Technology should be used to harness meaningful connections, not replace them. Here are ways your agents can get face-to-face with clients using tech.
woman sitting at kitchen table, checking her phone

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As the founder of a real estate company, I’m constantly bombarded with requests from companies to adopt their new technology, purportedly the next “it” factor that will help agents work less and earn more. It’s tempting to buy into these promises. After all, the proliferation of smartphones, social media, and instant messaging apps have given us the ability to connect instantaneously with anyone, anywhere, anytime. However, the very same technology meant to bring us closer together can also have the opposite effect. As is the case with any tool, how you use it makes all the difference.

Many companies think adopting the latest technology is the best way to deliver value to customers, but the most valuable—and increasingly precious—resource we can offer our clients is an authentic, relationship-based connection. As humans, the feeling of belonging is one of our most basic needs. And as individuals increasingly report feelings of isolation, it’s even more imperative that we strive to connect with our clients on a personal level. We are in the people business. Technology can only support our relationships—it can never replace them.

Mobile phone are omnipresent, with 95 percent of Americans owning one, according to the Pew Research Center. They accompany us everywhere: meals, workplaces, social gatherings, and bedtime. But negative consequences occur when we become more focused on our phones than the people around us.

It’s common to interact with others through screens rather than face-to-face. But studies show that when someone pulls out their phone in the midst of a face-to-face meeting, it causes a universally negative reaction—the feeling of being undervalued and unimportant. While our digital connectedness can have a negative toll on our real-life interactions, it’s not practical to suggest that we ditch our phones and shun the internet, especially when it comes to real estate. Our clients want the ability to research their options, explore listings online, and when they’re ready, easily contact an agent. And agents need access to useful tools for promoting their business and servicing their customers.

In our current digital climate, how do we also maintain meaningful connections with real estate clients? How does providing white-glove service fit in? And how does the client define premium service? Is it the ability to never see an agent until the house search has been narrowed to three options? Or is it having an agent who will take them around to see the maybes and what-ifs three Sundays in a row in their family car?

Sherry Turkle, a clinical psychologist and sociologist at MIT, has spent more than three decades studying the effect of digital communication tools on society. In her latest book, Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age, Turkle points out that speaking with people offers a myriad of benefits, including increased empathy and feelings of connection.

In the real estate industry, this is especially salient. Building and maintaining relationships is a critical component of success. The best real estate agents sit down and have in-depth conversations with their clients. They get to know them (and their families), so they have a clear picture of what they’re looking for in a home and neighborhood, what’s most important to them, and what will be a good fit. Members of the Forbes Real Estate Council, a group of successful real estate executives, gave similar advice when it comes to sales: To be successful, you must know your client, understand their needs, and function as a trusted advisor. In another survey, consumers named the following characteristics as the most important qualities they looked for in a real estate agent: honesty and integrity, knowledge, responsiveness, and communication skills.

To build truly long-lasting partnerships—the kind that are relational versus simply transactional—today’s high-performing real estate professionals must be high-tech and high-touch. Here are five tips to help your agents achieve that balance.

1. Start a call or letter-writing campaign to clients. The best agents seek out ways to show their clients how much they value them. At RedKey, we organized a “March Madness” initiative, encouraging agents to call or send handwritten notes to clients with whom they might typically communicate electronically. This technique was a way to demonstrate to clients that their agent cared enough to devote extra time and attention especially to them.

2. Create a social media challenge. Social media can be a very effective marketing tool for agents, allowing them to broaden their networks, advertise their listings, and showcase their personalities. But the most successful agents recognize that their online presence represents only a fraction of their real-life presence. Challenge your agents to use social media to invite past or current clients to do something in person. This tactic combines both high-tech and high-touch methods of engagement. Social media is an effective tool to make and maintain contact with others, but to strengthen those bonds, it’s essential to connect offline, too.

3. Take advantage of both big data and “small data.” Knowing the demographics of your desired client audience—and using targeted marketing to reach them—can be an effective way to generate prospects. After those prospects become clients, don’t neglect the importance of “small data.” Encourage your agents to take note of clients’ birthdays, home purchase anniversaries, and other milestones or interests so they can send cards or notes on those dates. These personal touches will strengthen the relationship and increase the likelihood that one-time prospects will become repeat clients and referral sources.

4. Get personal with technology updates. If you are implementing a new technology to better serve your clients or make their lives a bit easier, don’t just roll it out without offering guidance on how to use it. Make the launch personal. Invite agents (or clients) to meet in person to learn about the new technology, including how it will benefit them and help you serve clients better. Consider having a catered lunch and holding a “launch and learn” event.

5. Don’t use technology as a shortcut. Cutting-edge technology trends, such as 360-degree photos and virtual reality tours, are prominent in the real estate industry. Know that these are great tools for clients but should not be used as a substitute for interaction. Your agents can offer more insight into the flow, feel, and condition of a home than any digital version can provide. Use this to your advantage. Leverage technology as a value-add, not a substitution, and you’ll help your agent secure their role as a trusted advisor.

High-touch methods, such as engaging in substantial conversation, adding personal touches, and employing a customer-first mindset of service, are highly effective ways to add value to our real estate business interactions. How we handle the high-tech tools available to us determines whether their effects will be beneficial or harmful to our business. The secret to harnessing the positive power of technology? Treat it as a way to supplement meaningful connection, not replace it.

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