Personalized agent recommender systems in real estate

Personalization in product recommender systems in industries outside of real estate will soon impact how consumers choose—or will want to choose—real estate professionals on brokerage sites. The basic concept: How would recommend a real estate professional? To answer this there are two basic sides to consider: customer behavior within a system (and increasingly outside of the system; see what RETargeter is doing) and attributes and behavior of the real estate professional.

At a very basic level, recommender systems track and log consumer behavior and then match appropriate products and services based on this behavior. The key is that these products and services have particular attributes that “match” the behavior of the consumer. For example, assume Consumer A purchased five historical novels over the past five months, a recommender system likely would recommend another historical novel as a next purchase. So how could this impact real estate professionals?

First, assume a brokerage has a system that logs consumer behavior (login times, locations searched, favorite properties, map searches generated, etc). Second, assume a brokerage has segmented its agent base by basic factors (such as top neighborhoods serviced by the agents, top 10 zip codes serviced by the agents, lifestyle attributes, designation, luxury expert, waterfront expert, client service satisfaction ratings, MLS performance, etc). Next, the real estate professional recommender system could work similarly as to how a book recommender system works. And I know that some listing aggregators already offer this type of service, but these services on generally pay-to-play. What I am suggesting is that brokerages need to do something similar with their system and offer it free-of-charge to their agents.

For example, lets assume Consumer B registers and saves a luxury property overlooking a lake, the system could automatically “recommend” agents who work the zip code of luxury property AND are luxury agents AND are waterfront specialists. Next, let’s assume Consumer B clicks the profiles of each of the recommended agents, he or she will then see overall performance ratings, specific testimonials, and specific customer satisfaction ratings. The benefit to the consumer is that they’re presented with the “best” professional based on their interest, which supports customers-for-life marketing best practices. The benefit to the real estate professional is that they’re in front of the consumer faster and in context to the search process. This type of a process promotes a personalized experience which is key factor in capturing consumer mindshare. And, indeed, there is research that supports this proposition.

Social CRM eLoyalty Context-Aware CRM

Below are three excellent research articles on social CRM and related topics.

This research paper (out of Australia) delves into the nexus between mobile consumerism and eLoyalty programs. A key finding is that companies can increase consumer loyalty by leveraging mobile devices (via apps, I posit) to highly personalize a consumer’s brand experience while facilitating a highly responsive and insightful customer service environment to answer questions, resolve complaints, etc.

Here’s a great nuts-and-bolts presentation by Gartner on fundamental CRM concepts. The presentation includes a vendor analysis and recommendations on implementation. But the feature I liked the best is the discussion on context-aware CRM.

This report is an excellent analysis of social CRM concepts, including an informative discussion of the risks associated with undertaking a corporate-wide social CRM initiative.



Opportunities in online lead capture and close

Here’s a short article from the Harvard Business Review on lead capture. The stats:

  • $12.5 billion in 2005 to $22.7 billion in 2009: The amount of advertising dollars spent generating leads
  • 2,241 U.S. companies: The number of companies measured in the study to test lead response time
  • 37% of the companies responded within one hour, 16% responded within one to 24 hours, 24% took more than 24 hours to respond, 23% never responded
  • 42 hours: The average response time by all companies measured
  • 7X: If you try to contact a potential customer (i.e., a “lead”) within one hour of receiving a query, you are nearly seven times as likely to qualify that customer as those individuals who wait two hours
  • 60X: By contacting a potential customer within one hour of a receiving a query, you are more than sixty times as likely to qualify that lead than individuals who wait 24 hours

Take-away: The fastest to respond wins the opportunity to serve a customer. Insight: Once you’re earned that opportunity, keep delighting that customer by remaining responsive.

eLoyalty and customer relationship management and customer care management principles

This e-loyalty research paper helps clarify the roll of online customer service in creating customer loyalty (“e-loyalty”). The paper focuses on the Austrian mobile industry but the findings are applicable to many industries, including real estate.

Two broad categories frame customer loyalty: customers who become your repeat purchasers and customers who become promoters of your brand. Superior customer service across the pre-purchase, acquisition, and post-purchase stages of a typical transaction is the differentiator for brands.

The Internet consumer, more and more, is demanding personalized and targeted customer service. Data acquisition strategies, such as registration forms, tying information to a user’s social graph, etc, enable companies to perform this customization and targeting while supporting broader electronic Customer Relationship Management (eCRM) and electronic Customer Care Management (eCCM) strategies.

