Commentary by Erin Koops
For agents and brokerages looking to differentiate their brands in the digital age…all roads still lead to word-of-mouth referrals
Rather than trying to achieve the highest online score, we should be trying to address the consumer’s desire to work with a top-quality, best-fit professional. Powered by an agent’s existing sphere, word-of-mouth referrals can serve as a better differentiator and are more likely to translate into qualified buyers and sellers than online inquiries. So while some resources should be dedicated to managing online reviews, the best strategy is to focus on activities that encourage organic referrals.
If you doubt the value of a personal referral, consider the last time your closest friend recommended their dentist, a new restaurant or a great babysitter. Did you stop and think, “I should Google all dentists, restaurants and babysitters and see where this one ranks?” No. You picked up the phone and scheduled an appointment, made a reservation or booked the babysitter!
Word-of-mouth referrals from your sphere are more effective than the alternative because we trust our friends and family. They know our standards and pet peeves. Unlike an online review, a friend or family member keeps those considerations in mind when recommending their service provider. Friends or family are keenly aware that a bad experience could harm their relationships. Conversely, the provider has a vested interest in providing superior service, knowing the outcome impacts more than the referred client’s business.
There are unlimited ways brokerages and agents can foster word-of-mouth campaigns, but the most efficient ways include providing exceptional service, maintaining existing relationships through continual contact and finding ways to be of service between transactions.
The most straightforward way to inspire clients to make spontaneous recommendations is to provide exceptional service. As the Zappos and Apple models have taught us, this means going above and beyond to anticipate each client’s needs. It is only those uniquely personalized experiences that are still being discussed at parties and around the water cooler long after closing.
With an average of seven to nine years between home purchases, even the most vociferous clients need to be reminded to refer their agent. It’s imperative to maintain contact with clients in between purchases/sales. The best agents already know and accomplish this (or perhaps it is because they naturally value staying in touch that they are successful). Diligent agents can build this habit by breaking their sphere into manageable daily contact lists and fostering these relationships through one-on-one interaction, phone calls or hand-written notes. While Facebook connections can support an existing relationship, these should not be used in lieu of personal outreach. Instead, consider catching up on your clients’ posts and calling to congratulate them or offer assistance when a particular post opens the door.
Brokerages wishing to help agents with this outreach may consider pooling resources into a centralized relationship-management approach. The most effective approach is a dedicated customer care department. What better way to maintain an ongoing relationship with existing clients than to service everyday household needs? By maintaining a list of reliable home-care professionals and providing recommendations on demand, brokerages and agents further brand themselves as the full-service real estate expert, creating another reason for clients to discuss them with friends and family.
Though the era of online agent reviews has arrived and real estate professionals will need to maintain this new online presence, the best agents and brokerages will already be miles ahead of the competition as they empower existing clients, friends and family to promote their services in a more meaningful and results-driven way…through word-of-mouth referrals.
Erin Koops is Vice President, Network Services, Leading Real Estate Companies of the World®. For more information, please visit www.leadingre.com.