6 min read
Can Coldwell Banker connect 3500 real estate agents to the main office and to one another with a new intranet?
Company: Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage
Business: Residential real estate
Interviewee: Chris Haran, VP, Field Operations
Challenge: Connecting 3500 independent field agents with corporate and one another.
Core Needs: Security, mobility, communications and a library.
“We weren’t required to purchase any additional hardware or do any major security upgrades. We were able to work within your framework and you were able to work within ours, from an IT security perspective, to match up with all of our information confidentiality requirements.”
Chris Haran was recently promoted to VP of Field Operations at Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage. He was kind enough to spend some time with me on the phone as they were just beginning their launch of their new Jostle-powered intranet. Here’s the transcript of that discussion:
Deb: Why do you start us off by telling us a bit about Coldwell.
Chris: Coldwell Banker is a broker that's been around for over 100 years. We are part of the Realogy family. Our local operating company is implementing Jostle for its 3,500+ agents and about 250 staff. We cover four states, have 47 branch offices based in the Chicagoland, Northwest Indiana, Harbor Country, Michigan, and Southeastern Wisconsin regions.
Deb: Great. Can you describe your workforce? You said you have 3,500 agents. Are they largely in the field, or are they in the office, or is it a combination?
Chris: Our agents are all independent contractors. While they affiliate with Coldwell Banker, they aren’t employees. We're always trying to bring valuable services to them because they get to choose where they work. They are all out in the field, associated with the 47 branch offices. They all work in very different markets. Of those 3,500 agents, there's probably 3,500 different business models.
We have to be a lot of things to a lot of people and we have to make sure that we're providing something for all different kinds of businesses. We have to make sure that we're allowing all of those people to be able to communicate and leverage that network because it's one of the biggest networks in the area. Being able to get all of that experience, knowledge, and talent connected and able to communicate and share ideas back and forth is hugely important to our success going forward.
Deb: Yeah. I can imagine. What is the current relationship between the agents and the office? In what ways are you specifically trying to evolve that?
Chris: The current relationship between the agent and the office is that the agent gets to choose where she hangs her license. If they know that Coldwell Banker provides more tools, or more amenities, or more opportunities to grow their business than another company, then they'll hang their license with us. If they feel that another company has a better opportunity for them, they'll hang their license with them.
The employer-employee relationship is really our staff in the field--our admins that are in the offices, our branch managers that run those offices, our senior leadership team that oversees those. That's really the employee relationship here. The agents are really more of a customer base.
Deb: How do Coldwell and its agents interact and communicate? How does it affect your mutual success?
Chris: There's a lot of different communication patterns that we have to follow, a lot of different mediums we have to use. There's just a lot of different ways that people like to be communicated with now. Some people are very good with Email, some like phone calls. More and more, we're seeing people wanting to have a resource that they can go to online or on their mobile devices to be able to check in, and get information, and communicate back and forth with agents, staff, managers, whoever else it might be.
This is the big change for us. How do we satisfy all those different communication methods? As far as what we're communicating, it can be business tools, groups, trades, techniques. It can be policy changes, it can be updates to state laws and regulations, or local regulations. It can be new marketing materials, or programs, or training schedules, development and coaching. There's a wide variety of things we communicate everyday. We want to have a better way to house it all in one place so it's easily accessible. If you missed that Email, or you missed that phone call, or you missed that meeting, you always have somewhere to find that information.
Something we don't have in our current platform and what we're really hoping Jostle will be able to help us with is the ability for the agents to communicate better with each other. Right now, you really only communicate with your own office. There's not a great communication system to go cross-office or cross-company. This will allow the agents to do that.
If I want to talk to someone in Wisconsin because we have some referral possibilities or work with someone in the suburbs and I'm in the city, this will be a better platform to do that.
Deb: So this helps not only the agents, but their clients get better service because the agents are more connected to one another.
Chris: Exactly. Then, you're just exposed to that much larger a pool of buyers if you're a seller. The buyers have much bigger opportunity to see things out of area that they might not have had to before.
“The user interface looks very, very simple, clean, fun, attractive. It had the mobile properties that we were looking for. It is very, very important that our agents be able to access this through their smart phones or tablets.”
Deb: What made you choose Jostle?
Chris: What made us choose Jostle was really the ease of use that we saw in the platform. The user interface looks very, very simple, clean, fun, attractive. It had the mobile properties that we were looking for. It is very, very important that our agents be able to access this through their smart phones or tablets. In addition to communication, it also has the library and the ability to search and the ability to find contact information for everyone in the company, which was functionality that we had on a previous system. We didn't want to lose that.
Honestly, a big piece of it for me was that it is a cloud system. We weren't required to purchase any additional hardware or do any major security upgrades. We were able to work within your framework and you were able to work within ours, from an IT security perspective, to match up with all of our information confidentiality requirements. It is a very difficult thing because we're a large company that's a publicly traded company in the United States. We want to make sure that our agents and our customer's data is kept private and secure.
Deb: So security is complex and important.
Chris: We thought Jostle would be a very good partner to keep that information secure.
Deb: So what’s your current launch status?
Chris: I would call it a soft launch, in that we've got the site up and running. We're still working through our single sign-on procedure. We're still uploading documents and things like that. I have a select group of people who have access to it right now, but not the full population.
Deb: What's been the response so far from the people you've exposed to it?
Chris: They all like the look, the feel, the usability. For us, our previous system was not user-friendly. This is a huge, huge upgrade. Everyone who has looked at that has noticed that. I think that a lot of people are going to be very, very happy with it when it does finally roll out.
Deb: What was the previous system?
Chris: An internal system that we built.
Deb: Have you been working with the mobile app at all?
Chris: Yes. I've been very happy with how that looks. It allows you to access the basic information you need quickly. I think from a communication standpoint, that's going to do a lot to help us as far as agents looking for listings, for recommendations, or anything else they might be posting on there. We're very excited to have the agents start using that and see how they feel about it.
Deb: When do you plan to start rolling out?
Chris: I would hope we're doing it at the beginning of February. We're hopefully going to get it out a week or so from now.
Deb: What sort of expectations have you set for yourself and for the organization going forward? What would happen that would just knock it out of the park for you and say, "This really, really worked."?
Chris: Honestly, it would be something as simple as just seeing the majority of our agents on it accessing, using it, posting to it, and interacting on a regular basis with each other. With real estate, the option of any tool is tough because you have so many different businesses and the way people do things are very, very different. It's always a little difficult to make sure you reach everyone equally and get everyone on the same page. If we can convince the agents that this is of great value to them because they can reach out to everyone else and we get the majority of our population on it and using it regularly, that would be a success for me.
Deb: Outstanding. If you don't mind, what I'll do is check in with you in a couple of months and see where you're at.
Chris: That would be great.
Deb: Anything else you'd like to talk about in terms of your aspirations for communications, agents, technology?
Chris: Yeah. Overall, our strategy with everything, it's just recognizing how the way information is consumed and distributed has changed and how mobile that's gotten. We're just doing everything we can to make sure that we're providing that platform for all mobile devices, as well as laptops and desktops. Really, providing it even better, no matter what device you're using, you can still participate and still get the information you need. That will be a big plus for us with the new system over our existing system that we'll be replacing.
Deb: Thanks, Chris!
We’ll check back in with Chris in a few months and see how the launch went, and if he’s reaching his goals for participation. We’ll let you know how it went.