The interwebs were abuzz last week with Zillow Group’s announcement that it is introducing a “CSAT” (customer satisfaction) component to its Premier Agent platform. Here’s Jay Thompson’s take.

Jay Thompson is a former brokerage owner who spent the past six years working for Zillow Group. He retired in August 2018 but can’t seem to leave the real estate industry behind. His weekly Inman column publishes every Wednesday.

Let’s get this out of the way right up front — yes, I worked for Zillow Group for over six years, retiring this past August. Zillow did not ask me to write this, nor was I compensated by Zillow in any way, shape or form for doing so. Zillow had no influence over the content of this article; it didn’t even see it prior to publication. I did give them advance notice that it would be submitted.

To answer the question (well, really it was more of a demand) posed in the comments on my column a couple of weeks ago, yes, I do hold an insignificant amount of both Z, and ZG stock — which has zero influence on how I think, feel or what I write. As for the commenter’s demand that I disclose if any of my immediate family holds Zillow stock, that isn’t happening. My family’s stock holdings are no one’s business but theirs.

If you can’t get past the fact that I am a former Zillow employee, and you think that somehow my brain, heart and soul have been co-opted by them, I recommend hitting the back button and reading something else. Maybe consider opening yourself to how others think, too, but that’s your call.

Now with that out of the way, let’s talk like the rational, mature adults we all should be.

On with the discussion

The interwebs were abuzz last week with Zillow Group’s announcement that it is introducing a “CSAT” (customer satisfaction) component to its Premier Agent platform. Unsurprisingly, the news was met with mixed reaction ranging from praise to dismay, denial and even disgust.

If you want to know the particulars of the announcement, you can read this, or this, or the “Best of Zillow FAQ.” Additional discussion and thought has happened in places like this, and across multiple real estate Facebook groups. A few of those I’ve seen, but some I’ve only been told about as they exist in groups I left shortly after my retirement. Suffice it to say, there is plenty of discussion happening out there.

In a nutshell, Zillow Group has announced that it will be adding a consumer survey component to the Premier Agent advertising platform. Agents will receive a derived CSAT score, viewable only to them on their Zillow dashboard. Those with a CSAT over 90 percent will be designated as “Best of Zillow,” with that designation promoted on their profile.

For those who are vocal about this, there’s one particular component of this program that seems to get them the most wound up — it’s the fact that Zillow has said that if an advertising agent’s CSAT score falls below a certain level action, he or she will be removed from the Premier Agent program.

Yes, Zillow is going to toss you out of the program if you don’t achieve a minimum consumer satisfaction score.

The horror!

Thoughts on this have been wide-ranging. I’ve seen comments like:

“What gives Zillow the right to dictate who can and can’t use their services?”

Answer: It’s Zillow’s website, its business, so it has every right to say who can and can’t use it. While it’s not quite the same as, “No shoes, no shirt, no service,” the simple fact is, of course, it can set usage and compliance guidelines. Honestly, how this is even a question boggles the mind.

A close companion to that one is, “This isn’t fair!”

You know what? Sometimes life isn’t fair. I won’t be so crass as to say, “get over it.” As it turns out, it’s actually completely fair. Zillow Group has said that almost half of the consumers that contact an agent from its sites get no response. Interestingly, this 50 percent number isn’t unique to Zillow Group. I’ve heard report the same number, and it’s also been independently verified.

Read that again–half the consumers that click, “Contact Agent,” on Zillow get no response. Half.

What would you do if things only worked half the time?

Imagine if you plopped down on the couch and fired up House of Cards on Netflix — and were presented with a blank screen half the time. How long would you tolerate that?

Need a ride? What if half the time you requested an Uber no one showed up? My bet is you’d switch to Lyft or hail a Yellow Cab. Delete the Uber app? Yep.

Have a doctor’s appointment? You walk in and the receptionist says, “Here, let’s flip a coin. Heads the doc sees you today, tails we set another appointment and try again.” You’d be outraged, and rightfully so.

You don’t ignore your clients’ needs half the time. Hopefully you don’t blow off half the prospects that reach out to you. Why should Zillow? Just like you, it has to provide a good consumer experience. Otherwise it ceases to exist, as would yours and any other business out there.

Then there are those who claim, “Zillow won’t turn away revenue. There’s no way they’ll boot a paying agent who is advertising with them.”

I wouldn’t test that theory. Precedent has already been set. It’s a fact that some paying for the Premier Agent services have been removed from the program, typically for violating the terms of service. I’ve sat in meetings where it was discussed, and someone once said, “How much advertising do they buy?” which was met immediately with senior execs saying, “I don’t care, it doesn’t matter.”

The whole point in this evolution of the product is to increase consumer satisfaction and ensure that people needing help get connected with a terrific agent — of which there are many. They may tweak and refine the CSAT scoring along the way, but I can assure you that if an advertiser drops the service ball, they will be gone.

After this announcement was made, I had a conversation with Bret Caltharp, Zillow Group’s director of industry outreach, and he told me this, “We will reward agents who take great care of the consumers that we introduce them to through our site. If they don’t provide that care, we will give them time, training and tools to help change that. If that doesn’t work, we’ll have to part ways.”

The “it’s not fair” crowd also, mystifyingly, tends to claim the inherent unfairness stems from the fact that this program is only available to agents that pay Zillow for advertising.

Well, duh. Yes, to partake in all that Zillow (or any other company) offers, you have to pay for it. Caltharp covered that as well, telling me, “This is called ‘Best of Zillow’ not ‘Best of the Real Estate Industry.’ The vast majority of agents out there don’t advertise with Zillow, but there will still be free profiles, and you will still be able to collect reviews on those profiles. You’ll still be able to expose your listings, and yourself, to millions of site visitors, for free.”

Should current Zillow Premier Agents worry?

The short answer (and this column is already too long) is no.

If you provide superior customer service, you have nothing to worry about. In fact, you have something to gain. You’ll get valuable consumer insights and marketing collateral that will be another part of your online marketing toolbox.

If you advertise with Zillow and don’t provide superior service, you’ll have an opportunity to learn and improve. Fail to do that, and yes, you will be removed from the program.

As you should be.

Jay Thompson is a real estate veteran and retiree in Seattle, as well as the mastermind behind Now Pondering. Follow him on Facebook or Instagram. He holds an active Arizona broker’s license with eXp Realty.

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