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By Kim Murphy
Murphy and Murphy Southern California Realty 

Real estate round-up:

Technology and customer service: what's the tipping point?


Last updated 3/5/2018 at 2:07pm

There is a definite developing divide between good old-fashioned customer service, modern-day technology and how these concepts relate to real estate. Technology is crashing into our lives from every direction. As a committee member for the Strategic Planning and Finance Committee for the California Association of Realtors (CAR), we discuss at length the rapid integration of technology into the business of selling real estate.

One very large, well-known real estate firm just came out with a new high-tech digital platform that will utilize big data and artificial intelligence to serve their agents and clients. The company spokesperson actually stated in the announcement, "We're not a real estate company anymore." WOW! I thought that’s exactly what we’re supposed to be and do…but the times, they are a-changin’ and technology is trying to climb into the driver’s seat. But shouldn’t I be in the driver’s seat, with you sitting shotgun and technology humming along quietly under the hood? How much technology/efficiency do you want at the expense of personal care and attention?

Let’s consider this parallel. We all know that Nordstrom has long been regarded as the gold standard when it comes to customer service since it’s very inception way back in 1901. The small shoe store in Seattle’s employee handbook was literally a 5x7 postcard with a few introductory words and this: "Rule #1: Use your good judgment in all situations. There will be no additional rules.” This was literally the only rule in their employee handbook for decades to come, and John W. Nordstrom was quoted saying, “Do whatever it takes to take care of the customer.” Although there’s a bit more to the handbook now, rule #1 still drives the company – not technology.

Imagine if today you went to Nordstrom and there were no salespeople? And perhaps you checked out at a kiosk? It wouldn’t be Nordstrom anymore, that’s for sure. This would never happen though, because Nordstrom revolves around people – people who listen, think, interpret emotions and make decisions on the fly based on real-time interactions with other living, breathing people who happen to be the center of the store’s universe – the customer. Does Nordstrom use state-of-the-art technology? Of course. They ship billions of dollars of merchandise from their website to 44 countries worldwide. But guess what? If a customer doesn’t like or want something they’ve either bought in a store or online, they’re going to get to talk to a real, live person who can listen, think, interpret emotions and make a decision to support them. Their unofficial mantra – “the customer is always right” – is still legendary and I can’t help but think it’s because it is based on the concept of a person dealing with a person – with technology buckled up in the back seat.

We’re not saying technology doesn’t have its place, of course. But how far do we go with this? What does this have to do with real estate? Technology is a great tool, but as the old saying goes, ‘everything in moderation.’ Technology alone renders a cold, bland transaction. On Saturday, I walked into a self-service McDonald's for the first time. It was a very strange experience, but effective. I was simply ordering a breakfast sandwich and a cup of coffee with one creamer. No big deal, it’s just five bucks – not a half-million dollar decision involving where I’m going to start and raise a family for the next 20 years. This, in my mind, is the so-called tipping point.

We've come a long way from the days of Pennysavers and printed real estate listings. You can obsess into the wee hours skimming hundreds of listings and in some markets, you can even get into a listed property with your mobile device and an app. You can apply for a loan online. You can even complete your closing documents online. But who’s going to figure you out, what you like, what you don’t like, what you might like? As far as we’ve been able to tell, there isn’t an app for that. So give us a shout when you’re ready to talk – to a person who’s going to listen, think, interpret emotions and make a decision to support you – the customer. We’re all about the Nordstrom principle and doing whatever it takes to take care of you. It's good old-fashioned customer service with technology riding along quietly under the hood.

Kim Murphy can be reached at or (760) 415-9292 or at 130 North Main Avenue, Fallbrook, and would love to hear from you.


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