Several years ago, a well-known national real estate company built a computer-based system to help its real estate agents sell houses more quickly.
The system, which worked in many ways like an early version of, enabled its agents to search the database of houses for sale to find houses matching the buyer's criteria using a much easier interface than the traditional system. The system also enabled the agent to show the buyer a virtual tour of selected houses listed by the company itself. It was believed that by more quickly finding a small set of houses more closely matching the buyer's desires, and by providing a virtual tour, the buyers (and the agent) would waste less time looking at unappealing houses. This would result in happier buyers and in agents who were able to close sales more quickly, leading to more sales for the company and higher commissions for the agent.
The system was designed with input from agents from around the country and was launched with great hoopla. The initial training of agents met with a surge of interest and satisfaction among the agents, and the project team received many congratulations.
Six months later, satisfaction with the system had dropped dramatically, absenteeism had increased by 300%, and agents were quitting in record numbers;
turnover among agents had risen by 500%, and in exit interviews, many agents mentioned the system as the primary reason for leaving. The company responded by eliminating the system-with great embarrassment.
One of an agent's key skills was the ability to find houses that match the buyer's needs. The system destroyed the value of this skill by providing a system that could enable less skilled agents to perform almost as well as highly skilled ones. Worse still-from the viewpoint of the agent-the buyer could interact directly with the system, thus bypassing the "expertise" of the agent.

1. How were the problems with the system missed?
2. How might these problems have been foreseen and possibly avoided?
3. In perfect hindsight, given the widespread availability of such systems on the Internet today, what should the company have done?

  • CreatedMarch 13, 2013
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