It’s time to replace Core Standards with the Gold Standard

by Marilyn Wilson on June 25, 2015

Gold StandardNAR announced its Core Standard program for local Associations just over a year ago.   In essence it is designed to help every association ensure that they are delivering a minimum standard of code of ethics enforcement communication, advocacy, consumer outreach and fundraising to its members.

The program is a good start.   At last count it had led to at least 90 mergers, likely with smaller associations who simply did not have the resources to meet the minimum standard. The number will probably be higher than that after the deadline of June 30th has been reached.   I applaud the effort to raise the bar for Associations. The viability of the real estate industry is threatened in markets where REALTORS® are not getting the support they need from their board.

While I appreciate this effort I think it’s time to encourage and reward those associations that have gone WAY beyond the core standards. This group of boards can lead the way to a new generation of real estate association. They can test and prove out new methods to improve the relevance and value of real estate associations in the future. They can make bold moves to meet the needs of tomorrow’s REALTOR® and home buyer/seller.   Much like the game changer program of a few years ago, this new Gold Standard can be achieved by only breaking the mold, trying new things and demonstrating a dogged commitment to anticipating and meeting the needs of all Association constituents.

So what would an industry-leading Association do differently? Here are the tenets I would suggest to get this discussion going:

  1. Consumers Become the Center of our Thinking

First, the association will drive the focus on anticipating and exceeding the needs of real estate consumers. Without buyers and sellers, NONE of us have a job and yet we focus most of our attention on the needs of agents. Of course agents are important, but if we don’t drive our industry to higher levels of customer service we are going to be extinct. The best Associations will regularly engage with consumers, forming consumer research panels and asking consumers the tough questions that will make the local real estate industry stronger.

  1. Putting Teeth in the REALTOR® Brand

Since a Gold Standard Association regularly engages with consumers, they will use the feedback from consumers to drive change in real estate training, services and technology. They will raise the bar on the expectations of what it takes to be a REALTOR®.   Today, consumers do not know the difference between a REALTOR® and a licensed agent. These brave Associations will require consumer feedback that will be used to evaluate performance. Those that do not meet the minimum service standards for consumers consistently will be removed from membership. Instead of playing the quantity over quality game, this new generation of real estate association will make membership a privilege, granted only to those that demonstrate a true commitment to professionalism and responsiveness to their clients.

  1. Members become Customers

Most Associations call the people that pay them dues MEMBERS. While there’s a familiar feeling that can be generated by using that term, it can be dangerous. If Associations acted like they needed to earn their “CUSTOMERS” instead of simply assuming they will join because they have to, there might be a higher level of proactivity. Regular businesses have to focus on their customer’s needs every day or they will walk away to competition. Gold Standard Associations will act like for profit businesses striving to earn their customer’s loyalty every day by consistently raising the bar on the level of customer service they deliver. In a follow-up article I will outline a few of the ways that this could be accomplished by creating much more fun and engaging ways to create loyal relationships with every association member.

Mobile Genius Bars

Every Association we work with complains that their members do not take advantage of the technology, training and events that are offered. Gold Standard Associations will invest in a Mobile “Genius Bar” – this training van will visit offices training agents on exciting new technologies. Instead of a boring training session, this van will show up tossing t-shirts, playing party music and grilling hot dogs. It will attract agents and then teach them a few things in the process. The mobile genius bar will also be used to solve individual technology challenges that agents are facing.

24/7 Coverage

Real estate is a not a 9 to 5 business. If that’s the case then why do Associations operate like it is?   REALTORS® close deals at all hours of so why aren’t we there to support them?  The new generation of Associations will offer 24/7 coverage so REALTORS® always have the support they need.

  1. Full use of MLS Technologies

There’s an amazing show on the National Geographic Channel called Crowd Control hosted by a behavioral named Daniel Pink. He conducts really interesting experiments finding innovative ways to change human behavior. We are WAY too flat-footed in the methods we have tried to encourage agents to take advantage of the technologies available to them. It’s time for Boards to take a page from the Crowd Control rule book and try some new things to help REALTORS® leverage technologies to the fullest.  The new Associations will find exciting new ways to attract their users to learn more about their technologies instead of trying to talk to them the same old ways with the same old language and expecting different results.

  1. Broker Partnerships/Integrations

The dynamic between the brokerage community and Associations is definitely changing.   Programs like Upstream and the Broker Public Portal have created new and exciting ways for Brokers and Associations to work together. The smartest Associations are going to embrace this change and going deeper with it. They are going to find ways to seamlessly integrate MLS data with services that will help brokers be more profitable. They will provide choice in these endeavors, being careful NOT to level the playing field, while solving important challenges for each of their brokers. They will learn how to truly partner with brokers in much more relevant ways that most do today. Associations will truly become the hub of real estate technology integration to remove hurdles from brokers that are crippling today.

