On average, Americans buy and sell a house every 10 years. Buyers and sellers can feel vulnerable, confused, and helpless throughout the process. Having a knowledgeable realtor who is empathetic and trustworthy is the key to a successful real estate transaction. When Emma Rovick founded Edina Realty in 1955 in Edina, Minnesota, she wanted to start a business with integrity and strong client relationships. Over 60 years later, Edina Realty is still dedicated to treating their clients like Rovick did. Important technology innovations have helped Edina Realty streamline processes, bring more efficiency to home buying and selling, and continue to deliver strong customer service.
What makes Edina Realty different
Edina Realty’s principles of integrity and ethics set it apart from other realty companies, and that’s one of the reasons over 40% of its nearly 2,400 agents have been with the company for more than 10 years. The agents at Edina Realty are independent contractors—they choose to work at Edina Realty and can leave at any time. Since Edina Realty’s first customers are their agents, it’s important to serve them well, retain them, and provide them with the tools they need to be successful.
A customer-centric digital transformation
Prior to the 2008-2012 recession, Edina Realty had developed more than 40 software applications, including a website that allowed home buyers to more easily search for available homes. The recession caused Edina Realty to shift its focus to maintain its clients and current technology. Their business needs were different, and foreclosures and short sales required different solutions. Housing market priorities shifted, and Edina Realty slowed its innovation journey. To bounce back after the recession, Edina Realty needed to update its technology.
They had a few options: they could license the apps they already had or they could rewrite them. Edina Realty’s CIO, Jeff Loeb, explains the thinking at that time, “We sat down and said, ‘What’s our vision surrounding our technology?’” Brainstorming ideas with business leadership led Edina Realty to a decision that would change everything.
It was three words: anything, anytime, anywhere. We wanted to allow our agents to access anything they needed, at any time, from anywhere,” says Loeb. This breakthrough led Edina Realty to a third option—to partner with Microsoft to achieve their technology goals.
Microsoft provided pre-built platforms, which made Edina Realty’s digital transformation smoother. They built a new website on Azure, replaced their existing CRM, and integrated Dynamics 365 into their daily tools and tasks. The new Microsoft technology was easy to integrate, but as with any change, there were learning opportunities.
A few agents found it difficult to use the new products. By listening to their concerns, Edina Realty came to understand what would make their agents’ jobs easier with new software deployments. For example, Edina Realty changed their Office 365 license when they realized agents preferred the traditional desktop version over the web-based version the company originally adopted. Some agents thought the new Dynamics 365 interface was complicated and wanted a simplified version for day-to-day use. Edina Realty worked with Avtex Solutions to remove some of the bells and whistles of the traditional CRM and created unique tools that allow agents to use the application without opening it. Now, when agents add a new contact with the native contact app on their mobile device, they are asked if they want to have the contact automatically entered into Dynamics 365. The app enters the information into the CRM, categorizes the contact, and integrates it into a marketing plan. “It automates it all, and they do it without ever opening the CRM,” Loeb says. Including this piece of the CRM toolkit increased Edina Realty agent adoption of the new software to over 50%.
In addition to Azure and Dynamics 365, Edina Realty’s agents are also utilizing Power BI for reporting, Stream for internal training videos, and Office 365 tools like Microsoft Teams, Excel, OneDrive, Outlook, and Word. Edina Realty also benefits from the added security inherent in Microsoft products.
Emma—a bot with potential
Edina Realty is looking ahead and developing its next big innovation: an artificial intelligence (AI) platform called Emma. Edina Realty rolled out the first phase of Emma in July 2018 to provide agents with automated marketing materials. Emma’s second phase, which is being created in cooperation with Avtex Solutions, will add a digital assistant to the platform. Agents will be able to enter information and converse with Emma through typing, tapping, or talking. By stitching together 10 Microsoft products, Emma will be able to respond to questions like traditional chatbots, but the ultimate goal of Emma’s capabilities is to connect all of Edina Realty’s business tools and make asking a question as easy as speaking into a phone.
In Emma’s second phase, agents will get daily reminders recommending contacts with whom they should connect to stay top-of-mind. Emma will also remind agents about tasks and appointments to ensure their home buyers and sellers receive the best service in the industry. Emma will make it simpler for agents to keep their CRM up to date without the agent ever opening Dynamics 365.
In future phases of the platform, the home purchase process will be simplified for the customer and agent. A customer will call their agent and say they want to buy a house, and the agent will tell Emma to “start purchase agreement.” Emma will respond with a series of questions to start the paperwork; she will have access to several databases and will be able to pull from them to compile the appropriate data and fill in the correct fields of the purchase agreement. By the time the agent arrives at the office, the purchase agreement will be ready for review, drastically cutting down the time it takes for agents to manually fill out purchase agreements. Emma will be an invaluable digital assistant that is easy to use without extensive training.
Edina Realty has come a long way since its start in 1955, but the company has stayed true to Rovick’s founding values. Edina Realty continues to look at their entire operations process, to focus on what agents and their end customers need, and to adjust when necessary. This renewed focus on digital transformation allows agents to discover new ways of championing the company’s core, client-centric principles into the future.
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Learn more about how Emma is making life easier for Edina Realty agents here.