IN CONVERSATION: The property industry needs to take advantage of the power of artificial intelligence


Ian Campbell, the Founder and CEO of Brisbane company Aire Software, says artificial intelligence is a match made in heaven for the data-filled property industry. 

The rise of artificial intelligence (AI) in the real estate sector is a trend that shows no signs of slowing down. And while there are the early adopters out there, the majority have not even begun to realise the power of it and just what is possible. 

But it’s not as scary as it may sound. At one end of the spectrum, some people think AI and think robots will ultimately make a significant number of humans redundant. At the other end of the spectrum, some people think of AI as a simple chat bot - which, sure, is easy and fast for some simple queries and tasks - but AI technology has a lot more value to play than just that.

At its core, AI exists to mimic human decision making capabilities by using vast quantities of data.  But we all know that not all decisions are made on hard facts and data. The emotional buyer is rarely making their decisions based on facts and figures. It is at the juncture of analysis-paralysis and gut-feel that will ultimately be the “sweet spot” for AI applications in service-based industries such as property.

The property industry is under fire from all angles. The tech “disruptors”, the fixed-fee operators and not to mention the non-too-favourable macroeconomic conditions. In order to ensure a certain future, the industry needs to start to realise that the customer experience is now paramount to the perception of value. And just as it is in every industry, there is an increasing expectation around consumer demands and expectations of service.

From a consumer or client perspective, how fast you can return phone calls, the sense-of-urgency you exhibit when responding to online inquiries, or indeed the persistence of your follow up. These are just some of the critical touch points that all compound in the consumer’s perception of your brand and your value.  
                
Unfortunately there are unique challenges that sometimes prevent an agent from delivering to the highest level of service, at speed. In the property service industry, we often rely on a fixed resource (ie. people) to deliver our service. If demand for service increases dramatically in a short period of time, it is basically impossible to scale your resources dynamically to meet that demand.  

For example, if 40 people were to come through an open home on a Saturday, all 40 of those people would expect a follow up within 48 hours. But making 40 phone calls (not to mention the second attempts) is a significant investment of time for any agent - that’s along with collating data and every other task on their to do list.

Solving the problem of scale is where we believe AI and automation will really deliver the best outcomes. The types of outcomes where everybody wins. The consumer gets better service, the agent has more time and finally the business owner has more profit.

Using AI, automation and data effectively opens up significant opportunities to assist agents to be more efficient, both faster and smarter, by doing some parts of the work but also by coordinating the various tasks that need to be done.  
 
For example, our Digital Employee (aka robot), Rita, can do things like employment checks and tap in to third-party databases to do tenancy checks, which traditionally a human had to spend time doing. Rita does a lot of the prep work for a tenancy application and gets it as far as she can in the process before a human is required to deliver their part of the equation - in this case the final judgement of whether a prospective tenant is a fit and proper human. This decision is rarely an exercise in numbers.  But often requires the intuitive judgement of a person that has seen the behavioural traits of bad tenants in the past.  

Beyond that, where AI gets really powerful is in showing you an opportunity that you didn't even know existed. The power of a suggestion, or a well thought out recommendation - that is where they can really start to open up the capacity of our existing human resources. 

For example, we do predictions about who, in an agency’s database, might be thinking about selling. This is based on a mix of digital signals and customer profiling.  Real estate agents are already busy doing the face-to-face work and intuitive-based judgements. They can’t compete with a robot when it comes to mashing and analysing data. 

The average property business has so much data at their disposal. In fact, real estate is probably one of the few industries that I would argue does not have a lead problem. There are literally hundreds of thousands of consumers giving over their names, phone numbers and email addresses to the industry on any given Saturday. Good problem to have, right?  

But the sheer volume of inbound data instantly becomes overwhelming for the average person.  Today’s CRMs have been designed largely as data buckets that humans are used to simply filling up. Our research has proven that over 75% of the average real estate agent’s contacts do not have an ongoing relationship documented in the CRM after just five months of the initial entry.  

If you’ve got 1000 people in your database, and only time to call five today, how do you make a decision about who are the most important five to call? Today this decision is most commonly managed based on some sort of repetitive task system or simple drip campaign.  But this approach generally does nothing more than treat every person the same and it also has no understanding of the capacity of the agent, or business, to do that work. So what’s the result?  A stream of incomplete tasks in a CRM that no one logs in to.

One of the biggest questions we’ve definitely found ourselves asking along this journey is how can we change the behaviour in a human based off the insights of a machine that we know to be correct? 

The biggest challenge is not in the AI itself. It lies in achieving a harmonious intersection of AI, the data, and humans. And as AI keeps advancing and algorithms are continuously refined, we’re going to need humans to trust what that machine is telling them, without the need to always understand and rationalise it.

Will AI remove the need for humans? I don’t think so, because we still need people to be the owners or the supervisors of the critical outcome.

Long term, I believe agents will become more of a service provider than what is now more of a sales profession. I think they will be trusted advisors, equipped with immense data insights - highly skilled property consultants that you turn to for advice, who have their ear to the ground on the local marketplace. 

The possibilities are immense. But people need to start to realise the power of AI, and trust that there has been a heck of a lot of work go on behind the scenes to deliver a supremely intelligent machine that almost has a mind of its own. And it can connect the dots for you, draw enigmatic conclusions and offer suggestions that, ultimately, could literally make all the difference. 

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