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customer_service_technologyWhile technology developments in the real estate space may dazzle and impress, they don’t truly serve the needs of brokers and agents unless they help fulfill one primary goal: making the real estate process quicker, easier and cheaper for homebuyers and sellers.

During a recent gathering of Chief Information Officers (CIO) from some of the nation’s leading brokerage firms, light was shed on the critical connection between technology and customer service. The CIO Roundtable, hosted by Realtors Property Resource® (RPR®) on February 18, 2014 in Chicago, took a close look at technology trends, opportunities and challenges confronting the industry.

As a wholly-owned subsidiary of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®, RPR provides tools exclusively for REALTORS®. Built on a national database of information on more than 166 million U.S. properties, RPR organized the event to address the fact that technology is increasingly intertwined not just with customer acquisition and lead generation, but with the entire homeownership process.

“Markets have seen an upturn in most areas of the country and inventory is down,” says RPR CEO Dale Ross. “People still believe in the white picket fence and want to have that house, that castle. NAR conceived this project based on the recognition that technology can assist REALTORS® in becoming better practitioners.”

And real estate-related technology doesn’t just mean new hardware and software; increasingly, it also has become a primary channel through which a brokerage can fulfill its brand promise to its agents and customers.

The Technology Premise…and Promise
“You are a unique group. If you look around our industry, there are not a lot of people with your job title,” says RPR President Marty Frame to the Roundtable participants.

Yet, according to Frame, CIOs are charged with a variety of tasks that boil down to three critical components of the brokerage business:

1. Supporting their companies’ recruiting and retaining efforts by providing the technology that helps attract and keep good agents.

2. Reducing costs through orchestrating many individual technology products designed to improve margins by allowing agents to save time and focus on their core competency.

3. Increasing sources of company dollar through improving customer service and the overall real estate experience.

“Research and experience show that consumers value and will pay for excellent and guaranteed service,” says Frame. “They want to close on time and they want to close with certainty and they will reward you for that. To me, that should be a key driver of the decisions you are making about technology in your company.”

RISMedia President & CEO John Featherston, one of several expert presenters at the event, agreed that technology plays a fundamental role in a firm’s recruiting and retention efforts, as well as its promise of customer service.

“Technology can be an important factor in maintaining a pipeline of productive talent into the organization as well as retaining existing talent,” says Featherston. “Today, technology also defines the customer experience in a much greater way than the agent ever did. That’s a dynamic shift from a dozen years ago.”

One of the most important technological functions related to the customer experience involves the access to, quality of, and security surrounding our industry’s volumes of real estate information.

“To survive, your brokerage firm needs to protect and enhance the data you collect and the methods with which you distribute it,” says Featherston. “How you choose to disseminate your data is going to ultimately prove to be a change agent.”

The MLS Dilemma: ‘Evolve or Die’
Many of the key issues surrounding data—distribution, accuracy, security, to name a few—begin at the source: the MLS. According to presenter Gregg Larson, CEO of Clareity Consulting, MLSs—which he described as “grossly inefficient”—are currently confronted with an important choice: evolve or die.