Real estate firms adopting “Southwest” consumer service ideals

For the past couple of years, pundits of “real estate data transparency” have loudly argued that real estate firms must “accept the inevitable” and allow property listing aggregators to scrape their firm’s real estate listings, or for these firms to post their property listings “everywhere” a consumer will search online.

The analogous situation, claimed by these pundits, is the benefits the travel and airline industries have enjoyed since data transparency largely eviscerated the travel agent livelihood–it’s now easier for consumers to find flights. And once the airline gets the traveler, they can focus on customer service.

Southwest Airlines, however, presents itself as a glaring–or galling–retort to this argument. Southwest does not participate in Expedia, Travelocity, etc. It “forces” consumers to look on for flight information. Has this hurt it’s business? Arguably not. According to this report, Southwest Airlines consistently has the lowest customer complaint rate in the industry. Further, by “forcing” consumers to actually visit to get schedules, Southwest controls it’s own brand experience. This gives Southwest the opportunity to introduce its service ethos to consumers on its own turf, following its own quirky, yet stunningly successful, business model.

Nevertheless, Southwest has crafted strategic partnerships as a way to expand it’s brand and it’s travel schedule. One example is its partnership with ATA. This implies that Southwest is crafting partnerships based around brand extension and synergy as opposed to just looking for leads.

What this short Southwest case study above calls into question is the whole model of lead acquisition strategies currently pursued by many real estate firms. Brand saturation does not always equate to leads with higher conversion rates. There is a break even point where the time spent triaging too many non-viable leads stresses infrastructure to the point where it cannot adequately service viable leads. Lead acquisition strategies should focus on capturing viable leads, i.e., leads sourced from credible sources and partnerships. Sure, Southwest has national brand penetration, but many real estate firms have similar brand penetration on the local level. Thus, these firms can model their out-of-market lead acquisition strategies on the Southwest model–quality partnerships, quality relationships, quality service, quality leads, and quality retention equates to a quality brand.

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