By Jen Lawson
Without even realizing it, most of us engage with artificial intelligence every day. Facebook’s facial image recognition capability. Siri on iOS. Credit card fraud detection. Music and movie recommendations on apps like Spotify and Netflix.
The goal of artificial intelligence is to make our lives easier, so it makes sense that industries across the board are exploring ways to apply it. This includes the multifamily industry.
For most multifamily companies, the furthest they’ve waded into anything even coming close to artificial intelligence is voice-activated assistance on phone calls.
But new innovations in technology as well as the fact that those most comfortable with tech—Millennials, aka the “rental generation”—signal that AI is practically inevitable when it comes to apartment-hunting.
Enter the multifamily chatbot.
In its simplest terms, a chatbot is a computer program that uses AI to simulate a conversation with a human via a chat interface. The idea is that the bot provides information the user is seeking without having to poke around on a website.
The bots we’re seeing now can carry on a seemingly “normal” conversation that’s not much different than two people conversing. This is far cry from the earliest chatbots, which were neither natural-sounding, nor were they particularly helpful if a human made a request it wasn’t programmed to answer.
The smooth exchanges of today are a result of advances in natural language processing and AI technology, which allows the bot to learn as it interacts with people.
Chatbots are everywhere
Judging from recent headlines in The New York Times, Wired, Forbes, Wall Street Journal and countless other media outlets, chatbots are about to become increasingly integrated into our lives in countless ways.
A wide variety of industries and brands, from banks to cosmetics companies, have developed chatbots to engage with their customers. Not only that, a Game of Thrones chatbot debuted recently to coincide with the show’s new season. And a chatbot trained in cognitive behavioral therapy called Woebot was just released.
These bots can live on company websites or, as we’re seeing more and more, within messaging apps like Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and Kik.
Take H&M, for example. The retail clothing giant released a chatbot for Kik last year. When a user initiates a chat with H&M on Kik, the bot asks a series of style questions then presents some outfit suggestions. (Or, the user can simply tell the bot what they want to buy.) Then, the user can make their purchase from within the bot.
What’s the reason for the skyrocketing interest in chatbots? The use of messaging apps has now surpassed the use of social networks worldwide, according to a 2016 report by Business Insider. And the younger set is fueling this change.
It’s all about the Millennials
It’s no surprise that the demographic causing this paradigm shift is the Millennial generation. The instant, on-demand service they expect growing up with the Internet has carved a path in innovations like chatbots, which are available 24/7 and don’t get tired or annoyed when asked question after question like a human would.
Plus, nobody really wants to talk on the phone anymore, especially not Millennials.
Pair that with the fact that 80 percent of Americans between 18 and 34 have no intention of buying a home anytime soon, according to a Rent.com study, and it means that chatbots and the multifamily industry go hand-in-hand.
A multifamily chatbot could be a key to meeting these prospective renters where they are by providing the technology they’ve already integrated into their lives.
Prospective renters aren’t the only winners when it comes to chatbots. While a bot can’t replace a human leasing agent, it could greatly free up their time.
When a prospective renter lands on an apartment website, a chat box appears inviting the user to converse. The bot, programmed with data on the apartment community, checks unit availability and schedules tours.
And, even though companies try their best to make their websites as intuitive as possible, that’s not always the case. So, a multifamily chatbot should be able to answer questions about things like pricing, floor plans, amenities, pet policies, utilities, laundry, flooring and storage.
It should also be a valuable tool for lead generation, directing prospects to the community’s leasing page or even emailing them the rental application directly.
By reviewing the chatbot transcripts, leasing agents can now focus their sales outreach efforts on users who’ve shown an interest in their rental community.
But, perhaps the most exciting future applications of multifamily chatbots are the ones we haven’t conceived of just yet.
Jen Lawson is a content manager at Respage, a leader in digital marketing services for the multifamily industry and inventor of the Respage Chatbot, the industry’s first and only AI-powered leasing agent. Connect with her on LinkedIn.