Sunday 26 July 2020
Over the last month, off the back of COVID-19, we have seen property managers rapidly adopt technologies such as:
· Ramping up their use of teaming software such as Trello
· Using Facebook Live for open inspections
· Appointment booking software for back-to-back private inspections
But what about AI technology?
At times, AI feels like a “future technology”, or perhaps a technology that is more suited to very large corporations, where budgets and resourcing tend to be more available.
But what about the hundreds of thousands of small real-estate businesses that operate from High Streets across the globe? How – and should– local community real estate branches be concerned with AI technology now?
Prior to becoming a co-founder of Rental Heroes in 2018, I spent 17 years working for telecommunications and insurance corporations on projects that use digital technology to transform customer experience (CX). In the later years, the delivery of our CX was grounded in relatively new (and expensive) enterprise AI applications.
Why should a consumer of an insurance company get an AI-powered experience, however the same consumer, as a tenant, must rely on phone/email or web-form for property-related service requests?
Tenants are consumers like all of us. On any given day, they maybe exposed to applications of AI like voice recognition (when a calling their bank) or maybe prompts from Facebook inviting them to “share a memory”.
Over the last 18-24 months, we have seen the acceleration of a trend in AI; many applications of AI are now being readily made available to consumers. In many respects, this is led by the tech giants like Apple, Amazon and Google – allowing for example consumers to interact with service providers via their smart speaker (natural language processing AI) or sort their photos with accuracy via Google’s Assistant (computer vision AI).
We created Rental Heroes to enable tenants, property managers and landlords to experience the “here and now” benefits of AI, many of which they already access daily as a consumer of other services.
Now the time is ripe for the small business application of AI.
But, the successful application of AI technology in real estate branches needs to respect their “here and now” reality:
Real estate branches typically have multiple systems to which they are required to login and lack the resources to manually transfer data between systems.
The application (and resulting benefits) of AI needs to seamlessly integrate with existing workflow systems and ways of working. Human-centered experiences should require minimum training.
The technology needs to be affordable, ideally with pricing based on a business’ size. In property management, a 15% gross operating margin does not allow for upfront or bumpy fees.
In time, AI technology will undoubtably transform the property sector; the very way properties are bought / sold/ marketed and how property management services are delivered. Perhaps there will consolidation within the industry; perhaps there will be greater reliance on gig or contract work; perhaps humans will be freed from the transactional repetitive tasks. But this is a journey, not a cliff.
Today, local real estate branches have a growing range of “plug-and-play”options available to them to experience the power that AI can add to their existing processes and workforce. Sure, over time, AI offers the potential to “re-design and optimise” service delivery all together, but why not start by improving operations today?
Companies like Rental Heroes understand this is a journey; they will activate solutions today that deliver an immediate CX and productivity benefit. Trying-out AI products today also has strategic longer-term benefits. Real estate branches who build relationships today with AI vendors are also effectively joining the “vendor journey”, which will allow them to progressively widen and deepen their use of AI technology as it evolves overtime. It’s a small step today that branches can take to position themselves with a competitive edge in the longer-term.
So, what is available “here and now”?
There are a growing number of AI-powered property technology companies. By way of example, Rental Heroes’ AI-chatbot “Alex” currently offers Property Management branches:
Facilitation of communications with your tenants to understand and triage what their request is using natural language AI technology, rather than humans.
Matching tenant requests to “self-help” options – including urgent trade referrals, rental queries / lease information and even modification or pet requests.
Keeping your tenant informed each step of the way, tracking and enhancing tenant satisfaction.
Plugs directly into your cloud-based CRM or maintenance workflow system – no need for another login.
Low monthly subscription fee with no lock in contracts. Like other AI-vendors, we build and evolve our product for multiple customers with similar use-cases.
Our AI-chatbot Alex provides every Property Manager with their own digital personal assistant, who communicates on their behalf directly with tenants 24/7.
So what are customers and property managers experiencing today?
79% of tenant requests – including urgent requests - are being handled outside business hours by Alex, drastically reducing reliance on after hours numbers and minimising avoidable emergency trade call-outs.
62% of tenant-initiated requests are being handled via Alex (and largely automated).This translates to fewer emails and phone calls for property managers.
Tenants love Alex – he is available 24/7, simple, intuitive, helpful and fun. 82% of tenants are rating their experience as “better” than traditional ways of communicating (phone, email or app).
The time is now for real estate branches to try out solutions that apply AI to practical use-cases.