What we’re really doing when you say we’re “bashing” agents

Getting down to brass tacks

Getting down to brass tacks

How does that Simon & Garfunkel song go?

I get slandered – libel
I hear words I never heard in the Bible
And I’m one step ahead of the shoe shine
Two steps away from the county line
Just tryin’ to keep the customers satisfied… satisfied!

Ah, keeping the customer satisfied. Our customer is the “real” customer. Who’s your customer?

With that in mind, What-Customers-Say.com was the subject of an e-newsletter sent out by the Edmonton Real Estate Board today. I’ll insert the article below.

Before I go too far, though, let’s clear some things up, shall we?

  • Bashing: We have not “bashed” the people who pull themselves off our site. The one agent who we were actually very frustrated by (the subject of a post a few weeks ago) was so frustrating not because he doesn’t like the site but because he had 10 of his clients take the time out of their days to rate him, and his response was —- in “shouting”, all-caps emails sent to us —- to pull his name off the site. Why? Because he didn’t like, basically, that we hadn’t asked his permission. Here are our problems with that:
    a) Your customers took the time to rate you, and they all gave you rave reviews, but you would rather pull those reviews down — effectively telling your clients that their time doesn’t matter to you — than let them speak openly.
    b) The customer voice does not ask your permission to speak. You can’t stifle what your clients think about you. In the past, you could —- but the Web is this tool that actually lets customers be heard. Try listening to them instead of shutting them up.
  • Relationship with EREB: EREB contacted us to ask us to loop [name of EREB worker withheld] in. He wondered why we hadn’t contacted him earlier on. The pretense of his email to us was that he wanted to make it possible for us to work better together. He initiated contact. We did not. So for us later to suggest, in posts, that we would be working with EREB was 100% true —- but then we did meet with him, and he changed his tune.

As I mentioned in the past, you can focus on the negative all you want. That’s fine. Read only the blog posts that openly challenge the mindset of old-school agents who want to stifle the customer voice. Feel free to overlook all the great posts about how we’re helping this agent and that agent. About how we love our agents who’ve shown an interest in their customers’ voices.

At the end of this day, this site is here. And it’s a legitimate way for clients to find agents in the future. And, if you choose not to be involved, that’s cool. We’ve had several agents asked to be pulled off the site, and we’ve never said a single negative thing about them. We know it’s your right to use whatever media you want to for your business and reputation management.

There’s only one agent we haven’t reacted well to, for the “bashing” reason above. Just one. READ THAT AGAIN: There’s just one agent we’re not big fans of.

On slander
I’m going to do another post on the difference between slander and libel, too, since this EREB article gets it wrong. Slander is spoken; libel is print. And neither apply to what we’re doing here. We pull down all reviews that are defamatory —- and, sorry, but the truth is never about defamation of character. Nor can open sharing of the truth be an invasion of your privacy. That’s just not how it works.

Here’s the article:

What-customers-say ranks REALTORS®You can send a copy of the request to the Association at marketing@ereb.com as well.

A group of four young entrepreneurs have just launched a new web site which allows customers to rate their relationship with a REALTOR®. The service has been profiled by the Edmonton Journal and was promoted at the recent trade show. While this new “service” may have some positive benefits for REALTORS® it also has the potential for abuse and slander. You can review the site at http://www.what-customers-say.com.

While the name implies that a number of services may be ranked, the site is targeted directly at REALTORS® and is operational only in Edmonton at this time. The company has scraped the names and company affiliation of many of our members off the Internet and posted them on the site, in most cases without your knowledge or consent.

The site has a blog which has attacked some REALTORS® who have asked that their name be removed from the site.

The REALTORS® Association of Edmonton has met with a principal of the company and expressed concerns raised by some of our members. Despite the company claims, they do not have a relationship with the Association and will not be given access to MLS® data. In our opinion this is an advertising opportunity which some members may want to explore. However, customers may perceive a bias inherent in a service which rates the very people who are paying for it.

If you do not wish to be listed on the what-customers-say.com web site, you should contact the principals directly in writing to ask that your name be removed or to have a specific comment amended. You can write to them at wiebeDOTjoannaATgmailDOTcom, wcsATdavelerigerDOTcom or lancecjATgmailDOTcom


As always, feel free to discuss in comments. Remain anonymous — that’s fine. But if you have something to say, say it here. Make it public. And then we can actually find ways to work better together, given that one of our goals is to help the best agents rise to the top organically rather than by means of big marketing budgets.



10 Responses to “What we’re really doing when you say we’re “bashing” agents”

  1. Sara MacLennan Says:

    Regarind your comment:

    “Our customer is the “real” customer.”

    Actually, your customers are Realtors. We are the ones who you want to pay for this service. I think you guys should keep that in mind that if you want to succeed, you need to keep your customers happy, just like we as Realtors do. Something for you to think about 😉

  2. Joanna Says:

    Thanks for your comment, Sara.

    Let’s consider Google. Google is made for users/researchers… not for the companies that advertise on it. A company’s customer is the primary persona for whom their service is intended.

    Same goes for us. So, when I said that our customers are “‘real’ customers”, I meant it. 🙂

    Of course, just like Google cares for and tries to provide services for its advertisers, we care for and try to provide services for our advertisers. We only want the best for our advertisers.


