A real estate agent was recently confused to learn that Zillow’s Premier Agent app was pulling leads she cultivated through other sources directly from her Google Gmail email account and connecting her over the phone to them — even though she hadn’t meant to submit them directly to Zillow’s Premier Agent program.
Zillow acknowledges that it can harvest leads from agents’ connected Gmail accounts, but points out that this feature must be opted-into by users, and says that other companies offer similar services.
Still, the brief confusion over how this feature works was surprising and alarming to Vanessa Saunders, broker/owner of Global Property Systems in New York, who has since quit Zillow’s Premier Agent program as a result.
Saunders told Inman the trouble started about a month ago, when her assistant entered information about a lead obtained outside of Zillow into the Communications Inc. (CINC) platform, the separate customer relationship management software Saunders’ office uses. Whenever Saunders’ assistant enters a new lead into CINC, Saunders receives an email notification about it in her Gmail inbox — which is also what happened in this case. Moments after this happened, she also got a notification from Zillow’s Premier Agent app that she had a new lead.
“What I didn’t expect was the phone to ring and it was a Zillow bot announcing if I press ‘one,’ I would be put through to a new lead,” said Saunders. “I pressed ‘one’ and got put through to [the lead] we had just manually entered.”
“I was stunned, she [the lead] was stunned and I was like, ‘have you ever reached out to Zillow?’” Saunders added. “She said, ‘What’s Zillow. I’ve never heard of Zillow.’ She said, ‘I don’t even have a computer.’”
Saunders said, after contacting CINC she was informed that the company discovered Zillow’s Premier Agent app can scan agents’ Gmail inboxes for leads from other sources, which Zillow can then take and reconnect back to the agent over the phone.
Zillow can also scan Gmail addresses agents have set up on Google Suite (GSuite), Google’s program for business customers, which lets you create an email with a personalized customer-facing address, such as firstname.lastname@example.org, but retains the backend of Gmail. Saunders told Inman she was operating a GSuite Gmail account when this incident occurred.
Saunders told Inman that she did elect to connect her GSuite Gmail account to Premier Agent, but she didn’t read the fine print. But even if she had, she wouldn’t have understood what it meant, she told Inman. She also said there was confusion on her team for nearly a month, about why they were getting calls from Zillow about leads they had manually entered into CINC. Inman contacted CINC, but the company declined to comment for the story.
A spokesperson for Zillow confirmed that it does, “offer a solution that allows our agents to connect their Google/Gmail account to send third-party leads into the [Premier Agent] app.”
Zillow isn’t shy about the program’s existence and has a website and instructional YouTube video dedicated to helping agents on how to sync their leads from third-party sources through the Premier Agent app. Agents don’t even have to be Premier Agents to use to feature.
The only data Zillow takes from lead emails are property and contact information, the company says. The only lead emails that it scans come from a list of over 100 supported lead generation platforms, including realtor.com, BoomTown and CINC among them, Zillow’s spokesperson confirmed. Users retain their original emails and Zillow only makes copies of the lead generation emails.
“Lead and other account data will be used only for internal purposes, including to improve, and inform you about, our services,” Zillow’s webpage on “Third Party Leads” states. “We will not share your leads or account data with third parties. We respect your privacy.”
Zillow’s spokesperson also said to Inman that many customer relationship management tools offer similar features, to sync with email and streamline all agent leads in one manageable place. For instance, Top Producer CRM also offers an instructional webpage on “using your lead notification address to funnel all leads into Top Producer CRM.”
As for Zillow, “this is completely voluntary and Google only allows it if the agent manually opts in her or himself – we have no control or ability to do it on our end,” the Zillow spokesperson told Inman. “In this case, the agent – or someone on her/his team – may have just forgotten they did this. She/he can opt out in the Premier Agent App or Premier Agent desktop CRM under the ‘settings’ section and under integrations.”
Zillow’s spokesperson further told Inman the company immediately reached out to Saunders when she complained about the issue.
“We do our best to respond to all our Premier Agents when they need assistance in a very timely manner, and our social media team worked with her to explain what was going on and help resolve it,” the spokesperson added.
Saunders, however, was not happy with Zillow’s response and has decided to end her multi-year relationship with Zillow as a Premier Agent.
“The question everybody wants to know is if I hadn’t picked up the phone to that bot saying I had a new lead, what would have happened to it?” Saunders said. “They swear hand on heart they wouldn’t have [sent it to anyone else].”
The same Zillow spokesperson told Inman that Zillow wouldn’t do that, as it wasn’t a Zillow lead, it was her own.
Zillow’s Premier Agent website states: “If a home shopper selects you directly, that lead is yours even if you miss our call. If they do not select a specific agent, we connect them directly to a Premier Agent or team based on Premier Agent Advertising share of voice. If an agent misses this call, we call the next Premier Agent — until we successfully make a connection.”
Correction: updated to remove a reference to Zillow’s Premier Agent Concierge program, which did not factor into the events described.