Forbes — “Is AI ‘Required’ For The New Multifamily Operating Model?”
By Tyler Christiansen, Funnel CEO, on what’s needed to create a consistent renter experience in today’s multifamily market.
The current multifamily market is driving many operators toward new ways of making up revenue and profit margins. Many operators are considering more efficient operating models to reduce costs and/or gain efficiencies through variations of role specialization, centralization or shared services.
One thing that most operators (even the contrarians) whom I’ve talked with agree upon is that the core objective is to create a consistent, fail-proof renter experience as a way to ensure future success.
Consumers of any product or service today demand a self-service, responsive shopping experience. Renting an apartment is no exception. In fact, it is my opinion that renters only inquire because of the poor leasing experience we’ve created as an industry.
Don’t believe me? Think about Airbnb—there is no “call now” button or AI chatbot on the app. Airbnb’s founders are designers and are passionate in their search for a frictionless booking experience.
The two foundational differences between multifamily and Airbnb are length of stay (though this line continues to blur) and the separation of marketplace (ILS, or internet listing service) and transaction (property management company) platforms. The handoff from ILS to individual property transactions creates friction where AI and humans need to jump in.
Since consistency at scale is the core objective of the transition from the ILS to the property management company, there are two possible business practices to help achieve this.
The first is to deploy a high-quality AI tool that can handle the huge volume of prospective renters and ensure every inquiry is both promptly responded to and can effectively answer their questions. While AI is not an absolute requirement for creating a consistent renter experience, it is a best practice as it will never veer “off script.”
However, if AI is not something you think is relevant to your business, or if it conjures up images of some doomsday scenario, then there is an alternative that we’ve seen work. The solution: Increase your staff (and train them well) to ensure that your company can provide 24/7 coverage on all channels that your prospect wants to use to communicate with your office.
There are obvious reasons a multifamily operator might choose one solution over the other, but there are also downsides to both options.
The Downside To Increasing Human Capital And Staffing
Staffing is remarkably unstable in multifamily, and going all-in on this option presents clear challenges for operators. Plus, having a full roster of leasing professionals isn’t enough; it also involves training these large, high-turnover teams to make sure that they’re able to provide high-quality, consistent renter experiences.
Going this route is an investment. With some property management companies experiencing up to 70% turnover among leasing professionals, it’s also never-ending.
We’ve all had bad experiences with automated tools, but we’ve also all had poor experiences with a customer service representative. By ensuring that your teams are fully staffed, you can, of course, ensure that the phone gets answered when a renter reaches out. But if your team is burnt out, you can’t ensure what an individual team member will say to the prospective renter.
The Pitfalls Of AI
It’s true, some AI solutions just create poor status quo customer experiences but digital. I believe AI meets consumer expectations if it’s well done.
For example, if it’s obvious that a consumer is trying to reach a human team member when they’re on the phone with a community—either by pressing zero over and over, or constantly saying “representative” out loud—the AI solution needs to pick up on the clear signs and hand off the conversation to a human team member, fast.
AI solutions need to make any information they gather readily available to human team members. If a renter tells the AI solution that they are looking for a two-bedroom apartment, the leasing professional who takes over that conversation needs to know that information without asking. Otherwise, the experience feels disjointed and will be frustrating for the renter.
Not All Or Nothing
While most of this article has pitted these two options against one another, this isn’t an all-or-nothing divide. The best solution gives the renter optionality. There will always be a human element to renting apartments. The key is meeting the customer, or in this case, the renter, where they are, and leveraging the solutions that you feel work best for your business to answer their questions promptly.
No matter which of the options above you select for your business, there are three best practices to keep in mind when building your consistent renter experience.
• Ensure each inquiry gets prompt, accurate information that pleasantly answers their questions.
• No more information silos: The information gathered throughout the journey, whether through AI solutions or team members, is accessible and used by all stakeholders who interact with the prospective renter.
• Develop clear handoff practices between AI solutions and teams.
Humans And AI Existing In Harmony
Finding an apartment is an emotionally and financially weighty decision. While self-service is a desired part of the apartment shopping experience, renters also demand flawless customer service that aligns with the importance of this decision. Teams can’t provide this if they’re overwhelmed.
The unintended benefit of automating follow-up on initial inquiries is that it helps your existing staff by taking easily repeatable tasks off their plate. No more copying and pasting the pet policy or sending a link to a prospect to schedule a tour—the AI solution already did it. Now, your team members can focus on the high-value interactions that matter most.
Then, when your team does take over the conversation, they have the bandwidth to provide the kind, empathetic customer service that renters want when finding their next home.
Renters demand perfection from every customer service interaction. There is no room for sloppy, slow renter experiences that signal to renters that they should choose somewhere else to live. Selecting the solutions and workflows that make sense for your company to create a consistent renter experience will help operators stand out (in a good way).