Influence of word of mouth on customer perception of service

This research paper focuses on the influence of word of mouth (WOM) on customers’ perception of service. It’s axiomatic that negative WOM can significantly impact brand reputation. Studying the effect of WOM on such perceptions, though, is another matter. And the research article delves into some interesting bits. First, customers’ perceived service value influences their revisit intention, which in turn influences positive or negative WOM. Second, gender influences WOM. The study points out that women trend more towards a relational aspect versus men who are more trial-and-error focused:

  • For female customers, relational service quality will have a stronger total influence on the WOM than core service quality.
  • For male customers, core service quality will have a stronger total influence on WOM than relational quality.
  • The total effect of relational quality on WOM will be stronger for female customers than the male.
  •  The total effect of core quality on WOM will be stronger for male than female.

The implications seem fairly obvious: focus on delivering superior relational and core experiences. The study suggests different methods of CRM (call scripts, greetings, etc) based on gender, especially where the CRM involves human-to-human interaction. In real estate, this could trickle down to agents’ initial interactions with cusomters too: for men, generally, get right to the point, whereas for women, generally, focus on establishing a relationship first and ease into the data as relationship-focused interactions mature.

Online community management and social ties

This study (.pdf) delves into programmatic methodology that can be used to predict strong and weak ties between users of a social network. From a community manager’s perspective, this is important because predictive activities can alleviate some oversight tasks while intelligently satisfying the needs of community members. As an example of practical implications of their research, the authors note that:

When users make privacy choices, a system could make educated guesses about which friends fall into trusted and untrusted categories.

…and…

Consider a politician or company that wants to broadcast a message through the network such that it only passes through trusted friends.

From a marketing perspective, it’s important to understand this as way to drive customer loyalty because as social networks continue to grow, predictive systems that deliver more relevant information in meaningful ways will drive overall customer loyalty. This could be a huge value add for such social network marketing/branding services like Facebook pages.

Related post: Peering Under the Hood at Facebook

Facebook and Twitter real time search is good for multichannel marketing strategies

Facebook’s recent purchase of FriendFeed is a multichannel marketing boon. Mashable detailed some threats Twitter may face with respect to the FriendFeed purchase while pointing out some threats to Google too. Regardless as to how the game (err war) plays out, as a marketer you’ve just been handed another delicious marketing tool to leverage. I’ve previously written about the potential power of Facebook and Twitter as multichannel marketing tools. The basic gist of the argument is illustrated by how Dell Computer leverages Facebook and Twitter.

A quick perusal of Dell’s Twitter and Facebook landing pages demonstrates multichannel marketing at it best: Dell has Facebook pages and Twitter handles for Dell Lounge, Dell Outlet, Dell Small Business, etc. The beauty of this from a multichannel marketing strategy is that a consumer “subscribes” to a particular channel (out of a choice of many) and self-selects which topic (i.e., channel) is most important to them knowing that Dell will centralize almost all of its communication to them about this particular topic via this channel. This works well for the real-time search features of Facebook and Twitter.

Here’s how this plays out on Facebook’s new real-time search feature for “dell lounge”:

Here’s how the same search plays out on search.Twitter.com:

Here’s a Facebook search result for “delloutlet“:

Here’s a Twitter search result for the same:

As a real estate marketer you could do something like Dell by setting up niche-specific Facebook Pages and separate, corresponding, Twitter handles (for example, focusing on foreclosure investment advice in your market niche). Anyone who fans your Facebook page or subscribes to the corresponding Twitter channel has an expectation of receiving targeted advice related to the topic you’ve identified. For example, in the case of foreclosure investment advice you could update/tweet about listings, market stats, your general thoughts, etc, while cross promoting both channels (for example, on Dell’s Twitter page you will notice they promote their Facebook pages). The synergies realized between both platforms will go a long way towards reinforcing your expertise and further position you as a trusted advisor.

