As co-founder of a Web-based mortgage technology company dedicated to radically improving the consumer experience, I have spent a lot of time studying the online real estate landscape. I’ve gained an understanding what today’s online real estate consumer actually wants.
This field is a fast-changing one, where the bar is always being raised as new technologies come to market. But the following three consumer expectations are what I consider the foundation for serving today’s demanding online real estate consumer.
1. Well-designed and highly functional products
This point might seem like an obvious one, but all you have to do is visit the average industry website to realize how much room there is for improvement.
Let’s start with design. Great design is not just about making something look beautiful though being easy on the eye certainly goes a long way. Great design is about enriching the consumer experience by making your online product easy to navigate and making tasks easy to understand and perform. The most common design offense I see in our industry is busy-looking sites that don’t appropriately guide consumers where they need to go.
If design is primarily about ease of use, functionality is simply about use — giving your customers the ability to perform certain tasks online without forcing them to talk to someone unless they want to. The central question, of course, is what tasks consumers should be able to perform by themselves and where is the human touch necessary.
2. Ability to do things on their terms, not yours
Today’s consumer, especially the online consumer, wants to feel in control and does not want to be pushed to a sale with the same high-pressure tactics of the past. Sales and marketing teams today have to be more clever than ever to capture consumers’ attention and convince them that you are the right solution for them — all this without coming across as desperate and pushy.
Here’s the tricky part about this: Although consumers today do not want to feel like they’re being forced to do anything, they still want you — a real human being — to be available at their convenience. This desire demonstrates the danger in believing that technology can replace the need for human beings. Technology, instead, should be leveraged to free up your time and make the human interaction more meaningful.
3. A seamless transition from online to offline and vice versa
Finally, as technology and real people work together to deliver an incredible consumer experience, you and your organization must be prepared to make the transition between off and online channels as smooth as possible.
For example, a borrower might start the mortgage application online, but then she will schedule a call with her loan officer to ask specific questions about the loan. The loan officer must have ready access to the borrower’s most up-to-date information. As the borrower and the loan officer chat on the phone, the loan officer will inevitably gather more information about the borrower; such information must once again be readily accessible to the borrower next time she goes online to work on her application. The process will go on and on and alternate between human and online interaction.
Anything short of a completely seamless back-and-forth interaction between on and offline channels will lead to duplicate work and a very frustrating and highly inefficient mortgage experience. People simply need that human touch in this industry.
Valentin Saportas is a corporate finance attorney turned technology entrepreneur. He is the Co-founder and CEO of MortgageHippo, a mortgage technology company that partners with mortgage lenders, real estate companies and financial institutions to provide better online experiences to borrowers.