FBS is getting closer to the MeTAL in 2009

Jan 30, 2009 Michael Wurzer

In the early days of the FBS Blog, Robbie Paplin commented that our development platform at FBS was “close to the metal”.  I love this phrase and have now leveraged it into our strategic theme for 2009, which is getting closer to the MeTAL by Measuring, Testing, Adjusting and Learning.  Here’s some of what I wrote to introduce MeTAL to our employee-owners:

Close to the metal is where life is most lived.   When you’re close to the metal, you’re truly an expert in that pursuit.  You know every intricacy, deep down.  You know the history of the practice, its origins and evolution.  With that knowledge, you’re able to evolve the practice yourself.  You’re able to create.

With regard to MLS, we are close to the metal already.  We are experts.  We understand the intricacies and nuances of the industry and are evolving with it.  One of the beautiful things about being close to the metal, however, is that you know what you don’t know.  As experts, we know we have a lot to learn.

FBS has grown a lot in the last several years and I attribute that growth to the unwavering passion of our employee-owners to respond to our customers’ needs.  When a company grows, however, passion and effort need to be focused.  So, for 2009 and beyond, we’re focusing our passion through science or MeTAL.  We’ve studied a lot of key metrics in our business for years, including things like average page delivery times (APDs), system reliability, support responsiveness, and, of course, financial results.

However, there’s so much more we can and need to do both for ourselves and our customers in terms of measuring and testing results.

  • We’re going to implement some version of a net promoter score system to better understand how our customers are responding to our efforts.  (Though I’ve been studying NPS for awhile, hat tip to Glenn Kelman for writing publicly about their use of NPS at Redfin.)
  • We’re going to enhance the metrics from our system for determining the most used and liked functions (not just pages, but functions), search terms, search areas (geographically), favorite listings, and more — all of which will help us understand our customers (MLSs, brokers and agents) and, in turn, help them understand their customers (consumers).
  • We’re adding lead management and metrics to our IDX and portal systems to help offices and teams work more closely with their site visitors and customers, and measure their return on investment in those products.
  • More extensive usability testing.  Sometimes speed in responding is our enemy.  We want to make changes fast for our customers, but taking the time to get the changes and new features right is equally important.
  • We’ve also promoted Jaison Freed to VP of Hosting and he and the hosting team will be refining our data center dashboard to allow us even better insight into system performance.
  • We’re doing all sorts of stuff on the accounting side to better understand our costs and customers.

There will be no stone uncovered through this process, and our expectation is that the MeTAL mantra will become second-nature to all we do here at FBS.

Importantly, we also understand measurement has its limits as we’ve all learned watching the Wall Street melt-down over the last year (if you haven’t read the linked article, I highly recommend it).  Measuring is dangerous if not limited by adjusting and learning.  Too often, we look at metrics as “the answer” instead of just a guide.  Equally (or more) important, we believe that measurement is of actions and results, not people.  As I wrote to our employees in announcing our strategic plan:

The idea of measurement often conjures negative emotions.  Measurement can imply judgment and few like to be judged.   As I wrote some time ago, Scott Adams has made a fortune mocking managers who pretend they are in control through their elaborate cathedrals of metrics.   This is not how we want to approach getting closer to the metal.  The only purpose of measurement is to learn, not to judge.  Anyone who judges from measurement is a tyrant and a fool, and we’ll tolerate neither here at FBS.

So we enter 2009 with great respect for our customers and ourselves, and the expectation of constant learning and improvement in the coming years.   I’d love to hear from you as to what you think we should be measuring and what you think we could do to help you understand our service and your customers better.