Real estate multichannel marketing increasing ROI

Aligning website landing pages with targeted social media marketing channels will yield higher on-page conversions (as defined by increased showing appointments, chat requests, 1-800 number call-ins, etc). The challenge many real estate marketers face today is effectively managing the flow of social media traffic with an eye towards ROI. It’s a multichannel marketing issue, which starts with controlling user client and potential client expectations so to avoid the “mishmash syndrome”.

The mishmash syndrome occurs when all sources of traffic to your website converge without any clear indication from whence they’ve come combined with no clear indication as to what they’re to do once on the site. Confusion reigns, frustration mounts, bounces occur. In other words without controlling the expectations of the originating inbound users it’s very difficult to align on-page calls to action to users’ needs and expectations. In fact, your website may–at first glance–look something like this:

Confusing signage and message
Confusing signage and message

Controlling expectations could be as simple as clearly defining what types of information you’ll engage in on a specific social media platform. For example:

  • clearly indicate on your website to follow you on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn for specific information
  • set up a LinkedIn professional group or Facebook Page where you’ll focus your information and interaction around a specific topic like real estate investment advice in the age of REO
  • begin slowly migrating your Twitter updates to centralize around a cloud of topics or invite current followers to “subscribe” to a new Twitter handle that will focus exclusively on this “topic cloud”
  • start using targeted Facebook ads to drive traffic

By doing something like the above you’ll let your sphere opt-in to specific channels which thus frees you to narrowly focus on the specific themes or topics you’ve identified. Once you’ve begun engaging new or migrated followers via these defined channels you can begin tracking flows to your website and testing and optimizing the website to meet these users’ expectations.

For example, let’s assume you have a call to action on your website home page something like this: “Join our new Facebook page for real estate investment and REO advice” (as opposed to simply saying “Join us on Facebook”). As you begin to gain fans to this specific page you have a fairly high degree of confidence they’re there for a specific purpose and you could initially provide studies, market stats, reports, essentially any base level research and information regarding real estate investment and REO and ask for comments and feedback regarding these posts. This builds authority and credibility.

Once you’ve developed a healthy degree of dialogue (i.e., engagement) you can begin driving people back to your site for targeted activities, for example: “Just listed a sweet foreclosure investment property” with a link back to a landing detail page specifically targeted at this Facebook fan base and their Facebook friends, perhaps even with a welcome message like “Thanks for visiting us from Facebook, glad you’re here” (a simple script that recognizes the originating URL should do the trick nicely). And then knowing that this fan visitor is likely comfortable with “tech” perhaps your primary “contact me” call to action is a prominently displayed and colored button that says “Click this button to text me if you want to set up an appointment”, with a thank you message after the click like “Thanks for texting me, I’ll text you back shortly and we can set up an appointment. Make it a great day.”

These types of tactics go a long way to realizing a 1-to-1 dialogue. These tactics allow you to focus on a specific niche, target an engaged clientele, position you as an expert to this clientele, and close the loop in a manner that’s satisfactory to this clientele.

Related posts:
Clients are not cows
Responsiveness drives differentiation

List of social web resources 5-21-2009

Metrics
Here is a great primer on RFM analysis, which I believe has applicability to social media marketing. The foundation of RFM is something that can drive the establishment of engagement metrics as well as allowing marketers to do a better job at managing the social media marketing channel.

Social media
Scoop44, an online “newspaper” founded by college students, received a two-year grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation (nice to see the support of online journalism pure-plays; eventually we likely will not even make the distinction). This site is a nice blend between traditional reporting and new media functionality.

General coolness
Anyone interested in exploring and discussing graphic design issues should consider visiting this site. It’s an excellent compendium of thought-provoking topics and trends related to graphic design. Cutting through social media chatter will depend more and more on effective design to engage people once they’ve stepped past the social media veneer.

Responsiveness Drives Differentiation

Are your prospective clients having to act like abalone divers to interact with you? Abalone divers furbish themselves with an abalone iron to pry off abalones from submerged rocks. These divers are committed to their task, as abalone is considered a divine delicacy to some. But if prospective clients have to work like an abalone diver to communicate with and engage you, chances are they’ll dive elsewhere.

