Real estate has changed dramatically during the past decade. The stream of property information now available online — largely through companies such as Trulia and Zillow — has eliminated agents’ monopoly on access to information and, in doing so, transferred power to every consumer with an Internet connection.

By AUSTIN ALLISON

Real estate has changed dramatically during the past decade. The stream of property information now available online — largely through companies such as Trulia and Zillow — has eliminated agents’ monopoly on access to information and, in doing so, transferred power to every consumer with an Internet connection.

Buyers and sellers now control the real estate process, a massive shift that has forced brands and agents to react. Those reactions, however, are too often misdirected toward quantity (leads bought in bulk, higher conversion rates, more Facebook or LinkedIn connections) as opposed to quality, a costly mistake for real estate professionals.

As companies such as Amazon, Starbucks and Zappos have shown us, great experiences are the best way to grow business. Agents must heed those lessons and connect personally with their customers, not through “spray and pray” marketing tactics that treat clients as just another number.

Delivering a wonderful experience from the first phone call or email through moving day has always been the most important value an agent could offer, but it’s especially clear today. Buyers no longer choose an agent for access to listings, which are a mere click away. Likewise with sellers, who can conduct market research online.

The one area where agents can distinguish themselves (and where the Internet can’t compete) is by providing clients with great service. Here are three reasons why creating a great experience is the most effective tactic to grow a successful and long-lasting business.

1. Competing in the “experience economy”

Experiences, not leads, are the currency that matters in real estate today. Yet agents too often focus on investing in lead generation without considering what happens next. Those leads do little good if agents are unable to convert them into real business, and let’s face it: the average lead conversion is nothing to brag about.

Real estate is a zero-sum game, and the losers are those who buy leads before they’ve nailed the experience.

Consider Amazon. The e-commerce giant didn’t drive people to its site until the company had perfected an online shopping experience that it knew consumers would love. The experience was unlike anything consumers had seen before, and they smiled with their wallets, preferring to shop easily from the convenience of their homes instead of driving to the local bookstore. Amazon’s revenue exceeded $61 billion in 2012.

It’s a cautionary lesson for real estate agents. Consumers, whether in e-commerce or real estate, are loyal to great experiences. They don’t want to waste time on unnecessary in-person meetings or piles of paperwork in their email accounts to close a deal. They expect to handle the process from their phones and iPads, on the go. They’ll choose the agent who is able to deliver, now and in the future.

2. Creating customers for life

The benefits of providing a great experience don’t end when the deal closes. The emergence of platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and Angie’s List have made sharing and asking for recommendations easier than ever. Referrals are still the top driver of meaningful leads in real estate, and agents that consistently deliver on experience will keep the leads flowing.

Not only do dissatisfied clients look elsewhere now, but they won’t contact the disappointing agent when looking to purchase again, no matter how pretty the agent’s glamour shot. Repeat business from lifetime customers — it’s the Starbucks approach.

Starbucks has scaled its operations largely because it doesn’t view every person who walks through the door as a $2 cup of coffee. Instead, it views them as a potential lifetime customer who keeps walking through the door because they love the experience. The barista remembers their name and order, and it’s convenient to pay (now with your mobile phone) and be out the door.

Starbucks does what it takes to keep customers coming back again and again which, depending on how you crunch the numbers, can equate to a lifetime value of thousands of dollars per customer.

It’s only coffee, sure, but the experience matters. The potential is even greater in real estate. For most people, a home is the biggest purchase of their lives, and a great experience will keep them coming back time and again.

3. People working better, together

Whether they’re purchasing a book online, a cup of coffee down the street or their first home, people are loyal to experiences. And great experiences start with giving clients what they want, on their terms.

In many ways, the Internet has dehumanized our interactions, a detriment in an industry such as real estate that revolves around a personal touch. It’s easy for people to not work together today by leaning on tools such as email that strip away the “humanness” from an interaction. But that doesn’t have to be the case.

By using technology that brings people back into the equation and allows them to work better together, agents can create memorable experiences that build loyalty and keep people coming back. Consider it a throwback to a time when deals were sealed with a handshake with the person across the conference table.

The most successful agents today bring clients back to the table, meet them on their terms and create a great experience. That’s the secret to success in real estate today. It’s not a SEO-optimized website or prime ad placement on Trulia. It’s not about buying leads or converting them at a slightly higher percentage. The best value an agent can provide is a great client experience.

Focus on fewer leads, but make every one of those interactions great. Pull that off, and you’ll have customers for life.

Austin Allison is CEO of dotloop. You can find him on Twitter at GAustinAllison.

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