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RISMEDIA, March 24, 2011—Both buyers and sellers are becoming increasingly more tech savvy and are demanding more time and energy from their agents for less. Meanwhile, agents are constantly looking for ways to stay on top of technology advances and the ever-changing social networking sites while still reaching their buyers and sellers in as little time and with the least amount of money possible. Brokers are looking for ways to increase market position by staying on top of the technology curve, retain and retrain agents on new marketing tools, and help agents become or stay relevant in an advancing social and technology driven environment.

If one does a Google search for “Social Networking Sites” the results display over 72 million entries. Now, that’s not to say that there are that many social networking sites, but it does illustrate the overwhelming obstacle for a typical real estate agent or broker in deciding where to start in this new age of online real estate marketing and social networking. Even once an agent or broker has determined the right product such as virtual tours, social media tools or mobile platforms, it is increasingly harder for them to choose the right company that will deliver the results they want and give them the customer support they need.

With new online marketing services and social media products appearing every day, it is even more important that agents and brokers choose a company that not only adapts to technology changes, but offers unlimited, quality training to support it.

So how do you choose the right technology and social media partners?

A business relationship is still a relationship, not unlike a personal relationship. And nowadays, even personal relationships can start online. We start by having an attraction; maybe it’s an attraction to the product or the service, but it is an attraction nonetheless. Then comes the courting; we explore the website, research the competitors and finally decide if we want to pursue the relationship. All types of relationships are bi-directional and both the customer and company have roles and responsibilities to each other.

The customer role is to act in good faith and use the services or products within the guidelines of the service agreement. The company’s responsibility is to provide the product or service as defined in the marketing, and the promises on the website, and then to back it up with strong customer support and training—presuming they are offered.

The Five-Point Business Relationship Test:

• Price—Let’s start with the basics; a reality check:
– Is the price too expensive with unnecessary setup cost and per-user fees?
– Is the price to low? Use the “is it too good to be true” test.
– Are there add-ons and hidden fees?
– Will the price go up after the initial “Introductory Offer?”
– Are there pricing options or a one-size-fits-all?
– Look for companies with fair pricing, no hidden fees and options to fit different customer needs.

• Unnecessary contracts:
– Do you have to sign a one-year contract? Is it necessary?
– If you don’t like the service, can you leave and are there penalties?
– Can you upgrade or downgrade the service when your business changes?
– Beware if the company appears to be more concerned with long-term contracts than customer service.

• Refunds and Guarantees:
– Is there a trial period?
– Is the service or product guaranteed? Is it unconditional?
– What is the refund policy?
– Look for companies with the best guarantee and the most lenient refund policy.
– Guarantee clauses are a good indicator of confidence a company has (or lacks) in their product and service.
– If they can’t guarantee it, they shouldn’t be selling it.

• Charities:
– Does the company support charities? If so, what percentage of profits is donated?
– It says a lot about a company that is (or is not) willing to give back a portion of their profits to a cause, not-for-profit or charitable event.

• Customer Service and Testimonials:
– Does Customer Support work the same hours you do?
– Call them to see who answers the phone and/or how quickly they return your call.
– What do others say about the service level and product? Call one of their clients.
– What training is offered, how much and for how long? Is it unlimited? Is there a fee for training? Is it fair?
– Do they offer training manuals, support documentation, online help and/or video training?

Old time customer service may seem like a thing of the past. However, there are still many companies that practice great customer service and treat their customers as the reason for the business—not as an inconvenience. In just a few minutes of talking with a new company, one can tell if they believe in customer service; you will hear it in their voice, in their actions, in the way they treat their current customers and employees, and yes, in their philosophy towards charity.

So the next time you are searching for a product or service, remember this: you may be in this relationship for a while. Do a little courting first, check-up on the competition and see if this is the right fit for you and your business.

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