• January 1, 2009
  • By Jessica Tsai, Assistant Editor, CRM magazine

Lead Sweet Lead

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As home foreclosures surge to record levels, it’s almost hard to believe how the real estate market is braving the financial storm. “An average of 75 [percent] to 80 percent of real estate agents in the San Fernando Valley aren’t making any money,” says Richard Johnston, a Realtor with California-based Rodeo Realty. “It’s a numbers game,” he says. “If we’re not generating a steady flow of leads, we’re dead in this business.”

Now clamoring over a smaller pool of potential buyers, Johnston needed a solution that would capture visitors coming to his Web sites. “At any given moment, there are seven people on my sites,” he estimates, but they were coming and going without leaving any clues as to their identity or what they were looking for.

So Johnston implemented a live-chat solution by LivePerson as a way to connect with visitors in real time. It was a unique service that most real estate agents don’t provide, he says. The competitive advantage he had hoped for, however, failed to materialize. As a Realtor, mobility is part of the job, but Johnston found himself strapped to his desk for 10 hours a day waiting for visitors to click on the “Chat Live Now” button.

Even worse, Johnston was averaging only about 15 chat sessions a month. And the few visitors who did take the bait only opened a new can of worms. “They [can be] slow to type, slow to respond,” Johnston says. “So then you’re thinking, ‘Do I leave? Go back to work? Go to lunch? Answer the phone? Or just sit there for the next 20 to 30 minutes?’” On the other hand, when visitors asked questions to no end, he recalls being conflicted: Should he continue to chat while having to handle incoming phone calls and other appointments? A typical conversation could last anywhere from 25 minutes to 40. Despite the effort, the quality of leads coming in, Johnston says, “simply wasn’t there.”

In April 2008, he came across virtual-chat technology provider UpSellit’s solution for small businesses, MoxieChat. “I didn’t think it would do well originally because the system seemed pretty basic [and I was] used to more advanced systems,” he recalls. “With LivePerson, you can customize from A to Z. It’s insane.” Still, bells and whistles only go so far. “If no one’s talking to you and you’re not generating leads,” Johnston laments, “what good is it?”

MoxieChat requires Johnston to embed just three lines of code at the bottom of each Web page, a drastic improvement from the 15-plus lines and complex embedding instructions with LivePerson. Moreover, changes are entered through a MoxieChat account and automatically updated on each of his sites, removing the need to manually edit the code on every single page as with LivePerson. The process takes no more than 10 minutes.

As a one-man shop operating in a competitive industry, Johnston was amazed by the amount of qualified leads he soon began receiving. Bringing in five leads a day, or 100 monthly, MoxieChat was soon his “biggest lead-generating system.” Of those, he’s physically worked with eight buyers since the implementation, all of whom came through MoxieChat.

The solution works similar to a pop-up message triggered when a visitor is about to leave the site. The virtual chat agent “stops them in their tracks,” he says. Using artificial intelligence based on natural-language parsing, keyword recognition, and company-approved messaging, the system delivers automated responses that resolve basic, immediate questions. In doing so, the virtual agent aims to nudge visitors toward a specific action. Johnston directs them to a page where they can add their contact information and what type of property they’re looking for. (About 10 percent of visitors do so, he says.) He can then respond at his convenience. This not only unshackles him from his desk, but enables him to literally run a 24-hour business.

The solution captures and stores every conversation, allowing Johnston to identify the in-demand topics that should be incorporated into the virtual chat.

MoxieChat’s success shattered the idea that visitors would be more receptive to a live rep. In fact, Johnston suspects that clients are hesitant to talk to a salesperson. “They’re more willing to give me information when they don’t have to talk to me at that specific time,” he says.

Familiar tasks, he adds, have grown difficult in the new economic climate. Buyers are now having trouble getting loans and financing down payments. Yet despite the tough market, Johnston’s optimistic. “Most agents are leaving the business and going hungry. I’m able to produce a steady flow of leads and generate a steady income. It’s nice.” 


With MoxieChat, Realtor Richard Johnston has been able to:

  • increase the number of potential leads
  • generated through a chat agent from 15 each month to 100;
  • engage his site visitors 24 hours a day;
  • cut the time spent at his desk each day from 10 hours to as little as one hour; and
  • entice 10 percent of visitors to leave their contact information.

Every month, CRM magazine covers the customer relationship management industry and beyond. To subscribe, please visit http://www.destinationcrm.com/subscribe/.

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