The researchers conducted a variety of online surveys, crunched the numbers and found that timely and personalized responses to customer complaints was a key influencer on whether a customer would switch mobile carriers. Extrapolating this to other industries one can posit that brands which leverage unified technology solutions to enable quicker and more informed customer service will undoubtably have a competitive advantage.

Consumer engagement and participation using QR

I thought this kiosk flyer below, which I found pinned to a wall somewhere in Estes Park, Colorado, is a novel use of QR.

QR Kiosk Flyer


What I like is how the purveyor has conveniently arrayed the subject matter. As a tourist, I especially liked the choices put before me and the prospect of interacting in an interesting way with the “place” the QR took me. And it is on this latter point where I was let down. The “Arts” QR simply took me to a website, listing a series of events with more links to click. Understandably, having this list of links is definitely a convenience and I would not have visited the site but for the QR. However, I cannot help but think that an opportunity was missed that could have “rewarded” or “delighted” or “surprised” me with some experiential marketing. For example, the QR could have landed me on a page inviting me to play a video that has interviews with local artists and events organizers…let me feel their passion, let me understand their love for their community…grab my engagement by letting me know the impact of my participation. Then I’d be much more likely to click the links related to each event. Further, since these arts events are seasonal, this is a process one can repeat. In real estate one could use QR in a similar manner by showcasing a homeowner interview, interviews with shop owners, or a narrated neighborhood tour. How do you/would you use QR?

Social media ROI, where’s the ROI in that?

What’s the ROI of conversing with someone while queued to buy a PEET’s coffee? What’s the ROI of engaging other parents and teachers at a monthly PTA meeting? What’s the ROI of swapping stories at a monthly book club meet-up? Common sense tells us these interactions are inherently unquantifiable, yet immensely important and powerful.

Now compare this line of thought to the recent article that digs into some reasons why Facebook–in its current iteration–may not be as valuable to marketers. Essentially, Fortune points out that despite the fact that 1 out of 8 minutes spent online is spent on Facebook, marketers are still trying to determine whether buying ads on Facebook is worth the investment given that Facebook ads perform half as well as banner ads. This said, certain firms like Virgin America have had positive experiences with Facebook and a social presence generally (could this success simply be that their service is stellar, and the promotion of this stellar experience hearkens back to Godin’s concepts around making something remarkable?)

So what about the conversation? Or “MONETIZING THE CONVERSATION”? Fortune cites a Razorfish Liminal study pointing out that customer “relationship” management (er, CRM), as a concept to interact with customers, is shifting:

It’s not enough anymore for marketers to have a top-down mentality, simply making sure they have a presence on multiple channels, but to understand what makes some customers still use an 800 number, while others reach out to brands on Facebook.

Here’s the problem: the above assumes your customers want a relationship with you. They don’t. Yes, they will engage with you, yet only if it is on their terms. The findings in “Liminal” demonstrate that, in the future, marketers will need to find ways to sustain those engagements over time, regardless of channel, whether they are traditional, emerging or new.

Wow. Customers don’t want a relationship with a brand? But want engagement? Multi-channel marketing strategies tied to understandable analytics that yield actionable business intelligence is a must, it seems. Enter Stage Right: Gahlord Dewald.

Web intelligence and the dispersion of public thought

Two seemingly unrelated articles recently caught my attention. Both articles touch on a similar meme: making sense out of the data bog which is le Web.

Article one: The Path to Web Intelligence Maturity (.pdf) discusses how companies can leverage Web analytics to gain behavioral insights on individual prospects and customers. The author walks you through how you turn such insights into targeted marketing initiatives at key stages of the customer life-cycle.

Article two: Social Network Markets and ‘Public Thought’ (.pdf), written in response to Clay Shirky’s Internet post The Shock of Inclusion, the author takes you through a fascinating and enlightening read on the quality and reach of public thought. Indeed, the paper touches on themes raised by Gahlord Dewald during his recent presentation at Inman Connect NYC 2011 on “convergence” versus “dispersion”, where Dewald essentially argued that dispersion as opposed to convergence should function as the governing archetype that drives social web app and platform development.

The importance of users versus consumers in building a community

The book Democratizing Innovation by MIT Professor Eric Von Hippel (available via free .pdf download) makes an interesting observation about the term “consumer”. Throughout his book, Von Hippel employs the term “user” as opposed to consumer:

Users, as the term will be used in this book, are firms or individual consumers that expect to benefit from using a product or a service. In contrast, manufacturers expect to benefit from selling a product or a service.