  3. Sara MacLennan Says:

    Respectfully, that’s like saying that a TV network’s clients are its audience, or a Newspaper’s clients are its readers. Newspapers, TV networks, web sites and son on have to balance keeping their audience and their advertisers happy.

    Having worked for two major Canadian web portals, I know the advertisers are the clients, and the product we sold was our audience/community. We had to be good at both attracting an audience with good content and services, and attracting advertisers. There is plenty of proof from the dot com bust, that just having a happy audience does not a successful company make. The audience was not our client – we certainly didn’t have any of them at our client appreciation events, nor did we send them gift baskets at Christmas.

    As a frequent user of Google, I’ve never had them call me a client, except for when I am advertising on their site. In fact I’ve been wined and dined by Google as a Marketing Director, but not as a user of their web site.

    And even if you don’t agree with any of that, I definitely haven’t seen Google “bashing” potential advertisers in public. It seems to me that they do whatever they can to make the people who pay for them to stay in business happy.

    You guys have some great ideas, but I think if you want to make any money at this, you’ll need the industry to get on board. If you want the industry to get on board you need to have a good service (done) AND make the industry happy.

  4. Joanna Says:

    Thanks, again, for your comment, Sara. This is turning into a useful discussion.

    I think you and I have two different ideas about what “successful” means. (And that’s okay.) The site was a step closer to “lucrative” the first time a real estate agent created a profile —- that was the first indication that anyone might be interested in paying us a dollar or two for using our services.

    But the site was what I would call “successful” the first time a client rated an agent with a profile. That’s when it clicked: when the client and the agent worked together to share their story openly and transparently. The agent trusted the customer, and the customer believed in the value of the agent. Mmmmmmagic.

    Call me a romantic, but that’s what I think success looks like for our site. Now, will customers be able to shape our site into something you would call successful?


  5. Joanna Says:

    Oh, and glad to hear you say we’ve got a good service. Thanks, Sara.

    BTW, we’re not trying to make the industry unhappy. We’re just… erring on the side of putting “our” customer first.

  6. Julie Says:

    I’m a real estate investor (not a Realtor). I’m also really excited to get this site spread across Canada because it’s often very hard to get good referrals for Realtors as an investor…well as anyone for that matter!

    I am an avid user of Trip Advisor…another type of customer review site. I’ve been using Trip Advisor since August 2005 (I just went back to my profile and checked). Back then I don’t think they had much advertising at all on their site – I remember wondering how they were going to make money. But today, they have plenty of ads for hotels and travel packages… and after reading a bunch of good reviews about a hotel I am ready to book! Before the ads, I would then switch to the hotel’s website, and book. Now, I click the link beside the review, and book the best rate. Trip Advisor then (I assume) makes some commission from that sale as well as pockets some ad money.

    Everyone wins really…as a hotel, where else can you find such a specific and targeted audience to sell to?? And where else can you get such high quality market research for FREE (now they know EXACTLY what customers like and don’t like!). For me, I get one stop shopping with confidence in the choice I’ve made. And Trip Advisor makes money because I, the traveler, am happy and loving them (not because the Hotel is happy). Trip Advisor should not bend their service to accommodate the hotel or they will lose me.

    I think that What Customer’s Say should follow a similar philosophy. The minute they start bending over backwards for Realtors is the minute that their site will fail because customers (the reviewers/home buyers) will smell it a mile away. If they have no reviewers, they have no reason for a Realtor to want to pay to be on their site.

  7. The most courageous real estate agents around « Everyone wants to know What Customers Say Says:

    […] the last few days — or since EREB sent out its email about What-Customers-Say.com — we’ve been having some good talks around here about the agents who will use our site […]

  8. 4customers Says:

    Hi Julie –

    Thanks so much for your comment. We are also big fans of TripAdvisor.com — it’s the only site we use when we’re searching for a place to stay for work/vacations. It’s definitely solving a need for the public, the majority of whom want to spend their money on “the best” and depend on the feedback of others (via reviews today) to help them determine if a hotel or package really is the best. Marketing messages just aren’t dependable… ‘cos they’re biased.

    TripAdvisor, like WCS, took a lot of heat from hotels, etc. in the beginning. I don’t think that’s too surprising. When you put your brand reputation on the line, and when there are real $$$ consequences to customers speaking openly & honestly about you, it’s understandable to get a bit freaked out.

    But that didn’t cause TripAdvisor to go away. Eventually, the smart hotels and vacation groups caught on to the potential to leverage the great words of their customers — the best, most underpaid marketing copywriters in the world — to drive business.

    What-Customers-Say.com will follow a similar philosophy, as you put it. We don’t and won’t bend over backwards for agents — even though it’d be easier for us if we did! We just want to create a forum where customers can honestly rate their real estate agents. The effect of that is that agents can then market themselves based on those reviews… and that’s where this conflict around “who’s yo’ customer” comes from.

    Suffice it to say, we’re here for reviewers. Just as you said, without them, there is no purpose for this site.

    Thanks, again, Julie. Great to hear your perspective!

  9. Trenton Merica Says:

    terrific site. Plenty of useable information here. I’m sending it to some friends!

  10. Ubiquinol Benefits Says:

    Ubiquinol Benefits…

    […]What we’re really doing when you say we’re “bashing” agents « Everyone wants to know What Customers Say[…]…

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