Hacker Connect January 16 in New York
An event for and by the real estate tech community

Do you believe that Gen X and Gen Y text-messaging addicts never use their smart phones to make a phone call about a property? If so, think again.

About five years ago I had my first wake-up call about the nature of how the next generation of buyers and sellers want to receive information. My husband and I were en route to see his brother’s family and my nephew was picking us up.

We had a weather delay and called our nephew’s cell phone to let him know. We also sent him an e-mail indicating we would be an hour late. He still showed up at the airport at the original time. His response when we told him we had called and e-mailed was, "Why didn’t you just text me?"

A couple of months later I was discussing generational differences with one of my clients. She shared a story about her niece who needed some help on a science project. My client suggested that her niece contact a family friend who would be delighted to help her with the challenge she was facing. She gave her niece the phone number. Her niece’s response was, "Call her? (gasp) That’s way too confrontational!"

A common stereotype about today’s young people is that the only time they use their phones to make a call is to reach a parent who doesn’t use text messaging. Stereotypes, however, are often incorrect. This is especially true when it comes to converting leads calling from your yard signs.

At Real Estate Connect, Max Pigman shared some interesting research from Realtor.com about the behaviors of potential clients calling on yard signs. According to Pigman, one of the "biggest leaks" in terms of lead conversion is how sign calls are handled.

As a rule of thumb, it’s usually best to respond to a lead in the medium that they chose to contact you. For example, if the lead contacted you by e-mail, then respond via e-mail. If the lead called you, pick up the phone and call back. This generalization is particularly true when a lead calls on a yard sign.

Agents have used 1-800-Call Capture (IVR) systems for the last 15 years as a way to obtain good contact information from people calling on their yard signs. The system works with an 800 number and a prerecorded message about the property. Because the agent pays for the call, the agent is entitled to receive the caller’s contact information. This includes the phone number from which the call was made. If you call the lead back right away, you can often catch the person while they are still at the property.

According to Pigman, responding quickly to the potential buyer’s phone call is more important than ever. Realtor.com conducted a study of 20,000 agents where they monitored their phone calls to see what consumers did in various situations.

The results paralleled a study conducted by MIT on Web response time and lead conversions. According to the MIT study, Web marketers who responded to leads within five minutes had a 79 percent lead conversion ratio. The lead conversion ratio dropped to 34 percent if the response took 30 minutes.

When consumers call on a yard sign, they wait to hear whether a live person answers the phone. If they hear a recording, 25 percent disconnected the moment they realized they could not speak to a live person. Furthermore, if you gave the caller a menu of choices, they also disconnected. The bottom line is that when they want to speak with a Realtor, they want to do it now.

This reluctance to leave information also applied to text messaging as well. When buyers and sellers call, they want an answer now.

So what is the answer, especially if you’re in a situation where you can’t respond immediately?

One solution is Google Voice. Google Voice uses a single number that rings you no matter where you are. You can tell the system to ring you on your cell phone, at home, or just about anywhere else for that matter. The system also transcribes your messages and delivers them to your inbox. You can also opt to receive the messages as an e-mail.

Some companies have call centers that field the calls. If the listing agent is unavailable, they can route it to another agent who is available and can answer the caller’s questions.

Other alternatives are not as desirable. You could have the call routed back to your office, but often the agent answering the phone is poor at getting the caller’s number and may be unable to answer the caller’s questions.

You could also hire a virtual assistant or use one of the telephone answering services. Unless these people are licensed, however, they cannot provide the caller with price and other important information.

The bottom line is that the best way to convert your sign calls is to have a live person available to answer questions. In most cases, the results will be best if that live person is you.

Bernice Ross, CEO of RealEstateCoach.com, is a national speaker, trainer and author of the National Association of Realtors’ No. 1 best-seller, “Real Estate Dough: Your Recipe for Real Estate Success.” Hear Bernice’s five-minute daily real estate show, just named "new and notable" by iTunes, at www.RealEstateCoachRadio.com. You can contact her at Bernice@RealEstateCoach.com or @BRoss on Twitter.

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