I’m back from a week at the Inman News Real Estate Connect conference with a new head of steam. I’m a repeat offender. And as rich as the conference sessions are, I always find that the real inspiration comes from what the veterans refer to as "LobbyCon" — those times spent hanging out in the lobby of the conference venue swapping war stories and ideas with colleagues.

The reality is that this year there doesn’t seem to be much new and shiny on the real estate technology front, at least from my view in the visitors’ bleachers. Years ago, we were all giddy about those blog things. Then came mashups, video, PDAs, social media, social media and more social media.

Call it a rut, but if I hear one more person talk about Facebook as the holy grail of real estate marketing, I am going to shoot myself through the temple with the two-hole punch I no longer need in my paperless office. Because it’s not.

What Facebook is (and Twitter, and Foursquare and the little chat box on my sidebar that I generally forget to activate when I am present or deactivate when I leave the room in search of my two-hole punch) is a communications medium.

It is one channel among a sea of channels that an agent might use to connect, or use to give at least the appearance of being somewhat relevant. These things don’t help the consumer. Rather, they are ways in which agents, each his own "1099 island" unto himself, might develop business and maintain relationships.

Social media are the spokes in the business wheel at best — the hub is a solid business. Agents or brokers can blog or update their status and profile picture until their fingers are bloody, but it won’t matter if they are crummy agents or brokers.

Worry first about how you are going to provide the customer with the best experience possible. That’s why you are in business. Then you can grab the online bullhorn and have at it.

That’s not to say that there wasn’t a common theme this year beyond the familiar social media drumbeat. I sensed an undercurrent of "back to business" at my own LobbyCon sessions. And there was this overarching idea of portability.

Our big stage is now projected on the small screen. Cloud computing and mobile devices are a way of life. They are the rule and not the exception. One needed simply to quickly survey any area where people were congregating — their devices engaged even while conversing in person with others — to see how we and our customers roll.

Consumers are getting their information and their advice to go. They are empowered with unlimited information and choices. They are empowered in real time, which breeds impatience, and our new drive-thru mentality dictates that we deliver with increasing speed.

I wear two hats. I am a working broker, which means my job is double the challenge and double the fun. So my goal this year — my focus, absent a truly new technological mountain to scale — was to find those takeaways that might accomplish one of two things:

1. Improve our service to our clients; and
2. Make life more productive and, yes, lucrative for both me and our agents.

In that order, because the former is necessarily dependent on the latter. It’s really that simple. The execution, alas, is not so simple.

The one thing that everyone agrees on is that the yardstick by which we measure responsiveness continues to be whittled. Instant gratification is truly measured in instants, and if you don’t have the tools (or the inclination) to respond to a query within an hour and often less, that opportunity has moved on.

The National Association of Realtors reported that 67 percent of Internet property inquiries go unanswered.

As a broker, I need to have systems in place to ensure that our agents can and will respond to inquiries quickly and professionally. (Notice I didn’t say "leads," because to espouse a philosophy of customer centricity while seeing the customer as a dollar-bill incarnate is contradictory. Trust me — with the right mindset, the dollars will follow.)

As agents, we all need to be tethered to our notification platforms. This is today’s definition of service.

If you are a broker, you need a reliable customer relationship management system that not only ensures that opportunities are assigned, but includes a mechanism for monitoring responses.

And the assignment of opportunities should involve both rewards for consistent early responders, and consequences for agents who consistently fail to win the foot race. Unanswered calls to action reflect on both the brokerage and every agent under a broker’s banner if your brand stands for anything.

If you are an agent, spend some time reacquainting yourself with and testing your online channels. As a buyer’s agent, you likely have a presence online somewhere, even if it is on your broker’s own site.

As a listing agent, your listings are broadcast far and wide, and often — thanks to the miracles of Internet Data Exchange (IDX), in places where you may not expect them.

Discover those places, and find out where those inquiries are going. Make sure they are going to you and that you are in a position to respond quickly. And it’s not just about business development. It is about serving your customers and clients. Opportunities today have a statute of limitations. Consumers are a distracted, busy bunch.

When I am wearing my own consumer bonnet, I realize that there are two times I actually reach out:

  • The first is when I have exhausted my do-it-yourself resources. I have searched and scrolled and trolled only to realize that I still have that unanswered question or unsatisfied need.
  • The second is when, having completed my thorough research, I am ready to place the order.

Whether I am looking for information on the life expectancy of a male betta fish (that, let’s say for the sake of argument, a teenager might have brought home from college and the darn thing won’t die already), or for the best CRM solution for my business, when I reach the point that I am compelled to reach out, I really do mean business.

If you fail to engage me quickly, I will take my very healthy, high-maintenance fish and my business elsewhere and never look back. It is no different when shopping for a home or a listing agent.

I admit there is nothing innovative about this notion of responsiveness. In fact, I am far from an innovator. (The last time I tried to innovate something, my family asked me to never make meatloaf again.)

There is nothing new about this expectation that service professionals should deliver service; rather, it is how we measure responsiveness that is changing — and where we need to evolve.

While we are all live-tweeting and texting from our PDAs or surfing the Internet with our iPads, remember that our customers are, too. And when they hit "send," we need to be poised to deliver.

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