Concierge service is not a new topic, it still resonates. Let’s assume you have a robust lead acquisition strategy that runs the gamut from SEO, SEM, social media, targeted print ads, etc. Let’s assume too that this strategy yields a healthy inbound inquiry pipeline. Let’s also assume that–if you’re a brokerage–you have a decent eCommerce, relocation, and/or Internet lead management team that responds in a timely manner to these inquiries whether they’ve come in by email, telephone, or live chat. Finally, let’s assume that as an agent you get lead inquiries directly (from your blog, website, broker, etc) and/or leads are routed to you via a relocation or lead management team. What’s the average response time to these direct-to-agent or eCommerce-to-agent leads? If it’s over 15 minutes, I posit that is too long (for eCommerce-to-agent leads, I say response time should be under 5 minutes).

According to the 2008 NAR Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers:

  • 21% of home buyers say reputation is an important factor when choosing an agent, which is the second most important factor out of eight factors polled, the number one factor (at 29%) is agent honesty and trustworthiness
  • 93% of home buyers rate responsiveness as “very important” when considering agent skills
  • 84% of home buyers rate communication skills as “very important” when considering agents skills
  • 67% of all buyers interview only one agent in their search process

Do prospective clients visit the following types of sites more often than real estate websites: BassPro.com, Cabelas.com, Zappos.com, Craigslist.com, Geico.com? I’ll posit that your prospective clients are visiting these types of sites more often than any one real estate site. Thus, their customer service–their concierge service–expectations are being set by these entities. Where does your service level measure up related to these companies?

Put yourself in the shoes of a consumer who goes to BassPro.com and contacts their customer support staff and gets a response within one minute or less (especially if he/she used live chat). Would you say this consumer has a higher likelihood of being satisfied and that BassPro likely created a good vibe for its brand in the mind of that consumer? I’d say yes. Now what would happen if that consumer had to wait for 48 or 72 hours for a response to his/her question that common sense tells him/her should take only a couple of minutes? I’d say a bad vibe is created. Granted, if the customer is committed enough, he/she may try to pry a response out of BassPro by recontacting them. But the more he/she has to try and pry the customer service abalone shell off the rock, the less likely this customer will remain with BassPro. And if prospective clients have to pry a response out of you, the less likely they are to engage with you.

Prospective clients expect responsiveness. And their expectation for this responsiveness is being set OUTSIDE the real estate industry. Thus, it’s incumbent upon real estate professionals to step up to the client concierge service plate and respond as quickly as possible to inbound lead inquiries.

Where do you want your trustworthiness and reputation factors to be slotted in a prospective client’s mind: as uncaring and lazy because you don’t typically respond in a timely manner, or that you’re concerned about prospective clients’ needs and desires? Thus, meet 93% of home buyers’ expectations and set a standard to respond to inquiries in a timely manner. If 84% of home buyers consider communication skills as very important, how are you demonstrating your communication skills–as ignoring a prospective client’s requests, or by addressing him/her with alacrity and professionalism?

Don’t make prospective clients pry a response out of you. Remember that 67% of prospective clients contact and interview only one agent during their search process. Increase your odds of gaining a client’s trust and business by quickly responding to their inquiries.

Photo attribution: Abalone divers, Queue

Adding blog functionality to real estate websites

This Universal McCann study states that

  • Blogs are a mainstream media world-wide and as a collective rival any traditional media
  • The blogsphere is becoming increasingly participatory, now 184m bloggers world-wide

 

And as recently referred to in my previous post on the long tail, the New York Times discusses the power of blogs for real estate firms.

So why are many real estate brokerage web sites so un-blog-like? It seems to me that if consumers are familiar with blogs, frequently read and interact with blogs, brokerage sites ought to adopt “blog-like” functionality on their web sites so as to give consumers modes of “familiarity” when they visit (it’s probably safe to say that consumers interact with non-real estate sites on a much more frequent basis and, thus, their expectations for best-in-class web site experiences are set by these non-real estate sites).

