As the founder of a real estate company, I’m constantly bombarded with pitches to adopt some new technology or digital innovation—the next “it” factor that will help agents work less, earn more, become more efficient, and so on. It is tempting to buy into these promises. After all, the proliferation of smartphones, social media, and instant messaging apps have given us the ability to connect instantaneously with anyone, anywhere, anytime. However, the very same technology meant to bring us closer together can also have the opposite effect. But as is the case with any tool, how you use it makes all the difference.
While many companies think adopting the latest technology is the best way to deliver value to customers, in reality, the most valuable—and increasingly precious—resource we can offer our clients is an authentic, relationship-based connection. As humans, the feeling of belonging is one of our most basic needs. With Americans reporting increasing feelings of isolation, it’s imperative that we strive to connect with our clients on a personal level to best serve them. We are in the people business. Technology can only support our relationships—it can never replace them.
Ninety-five percent of Americans now own a cell phone, according to the Pew Research Center. Our mobile phones are always within reach. They accompany us everywhere—meals, workplaces, social gatherings, and to bed at night.
But negative consequences occur when we become more focused on our phones than the people around us. It has become commonplace, especially among younger generations, to prefer interacting through screens versus face-to-face. You can see evidence of this everywhere: friends get together to socialize, but check out of conversations so they can check in on social media. Studies show that when someone pulls out their phone in the midst of a face-to-face interchange, it causes a universally negative reaction—the feeling of being undervalued and unimportant.
While our digital connectedness can have a negative toll on our real-life interactions, it’s just not practical to suggest that we ditch our phones and shun the internet, especially when it comes to real estate. Our clients want the ability to research their options, explore listings online, and when they’re ready, easily contact an agent. And real estate agents need access to useful tools for promoting their business and servicing their clients.
In our current digital climate, how do we also maintain meaningful connections with real estate clients? How does providing white-glove client service fit in? And how does the client define premium service? Is it the ability to never see an agent until the house search has been narrowed to three options? Or is it the agent who will take you around to see maybes and what-ifs three Sundays in a row in their family car?
Sherry Turkle, a clinical psychologist and sociologist at MIT, has studied the effect of digital communication tools on society. In her latest book, Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age, Turkle points out that talking with others offers a myriad of benefits, including increased empathy and feelings of connection.
In the real estate industry, building and maintaining relationships is a critical component of success. The best real estate agents sit down and have in-depth conversations with their clients. They get to know them (and their families), so they have a clear picture of what they’re looking for in a home and a neighborhood. Members of the Forbes Real Estate Council, a group of successful real estate executives, all gave similar advice when it comes to sales: To be successful, you must know your client, understand their needs, and function as a trusted advisor. In another survey, consumers named the following characteristics as the most important qualities they looked for in a real estate agent: honesty and integrity, knowledge, responsiveness, and communication skills.
High-touch methods, such as engaging in substantial conversation, adding personal touches, and employing a customer-first mindset of service, add value to our real estate business interactions. How we handle the high-tech tools available to us determines whether their effects will be beneficial or harmful to our business. The secret to harnessing the positive power of technology? Treat it as a way to supplement meaningful connection, not replace it. To build long-lasting partnerships, the kind that are relational versus simply transactional, today’s high-performing real estate professionals must be high tech and high touch.
After holding executive and team leader positions at high-profile real estate agencies, in 2012, Jill Butler founded RedKey Realty Leaders St. Louis—an independent real estate agency created on a foundation of love, service, and fun. In addition to growing 300 percent in their first year, RedKey has consistently—and significantly—outperformed the market in both sales amounts and volume.
RedKey opened a second location in West County on Oct. 1, 2015, and is now one of the largest independent real estate agencies in St. Louis. Jill was named 2012 Entrepreneur of the Year by the state of Missouri and St. Louis Chapters of the Women’s Council of Realtors. She has held an Officer position for the Women’s Council of Realtors and serves on the St. Louis Association of Realtors Board of Directors. Jill is regularly sought after for her opinions on fluctuating real estate markets and trends. For more, www.redkeystlouis.com or 314-692-7200
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