Concluding Thoughts on Inman Connect 2009: Radical Customer Service

Aug 8, 2009 Michael Wurzer

The Inman Connect conference this last week was informative and invigorating.  I moderated the MLS track and we had some great presenters and discussions.  Before the MLS track began, however, Alfred Lin from Zappos spoke about the Zappos approach to customer service.  One example of how Zappos operates that separates them radically from others is that they pay their support trainees $2,000 to quit.  Yep, you read it right, they pay them to quit.  And not just a token, either.  $2,000 is significant.  They do this because they only want people who are committed to Zappos’ service ethic and they figure someone who will take the $2,000 isn’t committed.

I simply love this.  It’s an incredibly powerful statement.  If you think about it, every support trainee at Zappos is giving up $2,000 to work there.  Conversely, Zappos gladly pays the $2,000 to those who take it, because they’re getting radical commitment from everyone else who stays and they’re saving having to fire the others later for lack of performance.  This is brilliant on so many levels.

I mentioned this Zappos policy on Twitter and Brian Larson asked: “Should brokers do the same?”  My response: Yes.  To be clear, what I really mean is that brokers should be committed to customer service the same as Zappos and that means making sure you have the best people representing you and your customers.  This brings me to one of the MLS panels I moderated: “From listing data to people data: The next challenge in VOWs and MLS consumer web sites.”  One of the panelists was Bill Chee, who shared a pretty remarkable statistic for his brokerage: It is less than one percentage point from being the market leader in Honolulu, with 150 fewer agents than his competitor.

Bill attributes this success to their commitment to customer service and measuring the efforts of every agent and the happiness of every customer consistently and regularly through their CRM system.  For Bill, the “people data” collected in their CRM is so much more valuable than the listing data, because it helps them provide better customer service.   He knows when customers are contacting agents and how quickly they are responding.  He knows what they’re searching for on his VOW and how often they log in and engage with his agents.  From public records, he even knows when former customers are listing or buying with agents from other brokerages.

In the Q and A that followed, I asked Bill if there was any people data he thought he could use from the MLS.  He said he tried at one point but currently didn’t get any people data from his MLS.  In contrast, Matt Lavallee from MLSPIN described how their MLS is tracking all kinds of people data through the VOWs they offer.  The data regarding what customers are searching on, when they’re searching, what listings they like and don’t like, and what listings they’re visiting and buying is all being collected in the MLS system.  That’s some powerful people data.

Here at FBS, we released our customer portal feature a little over a year ago and agents have been using it quite successfully, with over 250,000 consumers having active accounts currently.  These accounts provide agents and brokers great insight into what their customers are looking for, how interested they are, and a way for the agent and customer to communicate with each other on-line.  These accounts also provide listing agents with powerful data regarding the activity on their listings, such as how often the listing is marked as a favorite, possibility or reject, how often showings are requested or questions asked, how many messages are sent about the listing, and much more.  Importantly, this customer portal activity data is combined with the activity data from within the private MLS system and from our IDX sites, to provide a more complete picture of search and viewing activity.

Again, all of this people data is very useful for the brokers and agents to provide better service to their buyers and sellers, and that’s why we think the MLS system has an important role in helping agents and brokers make use of all of this data.  Internally at FBS, we call it MeTAL: Measure, Test, Adjust and Learn.  Bill Chee is proving that MeTAL is critical to providing radical customer service and win more business.  Those are my take-aways from the Inman Connect conference this year.  What did you learn?