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Part 3: Setting the Bar (QSC Agent Ratings)

March 07 2011

customer loyaltyAs real estate professionals compete for the attention of local homebuyers, the question is “How do customers’ choose service providers?”  Traditionally, they would ask a neighbor, friend, or family member for a recommendation.  Today, people are casting a wider net by increasingly seeking the advice of their social networks and popular search engines.

Have you ever typed into a Google search bar “reputable plumber in ”?

Have you ever seen a Facebook update that read something like “I need a good lawyer, anyone who knows of someone in the Sacramento area?”

Consumers are asking their sphere of influence (SOI) and Google to frequently provide answers.

These consumers are not merely flipping through the Yellow Pages looking for the service provider with the biggest ad on the page.

So how is the demand for real answers, recommendations, and reliable information being offered to consumers, and how can you take advantage of this trend to gain competitive advantage?

Agent ratings could be your answer.

Larry Romito, founder of Quality Service Certified (QSC), also known as the Father of Agent Ratings, says, “With the proliferation of websites offering product/service ratings, the challenge for consumers is to be able to sort through it all to determine what’s relevant and what’s reliable.”

According to Romito there is not enough information online to give consumers valuable insights into real estate professionals when it comes to service quality and customer service satisfaction.

“We have more information and data on a neighborhood little league team than we do on real estate agents’ reliability, consistency, responsiveness, accountability, and competence.  Service quality and customer satisfaction are simply not objectively measured and assessed. This has to change,” says Romito.

The Internet provides lots of information and often in near real time – that’s what makes the Internet such an attraction. As we are coming to experience, that does not mean that all that information is good and objective.  The problem for consumers and the Internet today is not one of finding enough information, but rather finding information that is accurate and reliable.

Whether an avid Fox News fan, or a pronounced critic of that news source, the opportunity exists to watch the news, sift through the biases, and make your own decisions about the facts as presented.  Consumers today are learning to be savvy, and they are making their own judgments between a news story rooted in an agenda and one that fairly presents the facts.

Similarly, REALTORS® are concerned about consumers being exposed to questionable “facts” and data and the consumer’s ability to differentiate orchestrated recommendations and manufactured data from those that are real.  While it’s clear that consumers have a keen and growing interest in the quality and service satisfaction side of the real estate experience, it’s just as clear that bad data is worse than none at all.

So what can Agent Ratings do for agents?

Agent ratings is a useful tool for real estate professionals for two reasons:

1. It’s what consumers want.  Philip Kotler, famed professor of Marketing at Northwestern University, puts it this way: the key to marketing and business success is understanding what consumers want and delivering it!  Consumers want more transparency and less spin. They want more facts, data and the opinions of actual past customers rather than the opinions of those selling the service. Consumers want to make better, more informed decisions. Offering all the facts (good, bad, and complete) related to service quality and past customer satisfaction provide the real estate professional with both differentiation and competitive advantage.


2. It’s what real estate professionals need.  Every serious pursuit requires feedback, performance assessment, and continuous improvement.  And assessing one’s own performance is just like grading your own papers in school.  It is a flawed process that lacks in credibility.  Not only does feedback give the agent constructive ways to improve, research has clearly shown that knowing evaluation follows performance will, in itself, positively impact performance.

Positive changes in behavior: two governing principals

Romito says, “Agent ratings can positively and measurably influence the behavior of real estate professionals.  An increase in leads, clients, sales, and income are delightful by-products.”

He goes on to explain two key influencers of behavior:

* visibility and consequences
* synapse

“My departed Irish mother said, ‘If you want teen agers to behave well at a party, keep the room bright’."

The principal of visibility and consequences recognizes that a bright room is more likely to bring out the best in people. We all behave better in the sunlight. People perform better when they know there is an evaluation process and related consequences – good or bad.

Synapse, a physiological term, has been adopted by behavioral scientists to explain how the gap between behavior and feedback impacts future performance.  The longer the time (the larger the gap) between performance and feedback, the less likely future behavior will be influenced.  Inversely, the more immediate the feedback, the more likely needed performance change will take place. The key then to improving service quality and customer satisfaction is higher visibility service performance assessment and more timely feedback.

