Artificial intelligence (AI) is one of the hottest trends in technology. According to Forbes, 75 percent of developer teams will leverage AI for application and service design this year. It's easy for the real estate industry to see limited value in AI and machine learning given the critical nature of agent-client relationships, but emerging technologies may have a solution: the real estate chatbot. Capable of answering client questions, providing critical details, and reducing the amount of time agents spend answering FAQs, these bots could bolster the future of digital-first real estate.
Answers for All Those Property Questions
Selling property is a tough job. As noted by Realtor Magazine, real estate agents pegged consistent prospecting as their top challenge, followed by managing time and databases, respectively. After visiting real estate websites and viewing listings online, savvy clients come armed with a host of questions about potential properties and expect in-depth, immediate answers. This forces agents to continually review and update their knowledge of current listings and be prepared to respond day or night when potential buyers call. It also impacts their ability to seek out new prospects or close sales with existing clients. Chatbots could help bridge the gap.
So What's a Chatbot, Anyway?
It's a lightweight program leveraging communication APIs that can understand verbal or emailed client requests and generate answers using both contextual clues and hard data. For example, clients could message for details on listings that meet specific criteria, such as lot size or price range, and receive near-instant replies from a real estate chatbot. Using a combination of cloud-based technology and existing databases, bots are capable of both pulling relevant data and learning on the job to better understand and answer client questions.
By striking the right balance between automated answering and in-person interaction, agents can leverage machine conversation to improve closing rates.
Talking the Talk
After years of experience, trial and error, developers are zeroing in on what makes a great chatbot: specificity and great data. For real estate agents, this means chatbots are capable of responding to simple inquiries about properties for sale and seamlessly handing off conversations as needed. As noted by VentureBeat, companies such as Re/Max have already integrated chatbots into their websites to answer common questions, saving money on customer service costs as a result.
The challenge is that a real estate chatbot needs to talk the talk in addition to simply delivering the data. Clients are fed up with the soulless "press 1 now" interactions that were so prevalent in customer service at the turn of the millennium. In practical terms, this means chatbots must:
- Be personable. "Please," "Thank you," "I'm sorry I can't help" — chatbots must be polite and personable. According to Inman, one real estate chatbot in development can manage basic small talk via text messaging to help create natural human connections.
- Perform effective handoffs. Chatbots don't have all the answers, especially if clients have detailed follow-up questions or specific requests. Bots should be able to say "I don't know, but I'll find out" or "I'll get someone to answer that for you" and hand off the call to an agent. Make no mistake: While chatbots can help reduce the amount of front-line work required by agents, they're not capable of completing transactions end to end.
- Have access to good data. Agents put time and effort into memorizing property details and having critical information on hand. Transitioning to chatbots means building out a database that's reliable, robust and provides digital customer service assistants with the same array of knowledge — just without the time sink.
Along with solid AI and great data, real estate chatbots also need differentiation based on market vertical. Put another way, residential and commercial chatbots are more like cousins than carbon copies.
Consider the use case for residential real estate. Chatbots are ideal for providing clients with nitty-gritty details about potential properties anytime, anywhere. They're also great for reaching out to prospects that have signed up for mailing lists. A few simple questions about current home ownership, the timeline for buying, and potential budget can help determine whether escalating to an agent is necessary or if prospects need more time to evaluate their options.
When it comes to residential offerings, chatbots are better choices for initial contact since prospective buyers are more willing to dig in and ask every question they can think of without feeling self-conscious. On the flip side, agents must be prepared to take the reins once clients move from the information-gathering to the property-selection stage of the process or, as CXO Today noted, agents may end up losing the "human touch" required to close the sale.
On the commercial side, meanwhile, needs are slightly different. For example, agents often field calls from managers and corporate leaders looking for office space, not dream homes. This means they're searching for a specific price range and feature set rather than seeking out school districts and water views. As a result, chatbots must funnel prospective clients to a set of best-fit properties that meet their immediate needs. Here, ideal interaction is flipped: Agent contact is often more beneficial right out of the gate since clients aren't just window shopping, but on track to securing property. Chatbots are a great follow-up to provide clients with the data they need to meet corporate mandates and take back hard data to C-suite executives.
Keeping a Chatbot Balance
Chatbots are gaining ground thanks to AI improvement in enterprise chat solutions, along with client expectations of data on demand. By striking the right balance between automated answering and in-person interaction, both residential and commercial agents can leverage machine conversation to improve closing rates, boost client satisfaction, and seek out motivated prospects.
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