For example, brokerages could create a popular search cloud. Similarly, firms could create a listings type cloud based on property type, location, lifestyle, time-on-market, foreclosure, and price. As demonstrated by Amazon’s “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought” product recommendation success, consumers want to know what other consumers are doing and thinking. Thus, a search cloud lets consumers take a pulse of the market by quickly perusing the cloud. Second, a listings cloud quickly lets consumers see what type and how much inventory exists without having to perform a search to get this information.

One click into either cloud quickly sifts the database and returns a results set to the consumer, and from there he/she could further refine a search; thus, reinforcing that the firm’s website is functional, speedily returns results, and respects consumers’ time. Further, these two features would go a long way towards giving consumers something “familiar” while enhancing real estate website functionality and data accessibility. All of the above combines to increase marketing penetration and consumer loyalty.

Long-tail in a multi-channel strategy

McKinsey & Company Consulting interview of Google CEO discussing long-tail search viability.

This is a great video interview of Google’s CEO by McKinsey & Company Consulting. Read this definition of Zipf’s Law first, however, if you don’t know what Zipf’s law is. What’s especially intriguing is the interview segment that discusses the long-tail versus the head. Schmidt does not dismiss the long-tail as a search marketing strategy, but he does implicitly decry its value. My take-away from his comments, however, is that no single strategy is the marketing silver bullet; rather it’s a blending of marketing strategies that makes sense. Abandon the long-tail as a strategy? No. Augment your firm’s short-tail and primary brand promotion strategy with a concerted long-tail marketing strategy powered by blogs? Absolutely. This study leads credence to this augment, where it states that blogs have just as much reach as mainstream media.

Maximum Ride multi-channel marketing tactics

Here’s a great example of multi-channel marketing: the Maximum Ride literary series. The first book in the series refers readers to this blog, which refers readers to this YouTube video.

Real estate professionals can use similar tactics. For example, on listing presentation collateral, refer prospective clients to your blog, from your blog refer clients to your listings. Why the blog first and not your listings?

Your blog operates as an authority imprimatur where your clients and prospective clients can read about your expertise; thus, your blog operates as a 24/7 testimonial as to WHY you’re an expert. Prospective clients want to know “why” they should retain you. Current clients want a reason “why” they should refer you. Past clients need a reason “why” they should reengage you.

Real estate data integration for multi-channel marketing

The tightest definition of multichannel customer management I have yet found is:

Multichannel customer management refers to the design, deployment, coordination, and evaluation of channels through which firms and customers interact, with the goal of enhancing customer value through effective customer acquisition, retention, and development.

Neslin, et al. have authored a definitive research article that real estate firms can use to understand the challenges pertaining to “modern” real estate practices relating to client relationship, and agent relationship, issues. The research paper explores five primary challenges and analyzes the issues pertaining thereto.

Neslin begins by identifying the challenges:

[F]ive major challenges for managers: (1) data integration, (2) understanding consumer behavior, (3) channel evaluation, (4) allocation of resources across channels, and (5) coordination of channel strategies.

This post is first in a four or five part series that will explore Neslin’s position and extrapolate such to real estate marketing and client relationship best practices.

Neslin begins by identifying multitudinous ways by which consumers engage retail firms–from kiosks, call centers, catalogs, bricks-and-mortar stores, etc. Similar interaction vehicles are true for real estate firms–front-yard signs, websites, office walk-ins, etc. Next, Neslin defines “channel”

By “channel,” we mean a customer contact point, or a medium through which the firm and the customer interact.

He then sets the basis for his study: that the focuse of MCM is on the customer, as MCM is a customer-centric function. Neslin next identifies major phases of a client interaction

First, customer perceptions and preferences drive channel choices (e.g., the customer may prefer the Internet for search because it is easy to use). Second, the customer learns from and evaluates his or her experiences, which feed back into the perceptions and preferences that guide his or her next shopping task (e.g., the customer may learn that the Internet search did not answer all the important questions). Third, the customer chooses both channels and firms, so from the customer perspective, it is a two-dimensional choice.

The relevant question then is: to harness this consumer interaction data, what investments must a firm make regarding such? What Neslin argues is that firms do not necessarily have to invest in processes that involve “full data integration” in a quest to develop a “single view” of a customer. What this suggests, then, is that firms must make strategic investments in data acquisition a key points in a transaction.

