience, but didn’t want to prospect anymore. They just wanted to work with clients and sell.

Meet “Jane”. She sold for 30 years before joining us. She is one of the smartest, most dependable, respectful, and effective agents we’ve worked with.

By many counts, she should have been tossed from the industry the year before because she only sold two homes. She sold 15 homes last year, a healthy business in a market like Seattle. It still probably wasn’t enough for the sales police to label her volume sufficient. She’s “lazy” because she’s relying on others to generate leads and focusing on her core skills of selling. She might just be “culled” with the other low-rung agents who provide outstanding service and consistently receive raving reviews from their clients.

It’s more complex than that

To be fair, we’re in an industry that has an unhealthy obsession with sales numbers. I’ve stopped counting the number of times someone asked me, “What kind of volume do you do?” within the first two minutes of a conversation (It almost sounds like “How much do you bench, bro?”). So it’s not surprising that an agent’s volume is often the first metric many look to for a frame of reference. Volume makes a big difference in finding out whether or not an agent is good for your team, your office, and your business model.

Let’s just not let it creep so far into the conversation about who deserves to belong within the greater industry. There are a lot of different business models, and different roles that fit within them. Not everyone needs to be a solo, door-knocking, cold-calling top producer to provide great service to clients.

“Jane” isn’t. Her clients will scoff if you tell them that her volume and prospecting system make her a bad agent. If we’re going to talk about improving the reputation of real estate agents, let’s stay away from oversimplifications.

The answer is more complex than volume or business model.

It’s about education, experience, dedication, and professionalism. Those are difficult things to measure, but improving an industry isn’t supposed to be easy.

Let’s skip the simple labels. They’re part of the problem.

This editorial originally published on March 7, 2016.

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