Let’s face it: Consumers want instant answers — or they’re moving on. In a market with record-low inventory and more agent competition for those listings, response time is essential, says mega team leader Carl Medford. Here are six ways to make sure you respond before your competition does.

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Imagine a world with no internet, no cellphones, no instant anything. Ironically, that world functioned adequately for many years, until technology launched us into a new reality. Unfortunately, many real estate agents are still stuck in old patterns and will never see their businesses grow unless they embrace the new world we live in today.

In 1945, as troops began heading home after World War II, my father looked forward with anticipation to a meeting with his best friend once both were stateside. At the appointed day and time, my dad waited at the bus station in Kansas for hours before concluding his friend was not going to show.

With no way of communicating and uncertain of his friend’s location, my dad headed off to another state to use his GI bill to get a college education. After numerous failed attempts to track down his pal, he continued into the next phase of his life, got his degree and eventually moved to Canada, all the while wondering what had happened to his buddy Sam.

Fifty years passed and hardly a week went by without my father thinking of Sam. So much so, he brought it up while visiting us in California. I asked for Sam’s full name and headed for Google. Fifteen minutes later, 50 years of questions evaporated as my dad, with Sam on the phone, learned that on the appointed day, unexpected sickness and hospitalization had prevented Sam from reaching the rendezvous.

Despite Sam’s attempts, numerous miscommunications and snafus compounded the inability to connect. The years disappeared as my father and Sam, now living in Chicago, reclaimed their friendship as if they had seen each other only yesterday. A few weeks later, Sam boarded a plane and flew to Canada to visit my dad in person.

The age of instant connectivity and perpetual communication

The idea that we could lose someone in this current age is almost unimaginable. With a significant number of individuals on the planet owning at least one cellular device, we have grown used to the idea that we can reach out and, in a moment, contact anyone anywhere. It is so much a part of our culture that the thought of being without our phones for even a few minutes is enough to put some into a state of panic.

There are two fundamental aspects to this: access to individuals and access to data. First, people not only want access to anyone they want, they want that access immediately. We have all received calls we have been unable to answer, only to have the person call back repeatedly.

Most millennials will never leave a voice message and then wait for the person they called to get back to them. In fact, many have never activated their voicemail. If the repeated calls do not get a response, you can count on a text.

Second, because of the immediacy of Google and other search engines, our lives have been fundamentally changed. We want comprehensive data and we want it available in milliseconds. Anything else is simply not acceptable.

All of this has led to the coining of the phrase “The Impulse Society” and has nurtured a need for instant gratification. To those of us who grew up without cellphones, the internet, computers, microwaves, digital cameras, GPS, ATMs, Venmo, social media, blogs, vlogs, texts, IMs and even instant oats, it can be hard to grasp the obsession with the instantaneous.

An understanding of these two aspects is critical in building a successful business. Consumers today want access to data and service providers in real-time. I hate it when I reach out to a company and they send back a response stating, “Someone will respond to your request within 48-hours.”

Unless it is a government agency or something similar and I literally have nowhere else to go, I will be actively looking for other businesses to provide the answers I need when I feel I need the answers. It is the same when potential real estate clients come looking for information and are considering the possibility of working with you as their agent.

Although there is no shortage of messages out there concerning timely responses, I am consequently amazed by agents who refuse to answer their phones. I am equally appalled at the amounts of money spent by agents to generate leads, only to have that money disappear down the proverbial drain by failing to respond to the generated leads in a timely manner.

My father failed to connect with his buddy because he did not understand or comprehend the capabilities of today’s technology. Once he made his situation known to someone (me) who understood, the connection was made in moments.

Your next client won’t wait until tomorrow for a call back

Modern homebuyers and homesellers do not have these constraints: They not only understand how the internet works, but they also want to maximize the available data to get immediate responses. In a market where we are facing a record low inventory, this is more critical than ever.

For agents who are genuinely interested in building a successful real estate business in this modern age of mega data and instant communication, speed of response is everything.

At its most basic, this means answering the phone when it rings, responding instantly to text messages, answering emails within a few minutes and responding within moments to internet-based leads, whether coming in through social media or a lead generation source.

Although understandable that you need to eat, sleep and take breaks, “speed to lead” is critical. Whereas it used to be acceptable for responses to be in a few hours, the time has shrunk to mere minutes and, in many cases, seconds.

This is one of the reasons solo agents have difficulty “getting over the hump” so their business can grow. Relegated to doing everything related to their business, it can be very difficult to effectively respond to leads when with a client, at an inspection or even driving from one event to another. And forget about going on vacation if you do not have response systems in place.

Here are six suggestions for taking your responses to the next level:

1. Respond to incoming queries with auto-communication systems

As an example, if you have an iPhone you can set up responses using the Respond with Text function and can tailor messages to your situation. A likely response could be, “I can’t answer right this minute, but will respond the moment I am free – please text me what you need so I can be prepared when I respond.”

Driving Focus can be programmed and the Do Not Disturb function is also helpful. You can use “out-of-office” messages for your email that state you are unavailable but specify a time when they can expect a response.

The bottom line here is to have simple systems that let them know you have received their communication and will respond as quickly as possible. As long as they know you will respond in a bit, they may wait for you.

2. Hire an answering service

With answering services, a real person will answer the phone, take messages and assure the person on the phone that you will respond as soon as possible. The key, then, is to do just that: Don’t wait for the next day, call as soon as you are unable.

If it goes to voicemail, leave a message, text them to let you know you just called and then follow up with calls and texts the following day.

3. Buddy up

Find a fellow agent in your office who is willing to back you up, and forward calls, texts and emails to them during the times you are busy. You can reciprocate for them as required.

4. Hire an assistant

Nothing helps a business grow like having an effective assistant. In fact, it is the No. 1 recommended hire for agents who want to scale their business. While many solo agents are overwhelmed with the idea of not only hiring an assistant but overseeing and even paying for them, there are excellent resources available such as Monica Reynolds Premier Real Estate Assistant Training.

5. Consider virtual assistants

Companies such as Cyberbacker can help identify your specific needs, connect you with the perfect assistant and help with training. Since the majority of Virtual Assistants (VAs) are located offshore, this can be a much more effective solution.

While real estate laws state-to-state may prevent them from providing specific types of information, they can at least respond immediately and set up return responses by you.

Our team has a number of VAs who do a wonderful job for us. Like any component in real estate, there is a learning curve involved, and some patience will be needed. It may also take you some time to find a VA who is a match to your requirements.

6. Hire an ISA

Short for Inside Sales Assistant, an effective ISA can be the single point of contact for all incoming queries, regardless of the source. This takes effective planning to make sure potential clients come in through specific channels.

Dedicated phone numbers are the best place to start, followed with online lead generation sources that funnel into the ISA department and are backed up with an extensive Contact Management system (CRM).

Buyers or sellers looking for information are either, depending on their requests, connected to an agent in real-time or have an appointment booked with an agent on the team. Many larger teams have extensive ISA Departments with ISAs who overlap so there are no response blackouts.

Whether a solo agent or a large team, effective responses to incoming requests are the lifeblood of the business. Long before we are in the business of selling real estate, we are in the lead generation and nurturing business. Without properly processed leads there will never be any sales – it is really that simple.

Carl Medford is the CEO of The Medford Team.

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