Real estate firms can leverage key consumer data acquisition “channels” or points. First, any point where a consumer registers for information is a channel. This real estate site contains at least 15 registration opportunities for clients during key phases of a transaction: from beginning (click-to-chat) to contacting an agent to book a showing appointment. Of course, many firms already have this data. So what’s the next step?

Data overlays.

That is, real estate firms should consider augmenting this core consumer registration data with real time, or post-transaction data overlays, from data aggregation companies like Experian, Acxiom, Equifax, etc. These overlays take the form additional demographics, psychographics, household income levels, lifestage, etc, data elements.

Another form of consumer data can be supplied by real estate agents. Although somewhat rare, some agents actually keep client profiles (likes, desires, familial relationships). Why? Because thes agents know that understanding a client’s profile allows them to serve this client (and like clients) at a degree somewhat higher than the norm. These agents use these profiles as their competitive differentiator.

Creating client profiles (either at the per record level, or aggregate level) should be considered a first step for any real estate firm that’s serious about multi-channel management. By using such profiles firms can engage clients at a more relevant and informative level. Thus, maximizing the return on investment the customer is making by spending time on the real estate firm’s site. Similarly, a firm maximizes its own return on investment by allocating tight marketing resources in a more intelligent and cost-conscious manner.

Multichannel marketing forensics

Kevin Hillstrom, President of MineThatData has written an excellent whitepaper on conducting a multichannel forensics analysis. Why is this whitepaper an important resource to real estate firms? Because real estate firms are engaged in complex multichannel marketing endeavors. But only a handful of these firms analyze their data from a multichannel perspective.

How does a firm begin its forensics analysis? Hillstrom explains:

  1. Understand the Retention Mode your product, brand or channel resides in.
  2. Understand the Migration Mode your product, brand or channel resides in.
  3. Combine the Retention and Migration Mode, understand which of twelve retention/migration modes your business operates in. This determines the way you will grow your business, long-term.
  4. Map the Ecosystem, so that the executive can clearly understand how all products, brands and channels interact with each other.
  5. Forecast the Ecosystem. This allows the executive to understand the long-term health of the ecosystem, given various marketing initiatives.

A key point Hillstrom makes is to look at multichannel businesses as ecosystems, where each product and division is interdependent on one another (a biodiversity perspective would also apply). Unfortunately, many companies are still balkanized in this regard.

For the most part, real estate firms have at least centralized their focus around a core product and service: representing buyers and sellers of homes and other forms of real estate, combined with highly related ancillary businesses such as rentals, REO, mortgage and title services, etc. This is a real estate firm’s ecosystem.

Hillstrom, in this whitepaper, has identified several business modes and strategic considerations related thereto. With the exception of certain commercial divisions and investment services, real estate firms fall within one of the two following modes: Acquisition / Equilibrium Mode and Acquisition / Transfer Mode. Both modes imply a constant sourcing of new customers with differences in how customers adopt new products or services. In the case of the former, Hillstrom states customers occasionally migrate, whereas in the case of the latter, the assumption is that customers will migrate to another product (much like a professional baseball player over his career migrates between teams).

So how can real estate firms a) position their products and services more relevantly to new sources of customers while b) targeting the “may migrate” class to the “probably will transfer” segment? Hillstrom advocates mapping the ecosystem

A key aspect of Multichannel Forensics is the mapping of the ecosystem you work in. Each combination of products, brands and channels are mapped. Any relationships in equilibrium or transfer are mapped with arrows, arrows that indicate the direction of the relationship.

The next step is to forecast the ecosystem, which, Hillstrom argues, enables executives to engage in valuable scenario analyses.

The benefit to a real estate firm in undertaking these analytical steps is that it will have a deeper understanding as to how its agents influence (negatively or positively) the firm’s sales of its primary and ancillary products and services. What’s also beneficial about Hillstrom’s whitepaper is that he actually gives you a step-by-step process by which to perform the analysis.