The Yard Sign System
Power of the Sign
What is surprising about the above is only 57% of buyers reported using yard signs. This is even more surprising because this 57% of buyers don't think the signs are very useful. Almost all of internet and real estate users felt those information sources were either useful or very useful. But only 81% of yard sign users thought this information source was either useful or very useful.
This is still pretty good. But where the real differences lie is in the people who thought these top three were VERY useful. Only 41% of people using yard signs thought they were very useful while 81% of internet users and people using Realtors felt these sources of information were very useful. Imagine what we could do the sales generated by the yard sign if only we could make them as effective as the internet or the Realtor as a source of information.
This is what we set out to do with our yard sign system...and we achieved far more than we ever imagined possible. First we looked at why people felt the yard sign was a useful source of information. Simply put people used yard signs to identify houses for sale because it is an easy to use self-service resource. Most people have some pretty good ideas of where they want to live. As they enter the final stage of the buying process they often look around at those neighborhoods. And they see yard signs.
But they are not very satisfied with the information available to them thru those signs. It does not take long to figure out what the problem is. They have two ways they can gather more information about that house with the sign in front of it: 1) try to find it on the internet...or 2) contact the Realtor who put the sign in front of the house. The former is difficult and requires follow up at a later time...not very acceptable. And the latter requires communicating with the salesperson - the Realtor. If you want to understand how much the buyer wants to call the Realtor just think about going into a car dealership and what you do as soon as you are approached by a sales rep. You avoid them. You say you are only looking. People want to gather information on their own without having to be interrogated by a salesperson.
The person looking at the yard sign wants more information. The fact that NAR reports this is the third most used information source demonstrates this clearly. But other information from the NAR studies also indicates that only 18% of people STARTED their search by contacting a Realtor while 71% of people started their search by using self-service information options. The yard sign provides minimal self-service information. So we determined if we could find a way to improve the self-service effectiveness of the yard sign we could create a very powerful marketing tool.
We quickly identified the free recorded info 800 line systems as a potential solution. The systems we looked at were very effective. In fact one system claimed to have 12,000 Realtors using their system and claimed that the Realtors could double or triple their income thru the use of their toll free info lines. But a further review of their literature was confusing. They indicated the average cost of the system was $67/month. Now if you have a system that only costs $67/month to use, why wouldn't almost every Realtor be using it?
To understand this we interviewed a number of agents using this and other similar systems. It became abundantly clear that the systems worked...and could work extremely well just as was claimed. But the cost of the system grew substantially if the agent aggressively used it so to "double or triple" their costs were far greater than the $67/month cited in that company's literature. By eliminating the cost this issue went away for our system.
What was more apparent was that most agents did not like dealing with the administrative functions necessary to operate these systems. Those systems required the Realtor to handle the administrative functions and do the recordings of the property descriptions themselves...usually by dialing into the system and doing a live recording of the description. So one of the biggest obstacles to implementation of the plan was the systems were inconvenient to use. This was clearly something we could easily fix by including turnkey support in our system.
But the biggest problem with these systems was the antiquated menu-driven technology they used. Our objective was create a self-service option for the yard sign and we saw no reason to use menu-driven technology which is the most hated feature of customer service systems in almost every industry. Instead we set out to build a system that, while computerized, used natural voices and engaged the caller in a realistic conversation. We determined that if we could engage people in a conversation they would spend more time on the system and be more receptive to further assistance...either by transferring during the call or receiving a follow up contact.
Based on this analysis of other less powerful information systems we set out to build a state of the art property info system that would address not only the caller's needs but also the needs of the Realtors utilizing our service.
Super Charged Signs
The Call Flow
Our design criteria for our system were simple. This system must be friendly and easy to use so that callers do not get frustrated and hang up. We must be able to our Realtor marketing partners at no cost. And we must include total turnkey support that goes far beyond basic support functions.
Our first priority was to engage the customers. Our objective with a call is to set up the caller's frame of mind to be receptive to our offers of further assistance from the Realtor and our mortgage affiliate. So irritating them with a menu driven system was not an option. And we wanted the caller to have higher perceived values that mere "free recorded information." So on our rider signs that we provide the Realtor we offer 2r hour access to free audio tours of the property. And we have a "tour guide" named Simon greet the caller and ask them for the code.
