The entire world is buzzing about Artificial Intelligence (AI), and no industry more so than multifamily. When we talk about AI, we often include machine learning (ML) as well. ML is a collection of computer algorithms designed to initially perform a task and then become increasingly better at that task as it is repeated. Meaning life is indeed imitating art, as AI technology can adapt (and hopefully improve) over time based solely on its interactions.
AI can also be improved with assisted supervision from your team based on opportunities you discover from monitoring the process and results, much like we monitor the effectiveness of human interactions through the leasing process with solutions such as mystery shopping and prospect surveys.
The Use and Impact of AI in Multifamily Today
In apartment leasing today, AI is most frequently equated to chatbot technology. Chatbots are designed to answer frequently asked questions, schedule tour appointments (both virtual and in-person), and collect vital information about prospective residents for lead follow-up.
Chatbots are becoming quite popular, credited with revolutionizing how our teams interact with prospects and customers. One of the main benefits of chatbots is their availability 24/7, simulating human-like chat, text, and even voice communication, to handle customer inquiries and provide support anytime, generally reducing the need for human intervention.
But as much as we rely on AI to help automate and streamline various repetitive tasks and processes in the multifamily industry, chatbots have their limitations. Despite being equipped to provide a faster response, they can struggle with understanding some questions, especially those that are not part of their predefined script.
And, sometimes, your prospect simply prefers speaking to a human. Renting an apartment — finding your new, perfect home — is a personal and sensitive experience. Thus, striking the right balance between automation and human interaction remains a challenge.
Forbes reported in one recent article that AI tools cannot replace human and emotional support, and our use of these tools must supplement, rather than replace, the role of human interaction to create a well-rounded experience. With emotion being one of the highest decision-making drivers, we cannot rely wholly on AI to achieve an optimal customer experience.
Today’s AI still lacks components such as originality and has a limited ability to understand context. AI capabilities must be under constant and continued development to continue serving the multifamily industry. And as its consumers, we must endeavor to measure results and help shape the benefits we expect from this technology.
AI lead nurturing offers convenience and efficiency not just to prospective residents but also to our leasing teams. However, let’s say your AI tool is programmed to automate sending follow-up emails. We cannot assume this is happening, let alone on a defined timeframe.
As we’re all too aware, technology can assist us and fail us. For example:
- Are the follow-ups logged in our CRM actually making it to the prospect?
- Are inquiries and responses from prospects being received and properly relayed to our team when human intervention is needed?
- Are renewal notices queuing at the proper time with relevant and accurate information?
Potential Drawbacks of AI in Multifamily
While our eyes are focused on AI’s promised benefits, including monetary, human resource, and time savings, we must also consider potential drawbacks and ensure we plan appropriately before rushing into an ill-prepared launch. Here are a few things to consider with respect to using AI in property management:
- AI usage and privacy protections are unregulated, requiring us to vet providers more closely and measure outcomes against our own expectations and ethics.
- AI relies on human programming, which can be poorly designed/trained and include unintended biases of the programmer.
- AI can potentially decrease human engagement, closely followed by diminished empathy, social skills, and connections.
- AI can contribute to human skills shortage and greater dependence on technology (i.e., a decrease in critical thinking and problem-solving skills).
- AI may face resistance from prospects and residents who don’t readily embrace new technologies.
Building Rapport and Connection Remain Vital
You may also discover opposition from teams when AI technology is incorporated into your processes. As such, it is important to solicit feedback, embrace questions and concerns, and communicate that AI will never serve as a total replacement for human workers. You could describe it more as a way to enhance, multiply even, employees’ ability to provide excellent customer service. In fact, for the foreseeable future, we will still need human interaction for situations too complex or subtle to be carried out by AI.
Human interaction, as an example, is vital to building rapport, empathizing with prospect/resident concerns, and addressing sensitive issues that require intuition and emotional intelligence. Humans are better equipped to handle discussions related to negotiables like lease terms and other exceptions and can address conflicts and navigate a broad range of issues.
Renters remain skeptical of AI in the wake of continued cybersecurity incidents. Being asked to provide personally identifiable information (PII) via chat, fill out rental applications before being able to take an apartment tour, and more all raise legitimate concerns. How much is too much, and at what point will it cause your prospect to move on to another rental solution?
Harvard Business Review reports, “human conversation remains the primary way people make complex purchases or emotional decisions.” When an AI chatbot fails to understand the underlying emotion of a customer’s response, the reply may come across as insensitive. “Robotic” interactions can lead to frustration and anger, resulting in loss of the customer. No business wants that.
Because the advantages of AI are considered greater than the disadvantages, businesses are quickly acting on this school of thought. According to RT Insights, 50% of businesses aim to spend more on AI this year. According to a survey by Gartner, business use of AI has grown 270% over the past four years.
AI technology is not a future trend. It is the here and now. However, we must weigh the pros and cons and make ongoing informed decisions. Bear in mind the discussion surrounding AI is not “to use or not to use” but rather how to develop a plan that enhances the experience for your customer.
The best solution is most often the one that gives the customer options. After all, success is largely due to meeting customers where they are.
Customers are constantly seeking smoother and more satisfying customer experiences. Alongside the product’s value, customer experience remains a key differentiator in who we want to do business with.
Recognizing that customers’ lives are increasingly evolving to a digital environment, our job is to find the best ways of providing self-service options, whether through AI or other means, while maintaining personal and authentic connections to build an even better customer journey.
Curious to read more about how multifamily apartment managers use AI in their daily work routines? Read our blog post, “ChatGPT in Multifamily: What Property Managers Should Know,” to learn more about the benefits and risks of adopting this new technology for your onsite teams!
Authored by: Lisa Ford, Director Mystery Shopping Services at Grace Hill