The Real Estate Industry’s Greatest Challenge— Trust
When it comes to giving up consumer data, agents don’t trust the brokerage.
Most national, regional, and local brokerage organizations have some form of CRM and other consumer-facing technology to offer their agents. However, a majority of agents don’t use their company’s CRM. They use their own. What gives?
We think the issue is one of trust. Agents don’t trust their brokerage with customer data. Brokerage firms don’t trust their franchiser with their agent’s customer data. Many brokerage firms and their agents don’t necessarily trust the outside technology vendors with their customer data. These are widely known facts about our industry at this time.
The national franchisers are pouring vast sums of money into CRMs, big data, and artificial intelligence capabilities. They’re also beginning to realize that unless the agents of their affiliates trust them with their customer data, adoption rates will remain abysmal. Brokerage firms deploying their own CRM (whether contracted for or built in-house) will have similar results.
What About Outside Vendors?
Then, there’s the issue of using outside vendors for critical CRM technology. Look what just happened when Contactually, a well-liked and -used CRM, was purchased by Compass. The brokerage firms that compete with Compass now were faced with the possibility that Compass would have access, or could have access, to their agent’s customer data. We heard from many who immediately began looking for alternatives. Regardless of the outcome, it now becomes apparent that brokerage firms have to be leery of using an outside CRM or other customer-facing technologies. After all, with the stroke of a pen, that external tech supplier could be owned by a firm with competing interests. This creates yet another trust issue.
So, we have an industry rushing to deploy consumer-facing technologies and reap the benefits of competing in the new environment but handicapped by the lack of trust among the sponsors of these systems, whether they are built-in offerings from brokerage firms, national franchisers or external suppliers.
What Needs to Happen to Build Trust?
At the national level, Gary Keller and Josh Team of Keller Williams International Realty have announced that the agent owns their customer data. If the agent leaves Keller Williams, they can take their customer data with them. Further, KW agrees that they will not communicate directly to the agent’s customers without the permission of the agent. As a result, they are making significant headway with the agents of Keller Williams in their adoption of the KW platform.
At the local level, we are aware of a few large regional brokerage firms who made that same promise, both in writing and verbally, that the agents own their customer data and may take it with them when or if the agent leaves the brokerage. These brokerages are also assisting agents with inputting the data into the CRM. One brokerage reported to us that their agents have already shared over 250,000 customer profiles. This particular firm thinks they will get to 500,000 before the end of the year.
To overcome the lack of trust, brokers must make and keep promises. For any national, regional or local firm to make the best use of their CRM, agents must trust that their brokerage will keep their customer data safe; that it may not be used without their permission, and that it will not be manipulated to the disadvantage of the agent. Also, if the agent leaves the brokerage or national franchise system, their customer information will be immediately returned to them and not retained by the brokerage or franchise organization.
Given what we have learned thus far, brokerage firms will need to make these promises in writing and verbally and do so consistently and regularly. It will take time to overcome many years of mistrust. Even then, all participants must know that there will be many agents who will not easily share their customer databases to anyone at any time.