Ranking professional real estate services

Consumers will now have the opportunity to rank doctors. Will real estate firms feel similar pressure in the near future to allow consumers to rank their real estate agents? The real estate industry will no longer be able to hide behind the argument that “professional services” is not a product and, thus, inherently “unrankable.” If doctors are subject to consumer whim and assessment, real estate agents certainly should be too.

A licensed M.D. attends four years of medical school and does at least two years post-graduation residency. A real estate agent attends a two month class, passes a test, gets licensed and similarly calls herself a “professional.” And some real estate agents deserve this moniker.

The real estate agent I used three times over the last five years certainly deserves to be called a professional. She’s always prepared, thorough, in control, a good negotiator, timely, engaged in the process, and embraces follow-through as a personal point of pride. She’s also an expert in my community, a trusted advisor when it comes to real estate decisions.

But not all agents are like her. And considering this fact, what does she have to worry about if consumers (like me) rate her service and professionalism? Or her past clients rate her service and professionalism? Likely, she would not have much to fear because she’s likely treated them similar to how she’s treated me. Thus, she could use these rankings to build her personal sphere of influence. Conversely, her competitor agents who are not as professional, not as engaged in ensuring above par client satisfaction would have lots to fear from transparent consumer ratings of their sub-par service.

On the negative side of this issue, a real estate firm would have to build in controls to ensure honesty and ensure that competitor agents could not sabotage the ratings system by bombarding it with a false negative evaluations. And such a system would add administrative overhead to already over-burdened staff. And there is a valid argument that consumers would inherently mistrust a rating system managed by a firm for its own agents.

These issues can be overcome. For instance, all clients who bought or sold a home with a firm’s agents could be contacted and asked to confidentially rate their experience with an agent. This, of course, is already done by many firms. Great. Firms just now have to ask clients to go to a webform, select their agent, and answer some questions. And instantly their feedback could be displayed on the firm’s website. And so long as not every agent gets an A+ rating on the firm’s website (i.e., there were some Cs and Ds and maybe some Fs) consumers would see that the firm’s rating system is honest. And to wrap this up, commentator from an earlier post also address important issues.

Ranking real estate agents

David Parmet, in a recent interview, talked about how Stormhoek winery and English Cut custom tailoring used social media strategies to promote their new products and brands: Stormhoek blog and English Cut blog. Both brands have a bit a Kula in them.

The salient part of Parmet’s insight lies in his admonition to brands everywhere to embrace social media as a consumer engagement tool. He cites an example of hoteliers griping about Tripadvisor exposing service failures at their respective establishments. Parmet advised these service providers to embrace the brutal feedback, make the required changes (if valid), and then openly engage these “gripers” in the Tripadvisor forum. Nine times out of ten, he says, consumers will respect these efforts and turn into brand evangelists.

Real estate firms can use these same strategies to promote their brands, particularly around luxury or otherwise unique properties or locations, as well as their unique service value propositions. This said, why don’t real estate firms do the same as Tripadvisor? Homthinking, of course, already does this. But what if a real estate firm allowed consumers to openly rank its own agents. Not only would this be a PR-worthy event, but it would certainly elevate the service level of the agent base within the firm.

 How many agents would leave the firm because of this? Who knows. A more interesting question is how many would stay with the firm? Likely those who are confident in their own abilities, knowledge, and skills; basically, the weak flee while the strong remain. Who ultimately wins? The consumer. And if the consumer wins, chances are high that the consumer’s loyalty will remain with the firm that has the most transparency and the strongest agents.