“The consumer image of REALTORS® according to a number of surveys has reached new lows. Consistency, accountability, reliability, and responsiveness (or lack thereof) have been primary contributors. Over the past decade we (QSC) have delivered nearly 3,000,000 service quality and customer satisfaction assessment surveys.  The evidence is clear and overwhelming: companies and professionals who engage in independent, professional assessment of service quality deliver remarkably better, more satisfying service than those who don’t (50% - 60% more very satisfied customers; 70% -85% fewer dissatisfied clients),” says Romito.

What is QSC?

QSC, Quality Service Certification, Inc., has a two-fold mission:  Helping consumers find and select the best professional service providers; Helping service professionals deliver their best.

Real estate professionals who choose QSC to assess their service quality (their agent ratings solution) agree to let QSC contact each of their clients after closing and send them a customer satisfaction assessment survey.  Only buyers and sellers who participated in an actual real estate transaction will be asked to fill out an assessment. Every transaction is included in the assessment process and none of the responses or results are thrown out or modified.

The assessment process is independently delivered, administered, and processed by QSC.  The customer satisfaction assessment survey can be delivered via email, snail mail, or both.

“People are more comfortable and candid in giving feedback to a third party. It’s awkward sometimes for an agent to ask ‘How did I do? Were you happy with my service?’ It can be even more awkward for the consumer.  And asking the right questions requires special skills and experience not part of REALTOR® training,” says Romito.

Once the assessment survey is completed, QSC notifies the agent via email that the survey was completed providing access to their survey results including comments, various reporting functions, and presentation graphics. When a company has engaged QSC, a broker, manager, and broker/owner can also elect to receive email notice and access the results.

QSC offers a very flexible system of options and choices. The agent and company can elect to keep all the results private – for internal use only.  Or a variety of options are available to publish the independently validated results – from an overall Customer Satisfaction Rating, to enhanced presentations of data details and actual past customer comments. QSC also offers publishing outlets to independent consumer sites, connectivity to other websites, and customized widgets for social marketing and networking.

The independent validation of the survey process and results offer objectivity and credibility to enhance an agent’s or companies marketing strategies.

What about a bad review?

When considering how an agent should handle a negative review, Romito suggests, “The first advice we have is for agents to learn something from it.  Consider it valuable and an opportunity.  Often, it is enlightening and reveals feelings and perceptions that would otherwise go undetected. Negative feedback is, of course, not fun.  But service is your profession.”

“Focus groups and research indicate that an occasional negative comment is actually a positive giving credibility and a sense of reality to the process and results.  Consumers do not expect perfection and in fact can be skeptical of perfect. Consumers also have a pretty good sense of the critique of the unreasonable consumer, the all caps commentary, underlines, multiple exclamation marks and colorful adjectives,“ Romito adds.

It seems that consumers are more likely to trust agents with a negative comment in a series of glowing reports, mainly because they see this as proof that the agent is open, hiding nothing and the system seems credible and reliable.

For the most part Romito says consumers understand that there is always going to be that customer with an attitude, unreasonable expectations, and a need to place blame.  It’s understandable.  He believes the upside, potential benefits, and opportunities far outweigh the risks.

Who will benefit from Agent Ratings and potentially QSC?

Arguably, everyone benefits from the feedback of clients

  • Consumers are able to make better, more informed decisions
  • Agents and companies can offer consumers valuable “content” they are demanding
  • Agents serious about their business can find ways to improve their service
  • Agents looking for differentiation and competitive advantage
  • Brokers looking to protect their brand and image by creating consistency, transparency, accountability, and reliability in service quality and customer service
  • Associations and MLS’s interested in offering Members special tools, technology, and resources raising the bar for the industry

When it comes to QSC specifically, new agents and agents who take their service seriously cannot help but benefit from direct feedback from their clients.  New agents learning the business tend to be sponges for advice and critiques as they find their footing.  Certainly, agents who are competitive and continually seeking new ways to better their business and practice would benefit from directly hearing from their clients.

“Can you imagine a serious product manufacturing company without a system for quality control?  Our product in real estate is service.  Isn’t it time we become more serious” Romito asks.

Romito offered a final thought - Nicolas Murray Butler, Nobel Laureate and past president of Columbia University once said, “There are three kinds of people in this world: those who make things happen; those who watch things happen; those who don’t know what’s happening.”  The choice is ours.