The caller is immediately engaged in a conversation when the Simon voice says, "Please tell me the code you saw on the sign or the advertisement." As you can hear in the sample on the left of the page our guide voice is British so we us the phrasing advertisements rather than ads. Again this reinforces a perceived higher value to the information we are providing the caller. It also distracts the caller from the fact that this is an artificial voice. After all, when is the last time you heard a computer talk with a British accent?
The conversation is continued with Simon repeating back the code he has heard and asking the caller to confirm it is correct. We do this to further reinforce the fact that the caller is having a conversation with Simon while also insuring that we have a valid code to process thru the system. And once the code is confirmed, the Simon starts looking for the file....and ends with asking his assistant Kate to find it.
This is an artificial voice so there is no reason for the use of a second voice...except that this allows us to create a break in the call flow and naturally insert some important information. While Kate is looking for the file Simon says, "Oh by the way your tour today is provided to you by John Smith of ABC Realty and the fine people at XYZ Mortgage." This subtle little message establishes a 90 day exemption for both companies with the federal Do Not call regulations and allows us to follow up after the call ends with no fear of a $11,000 per call fine.
The break also allows us to have Simon remind the caller of how important it is in today's market to get their financing arranged. And it lets Simon introduce another level of interactivity to the caller. He tells the caller if they want to talk with someone about financing options all they have to do is say "financing" and he will connect them with the office. He goes on to tell the caller that if they remain on the line after finding out about the financing options they will be brought right back to him so they can continue their tour. And he also tells the caller they can just say agent if they want to be connected to the Realtor.
This transfer technology is very powerful. Other systems we looked at simply forwarded the call and terminated it in the system. By making the forwarded call a part of the system we are able to track what happens on the call. In our reports we are able to identify if the number the call was forwarded to was busy, did not answer, or the receiver did not accent the call. And we can report back the length of the call if it was received. This level of information reporting fits in very well with our commitment to go beyond the expected with our turnkey support.
Once this message is completed or the caller is returned from the financing transfer, Simon is wondering where Kate is and she admonishes him that she found the file just where he left it after the last tour. We use this bit of banter between Kate and Simon to further enhance the conversational nature of the system and to provide a subliminal call to action that there are people interested in this property.
An additional subliminal call to action is added when Simon announces he has another call coming in and asks Kate to take the caller on their tour. (In the original design this two voice structure was also set up to allow us to use multiple real voices for the assistant Kate since a real person can only record a limited number of descriptions in a day or may not be available when needed to record a call. This design is structured to allow us to maintain a natural call flow with either natural or artificial voices.)
Once the tour is completed Kate turns to call back over to Simon and he asks if the caller wants to be connected to the Agent or to hear about financing options. If not he asks the caller if they want to hear about another property.
The call flow described above is designed to engage the caller and establish us as a friendly information resource. But if the caller heard the same script the next time they called it would become just another annoying system they had to endure to get the information they want about the property. So we handle returning callers completely different. Simon greets the caller and reminds them about the property they heard about during their last call. He asks them if they want to hear about that property again or be transferred to the agent to arrange to see the property. The call flow then proceeds according to the response or Simon asks the caller for the new code for another property.
By differentiating the call flow used for returning callers (using the phone number of the caller) we further engage the caller and establish ourselves as a partner in their property search process.
The Follow Up
Our focus is creating a friendly consultative nature to our relationship with the caller. When we make a follow up call we want the caller to be receptive to talking to us. Accordingly, we do not structure this as a sales call. We use it to thank the caller for using the system and ask them what they thought about it. This is designed to get them off balance just a little because they are expecting this follow up call to be a sales pitch.
After engaging them in a conversation and making them feel we value their opinion we redirect the conversation to asking them about their search for a home to buy. We get them talking about themselves and interject a question asking what Realtor they are using (hoping of course they say they haven't chosen one yet). And we ask them who is handling their financing (again hoping that they have not gotten started on that yet).
We will offer to connect them to a Realtor or someone who can get the financing process started. But our primary purpose is to gather the competitive intelligence to allow for effective follow up by our Realtor partner and our mortgage affiliate.
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