This is a powerful–albeit simple–point of distinction within the context of the social web, with implications for social commerce too (which I have recently written about here). Focus primarily on the benefits of the user, not solely on your needs as a “manufacturer”. What value are you bringing a user of your content, service, advice, etc? By constantly evaluating the needs of your user-clients and delivering benefits based on these needs, you’re increasing the odds that your user-clients will become a passionate community centered around this value as opposed to simply a crowd that wanders by.

Gartner hype cycle and emerging media curve balls, change-ups, fastballs and Steve Harney’s 5Cs

The Gartner Hype Cycle is a useful graph for analyzing technology hype. Looking at the Gartner graph, I’ll posit we’re somewhere near the “Slope of Enlightenment” and the “Plateau of Productivity” with respect to social media. Over the past couple of years, business leaders have stepped up to the plate and faced some serious pitches while trying to figure out a sound business strategy that leverages social/emerging media. Indeed figuring out how to intelligently deploy emerging media can be like facing pitcher Stephen Strasburg.

Are augmented reality concepts a curve ball to your mobile strategy? Are emerging legal issues surrounding privacy, intellectual property ownership, open source and cloud computing licensing, etc, a change-up to your business game plan? Is the iPad a fastball?

It’s clear the pace of emerging media will continue unabated. Business leaders will continue to face a tsunami of innovation. Thus, it’s great to have a working archetype, or mantra to fall back on when analyzing whether to adopt an emerging media in your business plan. To this regard, Steve Harney has some excellent tips.

During a recent interview I had with Steve, he articulated a process he calls the “5C’s”. Harney’s list of 5C’s is a useful checklist to run through when you’re thinking about how to leverage emerging media—particularly social media—to achieve a business objective. Steve’s successful blog, Facebook page, and KCM Quick Report represent a choreographed social presence that he’s used to build a community that supports his business objectives.

Steve Harney’s 5C’s:

  1. Concept: Understand the concept of what you’re trying to do. What is your brand? What do you want to be seen as? What are your core values?
  2. Conviction: Have conviction to your brand. Once you have established your concept, how much conviction do you have to that brand concept? Ensure that your brand concept is translated into everything you do. The allure of emerging media—particularly social media—is that it’s omnipresent and relatively easy to deploy…and easy to get side-tracked. For example, when Steve launched his Facebook page, he decided that he did not want to dabble in Farmville, Mafia Wars, etc, because those social media activities—although fun, engaging, and playful—were not aligned with the core concepts of his brand.
  3. Consistency: Let your community know that you’re there for them on a consistent basis. For Steve’s brand it’s important to blog every day and update Facebook every day. His community has come to expect this. He therefore must maintain consistency to meet this expectation.
  4. Content: Focus on getting and supplying great content. Ensure that your content is strong and relevant to the community you’ve developed. Act like a curator.
  5. Collaboration: Allow your community to come up with the answers. Provide an environment that promotes sharing of ideas. Bringing minds together so they can learn from themselves is the key driver to getting the community passionate about you and your brand. Actively facilitate discussions that align with the Concept of your brand.

Photo credit: david.nikonvscanon

Collaborative CRM strategies and concepts

Collaborative CRM strategies offer firms unparalleled opportunities for establishing more meaningful relationships with their customers and clients.  Mobile CRM is closely aligned to collaborative CRM concepts. This research paper characterizes collaborative CRM as:

The notion of collaborative CRM is still in discussion and has two interpretations that are often mixed…The first is closely connected with communicative CRM and focuses on interaction channels (e.g. phone, fax, e-mail, self service portals) between a company and its direct customers. The second extends the CRM concept on the level of value chains and business networks. This approach consolidates concepts of networked organizations and marketing to enable the creation of customer relations and value at a network level by sharing or pooling of network resources and capabilities…It enables producers, distributors and service providers to extend their customer acquisition, retention and development beyond their company borders and even to involve the customer directly.

Fundamental concepts of Web 2.0 and the social web such as transparency, authenticity, trust, engagement, and listening underpin collaborative CRM concepts. Similarly, customers’ demands for immediacy and relevancy in communications further support collaborative CRM. And mobile technologies have the potential to be the catalyst to firms’ implementation of collaborative CRM practices. But as pointed out in the research paper mobile technologies are not a panacea for collaborative CRM. The researchers point out that to facilitate collaborative CRM goals, existing business processes must be redesigned so as to take advantage of the unique characteristics of mobile technologies while delivering additional value to customers. Many companies are simply using mobile technologies to deliver information in a one-dimensional manner (i.e., a messaging service) as opposed to a multi-dimensional manner.

