To Bot or Not to Bot? That’s More than a Technical Question
August 3, 2018
Technology has empowered real estate agents in remarkable ways in the last couple of decades. One of the hottest innovations for agent websites is bots.
What’s a bot? Short for robot, a bot is a software program that can execute commands, such as reply to messages, or perform routine tasks, typically automatically. For agent websites, chatbots are used to conduct a text conversation when someone visits your site. A popup is deployed inviting any questions a website user may have.
Chatbots are designed to convincingly mirror human conversation and often use artificial intelligence to offer answers to website visitor questions. When a visitor submits a question, the bot then determines what it believes the correct response should be and returns the answer in a conversational style text, just like a real person. If all goes as planned, your website visitor’s question is answered, and they have a great experience using your site as a result.
Bots for real estate websites
The idea behind a bot-attended website is that you don’t have time to monitor your site 24-7. The majority of agents also can’t afford to hire a customer service staff to monitor their websites around the clock. But if they could, they would be able to offer visitors live assistance, answering any questions they may have immediately.
Not only could a service like this on your website potentially provide potential customers a great experience, but it could do something potentially even more valuable for you: help turn those prospective customers into clients. At the very least, this service would likely increase your ability to capture website visitor contact information and build your database.
Chatbots can be great
Bot technology is getting better and better every day. The best thing about artificial intelligence is that it keeps getting smarter: it learns and therefore improves over time. Bot conversation performance today is a lot better today than just a year ago.
An example of how developers are advancing this technology is Amazon’s fantastic program called the Alexa Prize. It’s a $3.5 million university challenge with teams creating “socialbots” that will have long conversations with humans on a range of current events and topics including entertainment, sports, politics, technology, and fashion. Efforts like these are expected to help advance chatbot technology enormously.
Plus, the use of bots is expanding. You can use bots not only on your websites, but your business Facebook Page and even your Twitter account. Bots can not only begin a conversation with a potential contact, but the bot will work to develop the prospect to the point where you can take over the live discussion. Bots can help prospects search the MLS, take messages for you, and even share current market performance data with your customers.
Bots can be very helpful in qualifying your leads, helping to determine which prospects are the ones that need – and want – your help right away. One of the biggest challenges real estate agents face is being able to provide timely responses to their clients because the emails and texts come at all times of the day and night. Chatbots could solve this problem because they provide an immediate response.
And Chatbots can be bad
But there can be a real downside to bots that every agent has to consider before deploying a bot service on their site or social media platforms. And that’s when bots go bad: when the automated conversation does not work out for the potential customer.
The most significant problems with bots on real estate agents’ websites tend to be related to one of two things: either lack of transparency or technology vendors who overpromise.
Here’s the thing: for a chatbot to work correctly, the consumer must a) know that they are talking to a bot; transparency is non-negotiable because trust is everything in real estate; b) a chatbot must deliver value to the consumer. As soon as the conversation no longer provides value, the consumer abandons the bot and the conversation.
That’s a pretty significant risk to take for a transaction as big as a house. If you are purchasing a book, or a pair of shoes or making a flight arrangement, we are talking tens to hundreds of dollars, thousands at most. But for most people, shopping for a house is the biggest buy of their lives and could mean tens or hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars’ worth of investment.
The human factor
In the end, the decision to use a chatbot is a very personal one for an agent and their business model. The technology firms offering bots say agents using their services report increasing their business significantly because of the leads they capture and no longer lose.
But agents who are 100 percent consumer-centric need to thoroughly test any new technology that is going to interact with their clients, like a chatbot. Agents need to make sure they experience what their clients and potential clients experience before they buy.
Right now, that’s the challenge. No technology is perfect, just like us humans. But we have some things bots do not have – at least not yet: empathy and the ability to better determine the nuances in language, the subtle hidden meaning in words and play on words. And let’s face it, who is a potential client today going to trust more: a bot or a real live human being?