Brokers Should Take Advantage of the Big Consumer Trends of 2014
by Jeremy Conaway
Last month's Brokerage Design article advocated that brokers manage the consumer relationship as theirs to cherish, promote and add value to. It went on to point out that all too many residential real estate service providers were unaware that they were being targeted by digital disruption and that not only were these providers (read agents) not taking the steps necessary to capture and harvest effective consumer relationships but, more importantly, that some relatively competent third parties such as portals are actively counseling consumers that there was no need to have an early on relationship with real estate service providers at all.
That piece pointed out that there are currently several digital disruptors engaging the real estate consumer. Without question the one creating the most impact and buzz is the third party listing portal. In every marketplace there are brokerages and agents who are expressing outrage and fear regarding what they claim are inappropriate and unethical practices being engaged in by these now not so new entities.
While only history will be able to judge whether the alleged wounds and expressions of pain being communicated by these folks are or were appropriate, some aspects of their behaviors can be evaluated even now. The industry must understand that neither the strategies nor the tactics being utilized by the portals reflect their being mean spirited or unethical but rather that they are absolutely and near perfectly tuned to the demands and expectations of the contemporary real estate consumer. This understanding might also be extended to the fact that even years after learning about the importance of consumer relationships, many real estate professionals and their associations refused to change their approach and attitude regarding consumers.
This article assumes for a moment that one or more of our readers might have been convinced that consumer relationship migration was indeed being practiced within the industry and that perhaps they should begin the journey of creating consumer centricity and a consumer experience within their firm's sphere of influence.
While the overall effort of facilitating these challenges can be complex many of their elements are, in fact, quite simple. Common sense can serve well to provide a cost effective soft start to such an initiative.
An appropriate starting point for creating a consumer centric environment is to examine how your brokerage's attitudes about consumers and their issues are actually communicated to the firm's customers. The favored methodology for meeting this challenge is creating training programs that impact the attitudes of agents, managers and support staff relative to great consumer communications experiences and service.
The second step is to research, group study and create an actual consumer centricity policy with associated best practices within your firm.
The third step, and by far the easiest of these recommendations, is to assist your brokerage and its personnel and procedures to be sensitive to the needs and expectations of the current consumer. The theory here is while you may not be ready to promote what you absolutely want the consumer to think about the real estate experience your firm is offering, you certainly don't want to sabotage the consumer relationship by simply not knowing what the real estate consumer is currently thinking themselves. If, by way of example only, you know that many consumers within your market and consumer profile are sensitive to issues of water scarcity and waste, you may want to be sure that your organization is demonstrating a similar sensitivity. An errant irrigation system that leaves puddles on the pavement that consumers have to walk through may say more about you than whatever greets them at the front door.
In other words you might want to be sure that, while in the presence of your firm and staff, consumers are not subjected to circumstances that demonstrate, without even trying, that your firm is completely insensitive to current consumer attitudes. Why lose the consumer relationship battle without even trying?
Some clients, when faced with this challenge, immediately throw up their arms and wonder how their firm could ever know such things about people they don't know exist yet? The answer to that question has never been simpler. There is more consumer related information being captured, stored and analyzed in today's business environment than ever before in history. Virtually every factor imaginable regarding the expectations and demands of today's consumer is readily available. There are dozens of vendors who will provide this information in many formats.
One of better of these sources is trendwatching.com. This highly rated website provides a great deal of very valuable information in formats and batches that are easily understood and relevant to the real estate industry. The following factors were taken from their current discussion.
In the current market (3rd Quarter 2014) what issues should brokerages be sensitive to relative to interacting with consumers and pursuing excellent consumer experiences? Consider the following:
More and more consumers, especially trailing X'ers and Generation Y folks are acquiring a sense of guilt regarding their consumption patterns. This is not to say that they are changing their consumption patterns but it is to observe that they are feeling guilty and will respond gratefully to any effort by vendors to moderate that guilt. This factor is referred to as "guilt free consumption."
More than ever before consumers are conscious of how their fellow consumers are making decisions in the marketplace and want to mimic that behavior. This behavior is called "crowd shaping."
Today's consumer is increasingly aware of the fact that China is not only emerging as an economic leader but is also demonstrating leadership tendencies in the area of environmental sensitivity and product quality. Comments inconsistent with these positions are noticed.
The X'ers focus on healthy bodies is being matched by the Y Generation's interest in healthy and well functioning minds. Consumers are relating a great many architectural features to their impact on mental health.
It should come as no surprise that consumers are beginning to form negative attitudes about "too much data." Delivering the right data in a minimized format is good business.
"Caring" in all of its iterations is become a primary consumer focus. Residential real estate offers a virtual goldmine with respect to all of the ways that caring can be demonstrated.
Take the time to read and learn about the details regarding the above trends. Discuss these trends with your team and identify how they will apply to the consumer's real estate experience. Ensure that the agent panel is informed regarding how they can use these trends to be more effective with consumers.
These simple activities are the foundation of what those third party portals are doing. We need to do this. We can do this.