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A Community in Crisis
A specialist in real estate information offers answers amid a sea of foreclosures.
For the rest of the June 2010 issue of CRM magazine please click here
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With a database of more than 23 million records compiled from more than 1,200 federal, state, local, tribal, and proprietary databases, Environmental Data Resources (EDR) is the world’s largest repository of environmental information. But what good is maintaining such a vast amount of information if no one demands it? 

In 2008, EDR unexpectedly found itself needing that answer. The company’s success had been built on the commercial real estate market’s need for environmenal land-use information, so the market's crash was nothing short of catastrophic. After watching commercial real estate transactions fall off by a precipitous 70 percent, the company decided to increase its focus on superior customer service and on ensuring that its information was the most-accurate and up-to-date available.  

“We focused our energies on helping companies that were letting staff go and companies struggling to keep doors open,” says Mark Wallace, vice president of social media at EDR. “We wanted to give them a place to go to network, find answers to difficult questions, find jobs, look for help if they got some additional business, [and where] they could get advice.”

In June of 2009, as part of its initiative, EDR implemented the RightNow Social Experience, which is part of the vendor's CX solution, geared toward creating positive customer experiences across three engagement points—the Web, social media, and the contact center. And EDR’s not alone in its use of the platform; nearly 2,000 companies are on CX, including drugstore.com and iRobot.com—both past winners of CRM magazine Service Elite Awards. 

EDR used CX to launch “commonground”—an online community for those conducting property due diligence. The company promotes the site as a “global social network for environmental and property due diligence professionals, including lenders, attorneys, health and safety, insurance providers, appraisers, state and local government, industry leaders, and market experts.” 

“We will [send EDR custom reports] on a weekly basis,” says John Kembel, vice president of social solutions at RightNow. “How you measure success for support versus how you measure success for loyalty is different. [EDR] is leaning on both, and has been tending strongly to the loyalty side. Repeat visits, Google indexing—those are loyalty metrics that we’ll often provide.” 

In the 10 months since the launch of commonground, the numbers for EDR have been encouraging. The site has seen 67,164 visitors, and served up more than 412,000 page views, with the average visit lasting approximately six minutes. 

Just four months after commonground’s introduction, EDR was looking at a 600 percent increase in repeat visits to the site, and EDR experienced a 40-fold increase in Google index pages. 

Members of the network have access to blog posts, discussions, industry resources, a job board, news, industry events, and market research. The featured discussion forums in early April were as follows: Risk Management, Climate Change, Green Building Regulations, Environmental Due Diligence, Environment, Health & Safety, Non-U.S. Due Diligence, and Business Issues. 

Commonground’s 5,700 members represent nearly 3,000 unique companies across all 50 states and 75 other countries, and they’ve generated 10,000 discussions and comments across more than 1,000 blogs. 

Even more compelling than impressive activity levels? Customer feedback has also been overwhelmingly positive. When EDR polled commonground’s members, 90 percent of respondents indicated that they believed EDR strives to provide great customer service, and 93 percent called its customer service either good or excellent. “In a marketplace that’s [suffered] that much, and is that competitive,” Wallace contends, “we feel that those results are quite solid.” 

The work isn’t done yet: Wallace says any site should have at least a minor shake-up every nine to 12 months. “We’ve grown in what we have from a content perspective,” he says, but the site’s navigation could use a tweak, to “put a fresh look on it.” He says he hopes to better promote the site’s 25 bloggers so customers can find them more easily. 

“If customers can get what they need on the Web site they’re going to come back,” Wallace says. “What we’re trying to create is a network of customers who [routinely] turn on their computers each morning, opens their browsers, and go to commonground.” 

THE PAYOFF

Since implementing RightNow Technologies’ CX, Environmental Data Resources has: 

  • received 67,164 visitors to its Web site; 
  • retained those visitors for an average of six minutes per visit;
  • served up approximately 412,000 unique page views; 
  • gchieved a 600 percent increase in repeat visits; and
  • experienced a 40-fold increase in Google index pages.

(Editor's Note: Due to a reporting error Mark Wallace was incorrectly identified in the print version of this article. The print version also reported that EDR's business fell 70 percent when in fact it was commercial real estate transactions that fell 70 percent. There is also mention of the housing market in the print version. EDR does not deal with the general real estate market. This text reflects the changes. We regret the errors.)

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