When Microsoft’s artificial intelligence (AI) chatbot, Tay, went online this spring, the public marveled at its ability to converse with Twitter followers. That is, until Tay’s comments morphed into a barrage of insensitive and racist insults. Even so, a week later, CEO Satya Natella said chatbots are the future of Microsoft — albeit with some adjustments.
They’re probably the future of every business.
If content is king, then conversation is the emperor. Chatbots (short for chatterbots) represent a real-time solution to engaging potential customers in meaningful conversation. And meaningful conversation leads to business relationships.
Unlike standard question-and-answer bots, such as Apple’s Siri, that can answer only a single question at a time, chatbots offer more complex engagement. The AI of a chatbot can carry on a potentially unlimited conversation. Some are even able to learn beyond their content base (hence Tay’s potty mouth).
What’s the Application for Real Estate?
Real estate by nature is a relationship-oriented industry, where clients and agents form bonds over the largest and most important consumer transaction: purchasing a home. Chatbots can’t replace that client-agent relationship, but they can be used in a number of viable ways:
- Provide property details from a large database of information: “I’m looking for a property with at least a half-acre in Portland.”
- Answer general real estate questions: “I’m trying to find a low down payment loan.”
- Ask leading questions to create a prospect profile: “Are you thinking about a bigger house?”
- Answer company questions: “How can I save money selling my house?”
- Integrate with social media chatbots: “I want a house that looks like Taylor Swift’s childhood home.”
Each of these requests begs for more than a simple answer. Each needs a conversation with targeted questions to arrive at a call to action. A chatbot could easily engage a shy or skeptical prospect, prompting them to pick up the phone and actually speak to an agent. Tech-savvy buyers who prefer to interact online first would certainly find merit in a real estate chatbot.
Who Has a Real Estate Chatbot?
Up until this year, chatbots have been seen as a kind of marketing toy for brokerages. Polish real estate developer Nowy Adres S.A. created a bot called Kasia strictly for a virtual real estate fair. Kasia, in service since 2010, can answer queries based on an extensive database of company information.
The rental market is slightly ahead of the game. Apartment Ocean’s Advisor Mary (available on Slack) serves as a real estate adviser for U.S. renters.
To date, no real estate company or search engine has rolled out a custom chatbot for the general public. But that doesn’t mean they’re not working on one.
Structurely recently unveiled “Holmes,” a chatbot to grow and nurture leads. It can be customized to interact on a variety of platforms, from Facebook to realtor.com®. It’s not as “intelligent” and conversational as Tay, but it also won’t embarrass you. Individual agents and brokerages can join for a monthly fee; rollout is expected in early 2017.
Facebook has already announced development of a chatbot, promising that businesses of all kinds (including real estate) will be able to target individuals with Facebook Messenger’s 900 million-plus users. That could be very effective, since the social media giant probably has more information on its users than anyone else. And there are bots all over Twitter, but none are currently talking real estate for a particular company.
In order for mid-sized real estate companies to implement this technology in a cost-effective way, a “chatbot in a box” site like Pandorabox might be the answer. There are a number of freeware and chatbot research projects out there, but who knows what they’ll do with your information. It’s better to stick with a site geared for business.
Another option for real estate is to go the way of hybrid bots like ReplyYes. Their simple yes-or-no platform combined with a human call center allowed vinyl-record startup The Edit to make $1 million in eight months.
Wherever your customers are engaging online, there’s a chatbot possibility for real estate. The speed at which companies are catching on to using them effectively means the market is ready for this change. It’s not a matter of if chatbots will help real estate. It’s a matter of when. Will you be ready?