The authors conclude with several recommendations to consider when setting up a collaborative CRM strategy:

  1. Set up appropriate customer segments, which allows firms to deliver individualized services
  2. The CRM system must integrate mobile data (mobile sales, mobile content usage, location based services, etc)
  3. Ensure customers understand that a firm’s mobile services offer enhanced value so they will make use of these services
  4. Firms should consider specialized mobile CRM data analytics platforms that integrate with core CRM systems because current core CRM platforms lack sufficient sophistication to account for mobile CRM data needs

Photo credit: The Lightworks

1) Set up appropriate customer segments, which allows firms to deliver individualized services
2) The CRM system must integrate mobile data (mobile sales, mobile content usage, location based services, etc)
3) Ensure customers understand that a firm’s mobile services of enhanced value so they will make use of these services
4) Firms should consider specialized mobile CRM data analytics platforms that integrate with core CRM systems because current core CRM platforms lack sufficient sophistication to account for mobile CRM data needs
Photo credit: The Lightworks

Choreographing client experiences on your website

Art can inform business decisionmaking and processes in so many ways. And choreography is one artform that does.
Choreography is designing a series of movements to convey an expression of an idea. The best choreographers apply a scientific approach to their dance notation. These choreographers carefully map movement through time and space–in essence navigate time and space–and have their dancers execute complicated series of steps ending in a penultimate conclusion or outcome.

Your website is a mosaic, a stage where you showcase, display, and promote your content and expertise in myriad forms and elements. Your clients and potential clients must navigate your website, working through the mosaic.

Relating design to desired outcomes
You can help your website visitors navigate your website mosaic by mapping their movement through your website, choreographing their experience to end in a desired outcome. What’s your desired outcome of a visit to your listing detail page? Mortgage origination and, thus, mortgage prequalification? Driving inquiries directly to your agents in certain instances versus routing inquiries to your e-commerce team? Each desired outcome necessitates choices with respect to design, navigation, branding, calls to action, etc. If mortgage origination is more important than direct-to-agent inquiries, then your page design and architecture coupled with your calls to action will be different if direct-to-agent inquiries were the penultimate outcome.

Test, measure, refine, roll-out
Once you’ve settled on a desired outcome (or set of desired outcomes), test which set of inputs (i.e., button placement, calls to action, etc) garners the highest and most qualified response rate. This is called A/B split testing. For example, let’s say in your marketing brainstorming and competitive analysis you’ve determined that these two mortgage origination calls to action may garner highly qualified inquiries: “Qualify for a first-time home loan? Find out here” versus “Prequalify for first-time home loans now!”. To determine which is the most effective, set up a testing array. Essentially, what you’re determining through such an array is which verbiage and button placement drives the highest response and conversion rates. Once you’ve applied an A/B split test methodology to each primary element that supports a desired outcome (or set of desired outcomes) on each of your discreet website pages, and determined the optimal verbiage and placement of such, you’ve in essence created guideposts throughout your website mosaic, allowing visitors to dance through your content and data.

Ctd 2005

Client attentiveness at Southwest Airlines

There is a reason I choose Southwest Airlines as my preferred airline: client attentiveness. There is a reason why I don’t pay attention to accumulating miles with a competing airline to ensure preferred boarding status but love Southwest’s Rapid Rewards program: client attentiveness. There is a reason I am a self-appointed brand ambassador for Southwest Airlines: client attentiveness.

There is a reason I choose Southwest Airlines as my preferred airline: client attentiveness. There is a reason why I don’t pay attention to accumulating miles with a competing airline to ensure preferred boarding status but love Southwest’s Rapid Rewards program: client attentiveness. There is a reason I am a self-appointed brand ambassador for Southwest Airlines: client attentiveness.

Let me give you an example: Gate changes are a fairly routine occurrence in the airline industry and, arguably, it’s up to a passenger to ensure that he or she is aware of such occurrences. But in my opinion a company that cares about its clients would ensure that passengers are notified of a gate change. Once upon a time, I arrived at a gate, noted that my flight number was still listed, noted that there were not any delays listed, noted that I was 40 minutes early to boarding. I relaxed. Around boarding time I noticed that no one was boarding, yet my flight number was still listed. I checked my email and text alerts to see if a gate change had been sent to me. I waited another 10 minutes while the airline staff chatted amiably. I walked up to the counter. The airline staff chatted amiably. I stood there. They chatted. I stood there. They chatted. I interrupted. I received a stare and one word, “Yes?”. I asked if the flight was still boarding, and I was met with something like this: “We announced a gate change 30 minutes ago.” Amazed, I asked then why my flight number, route, and time of boarding were still listed behind them. There was no response. I then asked where the new gate was. Across the airport I was told with a hint, “You better run, or you may miss it.” Stunned, I turned to my fellow gate-waiters and announced that the flight we’d all been waiting for had a gate change and that we’d better run or we’ll miss it. I sprinted to the new gate, told the gate staff there that several other people were following me, luckily they held the plane until all the other passengers arrived. I was thanked by these passengers while I sat in my seat sweating. I was stunned. And even though I had accumulated enough “points” to achieve preferred boarding status, that was the day I decided to purge my airline miles from that company as soon as possible, stop using that airline as my preferred airline, and stop trusting that airline’s “CRM” messaging. That was the day I decided to “try” Southwest Airlines. And I have been a happy airline traveler ever since.

