Remember the days when you had to wait for someone to return your call? And if you weren’t by your landline (simply known as “the phone” back then) when that person called back, forget about it—an endless game of phone tag would ensue before a connection was made and you could finally get what you needed.
In an incredibly short amount of time, however, technology has drastically changed how people request and receive products, services and information, and consumer expectations have evolved to reflect immediacy and urgency as key components of service and trust. Young, old, and all ages in between, we’ve become a culture that expects our communication and interactions to be in real-time—or close to—convenient, and now!
“Consumers want instant gratification at the moment of intent,” explains Stephanie Sullivan, CEO of technology provider CurbCall. “We have been spoiled and taught through technology to get what we want when we want it. You want a ride, you Uber; you want answers, you Google. Even Amazon is now offering (almost) instant delivery.”
Having grown accustomed to this instant-gratification way of life, when we can’t get what we want in a convenient “near-instant” fashion—whether it be a pair of shoes, a hotel room, a phone representative, or an insurance quote—we’re quick to discount the source and move on to another so we can get what we want faster. Real estate is no exception.
The Real Estate Response-Time Dilemma
Real estate professionals have seen these consumer trends, and are increasingly aware of the impact of response time, good or bad. Losing a sale to a competitor because of response time directly affects the bottom line. In a busy client-centric world, it’s a tough—and all too common—challenge for many independent (especially small office) professionals to juggle in-person interaction, prospecting, listing acquisition, and their lead pipeline. There just isn’t time.
“Time is perhaps the most precious commodity we have,” says Homes.com President David Mele. “We’re looking at a real estate market where inventory is tight, so responsiveness can be an edge for agents, and a definite win to engage consumers.”
There is plenty of research to back up Mele’s theory. According to an insidesales.com Lead Response Study, leads contacted within the first five minutes are 100 times more likely to close. What’s more, research from the California Association of REALTORS® (C.A.R.) shows that a majority of homebuyers view “responsiveness” as the most important quality in selecting an agent—beating out worthy characteristics like “trustworthiness” and “knowledgeability.”
Factor “always-connected” millennials into the equation and the importance of responsiveness goes up a few notches. In a 2014 C.A.R. survey of millennials, the majority (69 percent) cited “better communication with agent” as the No. 1 thing they would change about their home-buying experience.
The data is irrefutable, yet the nature of the real estate professional’s job works against the ability to provide an immediate response. High-performance agents spend their days running around town on listing appointments, showing homes and attending community events, not sitting by their phones waiting for inquiries the moment they come in. Voicemail is one solution, but most buyers will call the next agent on their list rather than wait for a return call. This raises the question: how can agents improve lead response time when their success is largely dependent upon serving existing clients and prospects?
The struggle is real. “Agents are really, really busy, while consumers are expecting quick responses during their digital home search activities,” agrees Mele. “WAV Group did a study that revealed almost half of inquiries were never responded to, and another report from PCMS and One Cavo said that 75 percent of leads were lost because of lack of response, or the length of time to respond. There’s obviously a huge opportunity for the agent who can offer responsiveness and speed—they stand a much better chance of winning the initial relationship.”
The industry agrees. “In an age where instant results are expected, responding to clients immediately is not only crucial, but mandatory,” explains Sellstate Realty CEO Arthur Darmanin. “Anything short of an immediate response runs the risk of harming your business. Sellstate understands this need and ensures our members are provided with the tools necessary to notify them of an inquiry as it is submitted, allowing them the opportunity to respond instantly, providing a higher and more convenient level of service to their clients and prospects.”
Confirming these evolving consumer expectations, industry veteran Gary Keller, co-founder of Keller Williams, recognized instant response as one of six technology trends that will reshape the real estate industry. During his opening speech at Mega Camp 2016, Keller noted, “The industry is beginning to leverage technology to improve a long-time weakness: response time.”
The Instant Response Solution
The stats confirm it, and consumers demand it, so it’s no surprise that real estate professionals need it: an actionable strategy to improve the response time on initial leads. To help agents and brokers achieve this goal, Homes.com recently launched its Instant Response Technology (IRT) toolset.
“We started with two questions,” says Homes.com Vice President of Sales Erin Ruane. “‘How can we help agents and brokers meet consumer expectations of immediate contact?’ and ‘How can we help those agents and brokers save time?’ Our new Instant Response Technology answers both of these key questions to help drive our partners’ success.”
The new IRT toolset—comprised of Lead Concierge and TalkNow—is focused on helping real estate professionals respond faster and close more leads.
Lead Concierge—Your On-Demand Call Center
Lead Concierge is designed to empower brokers and agents to work smarter, not harder, by providing a call center service that represents them, acting as a first response to consumer inquiries; in the event the agent or broker cannot be reached for a qualified lead transfer, Lead Concierge offers immediate communication until agent or broker follow-up is possible.
Incoming calls and email inquiries are answered by a well-trained Lead Concierge Assistant on behalf of the agent or broker, with Lead Concierge adding an important step by screening calls with a series of qualifying questions, such as:
- Are you currently working with an agent?
- What is the time period for your home purchase?
- Has a budget been determined?
- Have you been pre-qualified for a mortgage?
Leads are considered “disqualified” if a caller is already working with another agent, is looking to rent rather than buy, or is inquiring about a property below a certain price threshold. Qualifying leads are transferred to the agent or broker, while other leads are sent to the agent’s dashboard for follow-up at their convenience.
