The Internet is a goldmine of information, but occasionally you hit a wall where you need a real person to answer a question.
Albert Clark saw that wall about seven months ago when he was booking some complicated flights through Continental Airlines online at about 11 p.m. He’d already spent a lot of time entering information about his trips when he had a question about the airline’s cancellation policy.
Clark said a button popped up on the Web page he was viewing and asked if he had any questions. He clicked on “yes” and his phone rang in less than two seconds, he said.
“They knew what page I was on. They knew where I was in the transaction so I didn’t have to start from scratch,” said Clark. And that was when he realized this option had to be made available on real estate Web sites.
Clark in January launched realPING, a push-to-talk VoIP button that connects Web site visitors with a real estate agent’s telephone. VoIP, which stands for voice over Internet protocol, is a technology that enables people to make phone calls using a broadband Internet connection instead of a regular phone line.
Some three-quarters of consumers end up transacting with the first real estate agent to respond to their inquiries, according to the National Association of Realtors, and Clark was betting that a push-to-talk device on a Realtor’s Web site would help facilitate that relationship.
“The Internet has spoiled consumers,” said Clark, principal partner of the Scranton, Pa.-based company. “They want everything accessible. They are looking at 900,000 homes in California and they want agents to get back to them.”
Consumers surfing an agent’s site with realPING simply click on the “talk to me now” or “push to talk” button the agent has set up, enter their phone number and receive a call within seconds.
Though agents may not be able to answer the consumer’s question at the moment of the call, they can at least be the first responder and “set the table for tomorrow morning’s call,” Clark said.
RealPING takes it a step further with what Clark calls a “pagepush” capability. During the call the agent can push Web pages, virtual tours and other things directly to the caller’s desktop. For example, a caller might ask about homes with pools while on the agent’s Web site and the agent can enter a few digits on his or her phone that will push a Web page to the caller’s desktop. The page can include listings information, virtual tours, mortgage prequalification information or anything the agent wants to set up.
“The agent can control the client’s screen with their phone – this is the ‘wow’ factor,” Clark said.
Coy Knapp, a Realtor with Sugar Pine Realty in Murphys, Calif., set up the realPING services on his Web site and in his e-mail messages a few weeks ago after trying a similar service.
“Not too long ago I was looking for insurance and did it online and someone called me before I even clicked to the next page. I wanted to be available like that,” Knapp said.
The Realtor noted that the majority of these calls are serious client inquiries and not the typical Internet lookie loo. “I’ve had it for about a week and a half now and I’ve got six or seven calls. All except for one was a serious client,” he said.
Agents using realPING decide what days and hours they want it to appear on their site and what phone number they want the calls to connect with. The service also tracks every call received so an agent can see where and when calls are made.
Using the call-tracking dashboard from the agent’s site setup, agents can click on a client’s number and pull up a demographic report that will show details from that person’s location, such as population, average commute to work, number of households, number of homeowner households, median asking price for homes and median taxes, among other things.
For individual agents, realPING costs $49.95 to set up and $16.95 per month after that. Clark said the company is working on partnerships with larger brokerage firms and virtual tour companies to offer it to their agent members or clients at lower prices.
Clark said there are about 3,200 agents using realPING now. He envisions the technology leading to 24-hour real estate brokerages in which agents work later shifts to answer consumer calls.
“At the end of the day we put together an engaged consumer with a responsive Realtor,” Clark said.
The concept has already caught on in other industries. Amazon and many other retailers use click-to-talk features throughout their Web sites, and eBay just announced last week that its sellers will have the option to add Skype functionality on listings in 14 categories across eBay.com, including real estate.
By clicking on a “Skype Me” button on an eBay listing, buyers will be able to communicate with sellers using voice, text, chat or both, according to eBay’s announcement at its annual community conference in Las Vegas. Buyers can use Skype to request more information about specific items and interact with sellers in real time.
Skype is an eBay company that allows people to make unlimited voice and video communication for free between Skype software users. Buyers wanting to use the function on eBay will have to download the free Skype software.