Accordingly, it was no surprise to me when Rob Hahn of 7DS told me that Southwest Airlines has the highest NetPromoter Score of any other airline. NetPromoter Score essentially answers one question: how likely are you to recommend me (or my service)? I recommend Southwest to everyone I meet who relates a poor airline traveling experience. I tell them my story. I have yet to experience a marginal flying experience with Southwest Airlines. Have I met individuals who’ve had an unpleasant experience with Southwest Airlines. Yes. But they are far less in number than compared to other airlines. An essential key to Southwest Airline’s success is client attentiveness.

Let me give you an example: Once upon a time, there was a gate change on a Southwest Airlines flight where a gate attendant announced the gate change via the public address system then walked to the boarding door area and announced it again and then invited us to approach the desk if we had additional questions or needed help (the physical act of stepping from behind the counter to the boarding area–breaking the client-attendant barrier if you will–got our attention). That’s client attentiveness in action. Simple but memorable. Here’s another experience: I just recently received an “anniversary” card from Southwest Airlines thanking me for being a Rapid Rewards member. The card included a coupon for a car rental discount. A minor “wow” I’ll give you that (a big “wow” would have been some additional rapid reward points <grin>). Nevertheless, the anniversary card is simple yet effective. Because when I received this card I remembered all the “wows” I’ve had with Southwest Airlines over the last year; thus, reinforcing my decision to stay with them again this year. What attentiveness have you given your clients recently?

Related reading: Do You Matter? How Great Design Will Make People Love Your Company. Why this book relates to this post: Southwest is designing its client relationship and service experience.

Photo credit: hiddedevries

List of social web resources 5-21-2009

Here is a great primer on RFM analysis, which I believe has applicability to social media marketing. The foundation of RFM is something that can drive the establishment of engagement metrics as well as allowing marketers to do a better job at managing the social media marketing channel.

Social media
Scoop44, an online “newspaper” founded by college students, received a two-year grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation (nice to see the support of online journalism pure-plays; eventually we likely will not even make the distinction). This site is a nice blend between traditional reporting and new media functionality.

General coolness
Anyone interested in exploring and discussing graphic design issues should consider visiting this site. It’s an excellent compendium of thought-provoking topics and trends related to graphic design. Cutting through social media chatter will depend more and more on effective design to engage people once they’ve stepped past the social media veneer.

Clients are not cows

Real estate marketing professionals interested in farming, cultivating, or harvesting customers should consider something new. Livestock management perhaps? How about genetic engineering of new hybrid corn? Better yet how about driving a combine or cultivator? It’s time to shed these agri-centric terms that are so often used in conjunction with traditional Customer (Client) Relationship Management (CRM) theories.

Potential and existing clients are neither livestock, corn, nor wheat. Clients are people who have families, passions, wants, desires, and needs. And they likely would not want to be managed, cultivated, harvested, or farmed. Instead they’d likely want a meaningful interaction with your brand where you treat them like a human rather than like an uninformed data element.

As a first step to embracing clients and potential clients as living and breathing HUMANS, rather than disembodied data nodes, firms ought to shed certain traditional labels of CRM as well as agri-centric terms in favor of human-centric labels. Use “client” rather than customer; clients seek professional advice, customers purchase products. As a real estate professional who’s positioning yourself as a trusted adviser and subject matter expert, aren’t you more interesting in engaging clients as opposed to just pushing products?  Similarly, use “engagement” and “conversation” rather than cultivate or nurture; engagement implies a recognition that your client has a role in the CRM process and conversation recognizes that you’re goal is to enlist the client in a dialogue, rather than having them passively remain rooted in your system like a seed and plant in a field until they’re harvested at maturation.

Words matter. And labels inform your conduct. If your CRM system focuses on the human touch, the people element, then your CRM operations become more focused and in tune with promoting engagement and brand partnership. Consumers want to trust your brand. Give them a reason to do so by acting like you trust them.

Photo credit zieak