As the CEO of the 10,000-member-strong Kansas City Regional Association of REALTORS® (KCRAR) and Heartland MLS, Kipp Cooper, RCE, has had his hands full since the COVID-19 stay-at-home orders went into effect last March. Fortunately, he has long championed tech tools that can help meet members’ needs whether they are in the office, showing properties, or working from home.
REALTOR® AE asked Cooper about coping with COVID-19 and creating engagement with members as a hybrid organization. Here’s what he said:
Q: How has the coronavirus changed how your association communicates with members?
Cooper: At the beginning of the pandemic, our first challenge was convincing 36 county governments to include real estate as an essential service. Many of our members didn’t understand how close they came to losing their right to sell real estate.
We had to develop guidelines for REALTORS® and continually communicate through the MLS, our website, podcasts, emails, and articles what was allowed and what changes and emergency rules were in place.
Q: Which association functions translate well to a hybrid environment?
Cooper: We were already working on online and virtual classes. This works well for MLS training, but we still have many students who want a live education experience. We have been offering a large number of Zoom classes and have returned to very small in-person classes. I anticipate future curricula as hybrid classes with 30 students live and 60 virtual, and huge video screens so the instructor and students can all interact as if everyone were seated in the same room.
Q: How has the office atmosphere changed?
Cooper: During our stay-at-home order, we repurposed and issued laptops to staff fully loaded with our phone system, Microsoft Teams, and our membership system, seamlessly enabling 40 employees at three offices to work from home. Some of our accounting and membership team remained at the office, and we set up services such as curbside, touch-free pickup or delivery of store items, personal protective equipment, and lockboxes.
Q: What are you doing to keep members engaged and active in the hybrid environment?
Cooper: We have podcasts, virtual happy hours, and virtual latté-and-learns. We do some limited outdoor activities, such as our Habitat for Humanity “Pride” build, golf tournament, neighborhood cleanups, and a very exciting virtual Unity Concert.
Our new website, kcrar.com, went live in November. It is the culmination of a multiyear project to learn individual member needs using artificial intelligence, user behavior data, and available MLS, demographic, social media, and voter data, and membership information. We are serving up custom content based on members’ specific and anticipated needs.
Q: Has the pandemic had any effect on how you operate the MLS?
Cooper: We developed new policies to allow for greater flexibility in staggering showings, permitted virtual and livestreamed showings, and moved all of our board meetings and trainings to Zoom. We never skipped a beat.
Q: Any other words of wisdom you’d like to share with fellow AEs about remote outreach?
Cooper: It’s a challenge [because] our members are social beings. Focus on creating quality interactions. “Blanket” Zoom meetings are like blanket emails—they won’t cut through the noise. It’s a massive waste of time for members if it isn’t specific to them and doesn’t offer some way to improve their business immediately.