I would love to work with Associations that want to take their service levels WAY beyond those that are required by Core Standards and try some new and exciting ways to break the mold. What can we learn from the entertainment industry about how to attract viewers? What can we learn from the hotel industry about service? What can we learn from Silicon Valley about ways to simplify processes with mobile apps? It’s time to start thinking beyond our own realm to create a more dynamic, fun and profitable real estate industry before someone else does it for us!

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Susan Manners June 25, 2015 at 11:32 am

Marilyn, great column, thanks.

We call our members that because they pay for a membership, “customer” denotes a pay per use. We treat our members like gold!

It was interesting to me that Core Standards focused so much on finance, but I understand the purpose that served (in round 1). Moving forward I hope Core Standards will put the focus on education and ethics (neither was mentioned), and placing the “member” first.

We are a small board and proving/documenting our Core Standards requirements diverted a lot of our time attention (and member dollars) away from actually serving the members. We spent money to do a financial review when our tax return and financials should have been adequate.

I’m interested in learning more about “Upstream” and the “Broker Public Portal”.

Thanks again.

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Jim Haisler June 25, 2015 at 12:13 pm

I fully agree that Core Standards should just be the beginning and these discussions have already started amongst groups within the NAR umbrella.

I like the ideas you’ve mentioned here but think the details need questioning. A ‘party bus': that sounds really cool but do members really want their dues dollars to go toward giving out free t-shirts to some of our members or giving away free hot dogs? Those hot dogs cost money that come from dues dollars, I assume. What about customers who don’t eat hotdogs or are allergic to gluten? So we need to have a free salad as well. Maybe we need a short order cook on that truck. Wait, those aren’t free either. Perhaps we need to focus on what expectations our customers have of their association and offer those services. Maybe we just have a customer appreciation event once a year so everyone is included … oh wait, many already do that.

As for being open 24/7 it could be argued that associations should stick to their business model. That is, surveys show the majority of agents prefer to do their association business during business hours. Many already wish they didn’t have to work 24/7 and some even draw the line and don’t work 24/7. So should the association really spend resources on being open during times when agents don’t need them? Years ago my local association did a study as to what hours agents utilized its services and tweaked its hours shorter by 30 minutes so as to have more staff available during the peak times when members needed them. Isn’t that also a progressive organization?

It’s not always a desire to spend more money but sometimes to save money – not raise fees or even lower them. Anyway, great topic. Like agent ranking maybe we need association ranking.

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Thomas Wissel June 26, 2015 at 9:29 am

Marilyn,
As always, WAV Group comes up with good, thought provoking material. I don’t know if I agree or disagree with all the points you present. If your point is to tell Associations how to remain in business, then I agree, but it definitely seems like the day of the Trade Association as it has evolved is coming to an end.
1) The trade Association is NOT the MLS and is not supposed to be selling products to the general public. The Association’s position is to support members with the tools and training to make THEM better at selling and serving the public, and to promote the image of the industry to the public.
2) Most agents don’t realize there is a difference between MLS and Association of REALTORS, nor do they even care. They are required to join the Association if they want the service that really matters to them, the MLS. This seems to me to be why there is no distinction in the public’s eye to the REALTOR® Brand. The Code of Ethics has become a hollow shell in some instances where members choose to get even rather than file grievances, feeling that their competition will only make life worse for them in the future if they file complaints. Maybe NAR or the state associations must become the Ethics Police and send out testers to take action. If there is no complainant there is no unethical conduct.
3) In treating members as CUSTOMERS the association should be more diligent and businesslike in their analysis to deliver what the customer wants, not what the association decides the customer needs. It is too easy to become a Diploma Mill and require members to keep buying additional products IF they want to remain members. Universities are notorious at soliciting Alumni for financial support, but I have never received a bill or been required to buy new products from my alma mater to retain my degree.
5) The MLS Community is also realizing that they have mis-imagined their place in the food chain. MLS was recently described to me as a Business to Business enterprise and the Brokers are the true consumer market to be served. Upstream and the Broker Public Portal are the manifestation that the MLS and the Association do not meet the need of their true target market, so the targets in that market will simply created a new entity to fill the need that the Old Guard Establishments have moved away from.

Your analysis in the end seems to reinforce the idea as I also see it that MLS is all that the vast majority of Brokers and Licensees care about. If you don’t have that MLS hook to your association, what do you offer to keep members engaged?

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