“In essence, we’re providing a personal assistant to real estate brokers and agents to help them work efficiently,” says Mele. “They can’t be everywhere at the same time. If they’re actively engaged with a client, they can’t stop and answer the phone or send a text. Lead Concierge will perform that service for them while helping qualify and prioritize leads.”
TalkNow—Making Real-Time Introductions
Homes.com takes IRT even further with the launch of Homes.com TalkNow, an app that instantly connects consumers searching for properties online with a real estate professional. When a homebuyer is interested in a property on Homes.com, he or she can simply click the TalkNow button to alert local agents that a request to connect has been made. Instead of sending a form and waiting to be contacted, the inquiry is instantly sent to TalkNow, which matches the consumer with an available agent in the coverage area for that listing. The agent can then choose whether or not to accept it. If they accept the request to connect, TalkNow provides the agent with links to text or call the prospect immediately.
“TalkNow is like Uber for a real estate agent,” explains Mele. “Participating agents let us know when they’re available to take inquiries—they can turn themselves on and say, ‘I’m available now,’ and TalkNow will connect them with consumers who are wanting help on specific properties right then and there. These are about the hottest leads you can get.”
According to Sullivan of CurbCall, this type of technology is critical to a real estate professional’s livelihood. “If an agent does not respond instantly to a consumer’s request to connect, the lead is gone, or the consumer is off doing something else,” says Sullivan. “The instant connection to agents is what consumers have come to expect. It is imperative that agents connect instantly to real estate leads at the moment of intent, or they’re lost, losing the brokerage firm the money it has invested in generating leads and the potential commissions.”
Ruane explains that Homes.com’s Instant Response Technology is geared toward meeting the demands of an evolving consumer. “The mindset, especially among millennials, is that the word ‘faster’ equals ‘better’—and, in their minds, ‘faster’ equates to ‘instant’,” she says. “We introduced the IRT toolkit to help agents connect better, faster and instantly. Research proves that the first real estate agent to respond to an inquiry often wins the consumer; we’ve introduced technology that helps them make those instant connections and, as a result, leverage new opportunities to win more business.”
And real estate professionals get that. “There has been a lot of talk within the industry about how important instant response is to the bottom line,” says Ruane. “That buzz has paved the way nicely for us; it makes adoption and understanding easier.”
A Competitive Must-Have
With responsiveness standing out as a leading differentiator for consumers, real estate professionals must find a way to improve response time…or risk getting left behind.
Mele believes that Homes.com’s Instant Response Technology offers real estate professionals equal footing. Unlike other portals, Homes.com requires no minimum spend to take advantage of Lead Concierge and TalkNow.
“What we really want to do is level the playing field for the agent,” says Mele. “Responsiveness is a differentiator, and size of spend should not factor into the equation.”
This philosophy goes hand-in-hand with Homes.com’s longstanding positioning of quality over quantity. Not only do Lead Concierge and TalkNow help brokers and agents respond more rapidly to leads, they ensure they’re responding to the right leads.
“Other portals are chasing bigger and bigger—we aren’t doing that,” says Mele. “We’re chasing better and better. It’s not about how many unique visitors and pageviews we have, but having the right visitors and engaged pageviews, because that’s what will drive results.
“We attract a lot of ‘top of the funnel’ consumers—75 percent of our buyers aren’t working with a real estate professional yet. That’s a great opportunity,” says Mele, “to make a valuable connection with qualified professionals through local brand advertising.”
A Full-On Digital Marketing Strategy
Homes.com’s Instant Response Technology is a logical addition to its suite of digital marketing offerings.
“We’ve always seen our role as helping the real estate professional stand out and differentiate themselves through SEO services, websites, quality lead generation programs, and, as a natural progression, we are able to offer services to accomplish what many agents and brokers can’t or shouldn’t do on their own,” says Ruane. “We’re helping them differentiate themselves. Homes.com is doing what we’ve always done—we’re just applying it in a new way.”
Among the firm’s most popular digital marketing services are its SEO Fuel and Social Fuel tools. SEO Fuel takes a complicated and technical—yet necessary—task out of the real estate professional’s hands, helping them gain important ground in search engine results.
“Search engine optimization requires active, hands-on management,” Ruane explains. “That is an area where real estate brokers and agents are not going to be as efficient as they’d like to be. We’d like for them to look to us as the expert.”
Brokers and agents also need to stand out on social media, the modern-day version of “word of mouth,” Ruane believes. “Social media can be an effective lead generation tool, but only if actively and thoughtfully managed,” she explains. “Is the content appropriate? Is the posting happening at the right time? The goal is to have a two-way dialogue versus a one-way content push with the end result of increasing engagement and generating leads. Homes.com Social Fuel helps agents and brokers use the power of social media to brand themselves, to connect to their social sphere, and to promote their listings.”
From onsite branding opportunities like Featured Ads, where agents can market themselves in a city or zip code, and Local Connect, which enables agents to position themselves on listing detail pages, to off-site opportunities like SEO Fuel and Social Fuel, Homes.com offers real estate professionals a digital marketing strategy that’s focused on branding and connecting with active buyers and sellers. Lead Concierge and TalkNow are taking that mission to the next level by solving the dilemma of faster response time.
“It’s a pretty powerful toolkit,” says Ruane. “Add in the fact that Homes.com is a search portal that’s proven to attract transaction-ready, well-qualified consumers, and it’s a winning combination for agents and brokers.”
As Mele says, “Homes.com is more than just a portal. We’re helping round out the digital marketing strategy for agents and brokers, while helping them remain competitive.”
For more information, please visit connect.homes.com.