Are chatbots going to take over the real estate industry? There has been an immense amount of discussion around chatbots and their effectiveness in real estate.
So what are chatbots? Chatbots are artificial intelligence programs that you interact with, usually in a live format. For example, you are on a webpage and wish to start a discussion right away, or you have a question. You simply open up the messenger interface and ask away. Depending on the bot, it will answer your questions, book an appointment, and/or carry out small tasks. The reason for the excitement stems from the ability of the bot to convert website lookers into appointments without you monitoring the chat. Also, through machine learning, the bot becomes more refined with its answers over time, thereby providing more accurate responses.
There are different viewpoints on bringing chatbots into the real estate industry, and we will unpack the pros and cons below. Of most importance, we must be aware of chatbots and understand how they can impact our industry.
- Real estate agents are busy people. Sitting at your computer monitoring your chat is not realistic in this career. You may opt to have an assistant interacting on your chat, but what happens when the inquiry comes in at 11 at night or who operates the chat when your assistant is at lunch? Chatbots are instantaneous which is required in today's culture. Should we not interact with the buyer at that moment, they will likely go to another website and ask the question there.
- As mentioned above, they can actually convert leads. This is a powerful element of chatbots because there has not been a time in the past where a machine could interact with the lead and set an appointment.
- Chatbots are super scaleable. The machine could be having a number of conversations at one time. Appointments can be being set all at the same time - basically, being in more than one place at a time!
- Machine learning opens doors that we still can't imagine. As the chatbot interacts with the client, it learns. Now, this may sound like scary science fiction, but consider how we all type and speak differently, the bot will learn both "5 bdrm house" and "Five Bedroom house".
- They are in their infancy making them cumbersome to build out and potentially quite expensive. We are already starting to see some companies come up that will build these out for you, so it is just a matter of time before they become more cost effective.
- The buyer wants a real person and may be turned off by a bot. Personally, I believe this to be the greatest concern. There may be a value imbalance as the agent finds the bot much more useful than the client feels there is use in the bot. The main question is does this take value away from the client? If the consumer does respond in this light, it's important to monitor this as we are in an industry that should be devoted to customer value.
- Finally, and a comment that is all too common - aren't bots making our roles obsolete? The argument here is the bots are taking the place of a person, so what will this mean for the real estate agent's job down the road? I reject this notion as your role as an educated real estate agent is not to answer rote questions. The bot does not understand emotions nor is it picking up on body language while you are in a property. The chatbot does replace certain tasks, thereby freeing up your time and headspace to concentrate on clients. Afterall, there was a time when we thought lockboxes were the end to the real estate industry.
Ultimately, chatbots are coming, and they are already starting to make their mark. I predict in years to come, chatbots will be required and the public continues to demand real time service. We are seeing them used widely in some of the large companies and it is just a matter of time before this will trickle down to small businesses. Although there will always be differing opinions when it comes to new technology in real estate, if the client sees the value then I see the value, however, if the customer feels let down by the bot or they feel it lacks the personal touch, then I would reconsider the approach.