Are You Ready to Deliver Association Services via Voice?

If you’re not already asking your Google Home device to play your favorite Netflix series on your TV or telling your Amazon Alexa voice assistant to order more dish soap, you soon will be.

Devices that respond to voice command, from smart speakers to smart lightbulbs to smart doorbells, are surging in popularity. One recent report* estimates that 26% of Americans now own a smart speaker through which they can access digital assistants such as Amazon’s Alexa, Google’s Assistant, or Apple’s Siri. These artificial intelligence interfaces can connect with tens of thousands of other household devices.

Perhaps more importantly, studies suggest that consumers are crossing a threshold from testing these assistants to relying on them throughout their day to deliver information, perform tasks, and entertain.

Could voice be the next best way to reach members?

It may be too early to tell, but that hasn’t stopped a few pioneering REALTOR® associations from jumping on the digital assistant bandwagon to deliver association news, podcasts, courses, and even home search via voice command.

“With the advancement of voice technology, we are strategically looking to be a part of the conversation instead of needing to react in the future,” says Kevin Juliano, digital director of the Pennsylvania Association of REALTORS®. Through a voice application launching this summer, PAR will deliver daily posts from its popular JustListed blog, highlights of member benefit programs, legal hotline information, and news about what the association is working on in the legislative arena. Juliano says it’s an affordable experiment in member communication. “Our plan is to see how members react to these options and slowly add additional content including podcast-style updates read by association staff and other video updates we currently produce.”

The Greater Capital Association of REALTORS®, N.Y., launched its voice application on Amazon Alexa and Google Home in late 2018 to provide news, course schedules, market statistics, and other key association information.

Other state associations including Florida, Nevada, and Illinois are working on, or have launched, voice applications that do everything from facilitate member response to calls for action, register members for events and classes, and deliver news.

But, if you’re not clear on how smart speaker voice applications actually work, you’re not alone. “There’s a lot of confusion about the voice environment,” says Sal Prividera, chief operating officer of voice ­application developer Voiceter Pro and ­former communications director for the New York State Association of REALTORS®. “We haven’t made it to the Star Trek future where you just speak normally and the device understands exactly what you mean and delivers a result.”

For example, if you ask your Alexa, “Find me a home in Syracuse, New York,” it will most likely respond with: “I’m sorry, I don’t know what you’re looking for.” However, if you ask it to “Open CNY REALTOR®,” the voice home-search application created by the Greater Syracuse Association of REALTORS®, you’ll have a conversation like this:

You: “Alexa, open CNY REALTOR®.”

Alexa: “Hi, let’s get started on finding you the right home. Do you want to buy a home, rent, find out your home’s value, or search for open houses? If you need me to help you along the way, just say ‘help.’”

You: “Buy.”

Alexa: “Great, tell me all about your dream home. Where is it located? You can tell me a city, county, or ZIP code.”

You: “Syracuse.”

Alexa: “Syracuse. Let’s find homes that meet your budget. You can tell me a price and I will search for homes slightly above and below it.”

You: “$250,000.”

Alexa: “$250,000. You bet! Please tell me more about your dream home. How many bedrooms does it have?

You: “Three.”

Alexa: “Three bedrooms. I like where you’re going with this. Would you like to tell me more about the features that would be in your home?”

You: “Yes.”

Alexa: “How many bathrooms do you want?”

You: “Two.”

Alexa: “Two bathrooms. Are you looking for a place to park your car?”

You: “Yes.”

Alexa: “Way to go! I found 45 homes for you. The top three are [gives addresses and prices]. Please check your email for a link to your search results. Would you like to hear about the ones that are open this weekend?”

The Greater Syracuse Association of REALTORS® partnered with Voiceter Pro to create this home search application that draws information from the association’s MLS. (NAR changed the IDX rules in 2017 to allow for voice search.) Together, the association and Voiceter Pro scripted responses to the most common questions and gave consumers the option to have search details sent to their phone via text or to their email address.

“I see every MLS having a voice component to its public search eventually,” says Prividera. “It’s early, but five years out, I think most MLSs and associations will have adopted voice and consumers will be expecting it.”

Developing an association voice application is similar to developing an association smartphone app; in other words, it’s not something you’re likely to do on your own. Amazon lists dozens of application providers on its website and more are joining this lucrative tech niche every day.

Once you’ve selected a company to work with, you script the questions, answers, prompts, and responses. You’ll update the application frequently with new information and expand its catalog of responses.

To deliver association news, for example, you could record a news podcast every week or have Alexa or Google read the headlines from each e-newsletter item and, if the listener is interested in more, send the article link to the member’s phone.

“Voice gives associations more avenues to reach members,” says Stephen Gasque, director of broadcast communications at the National Association of REALTORS® and head of its voice application initiatives. “Voice can leverage content associations already have and deliver it in a way that members can consume conveniently as part of their day while they’re on the go.”

NAR’s newest voice application, “Ask NAR,” is due out in early 2020 and is designed keep members informed about issues, events, and benefits at the national level. It will be able to reach members where they spend most of their time, which is in their car or waiting for appointments. Members could ask their Amazon Echo Auto, for example, “How do I find my NRDS number?” or tell their Siri device to play the latest Real Estate Today podcast. Most importantly, however, the application will alert members to calls for action and can even dial their member of Congress to discuss the issue.

NAR’s “Ask a REALTOR®” voice application for consumers currently offers more than 200 responses to a wide range of questions, such as “What is an earnest money deposit?” and “How can I find out the value of my home?” NAR is adding new questions and answers to the application at the rate of several dozen a month.

Whether you’re ready to jump on board or take a wait-and-see approach, artificial intelligence—of which voice technology is a part—is the fastest-growing tech segment in the world and shows no signs of slowing.

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