October 17 2023

CRM platform Funnel trains bots to co-pilot with human lead specialists.

By Jack Rogers | October 16, 2023 at 12:00 PM

CRM software that enables centralization of multifamily leasing combined with AI models performing mundane leasing chores is offering a solution to a critical shortage of leasing agents, freeing up the most-experienced human leasing agents to operate across portfolios as lead specialists.

According to Tyler Christiansen, CEO of Funnel, a CRM leasing platform with a centralized business model, the old-school “property-centric” multifamily leasing process is extremely inefficient because most of the work is done on-site, with leasing agents performing multiple chores at individual communities.

Funnel’s centralized model, which manages leasing operations across a portfolio, is geared to a “customer-centric” process, which Christiansen compared to Tesla’s business model in the automotive industry.

“The Tesla business model is where the relationship is with a centralized platform where I as a customer interact with the brand and not an individual franchise of that brand (a dealership),” Christiansen told Globe St.

“Multifamily operators act like a car dealership today and we’re moving towards a singular brand and operating model,” he added.

According to Christiansen, “for the vast majority of customers, their service expectations have no physical requirements.”

“In the leasing environment, our data clearly shows that renters don’t want to talk to somebody to book a tour, they would rather do self-service,” he said.

“When they want to talk to somebody, they want their questions answered immediately. The problem with that in the on-site staffing model is that the person on site inherently is distracted and multi-tasking and the owner-operator has no control over what that person is doing because they’re interacting with the real world,” Christiansen added.

A centralized customer-centric platform frees leasing agents from performing tasks like tours as “generalists” at individual communities and enables them to become lead specialists who can work across portfolios.

“We talk about making superheroes out of agents” Christiansen said.

“An offsite lead specialist is going to be very responsive. We’ve seen response times shrink and conversions move faster from lead to lease when you have a specialized off-site team instead of waiting for the on-site team to be responsive,” he said.

“The software shows the specialists multiple properties and all they’re working on first is the renewal workflow. They’re focused on leasing and they’re not distracted by the tour. They’re going to make sure that everyone who has a renewal questions gets that question answered,” Christiansen said.

Leasing agents can increase their productivity and earn higher wages as lead specialists and, like superheroes, they’re equipped with sidekicks in the form of a bot that Funnel has trained to take over early information gathering and tour scheduling, among other leasing tasks.

Funnel loaded its large language model with information from its communications platform, which processes more than 4M communications on a monthly basis, on a platform that is approaching 1M live units.

“The primary role that AI is playing is early information gathering for the prospective renter, answering their questions and asking them our questions. As they answer our questions, we use that information to populate their application,” Christiansen explained.

Funnel deployed “secret shoppers” to test the bots. The shoppers found that AI was much more responsive in answering their questions than the human counterparts, the CEO told us, adding “when it comes to tour scheduling, AI does a better job than humans do.”

Multifamily operators who transition from a property-centric leasing model where most of the work is done on-site to centralized platforms are realizing significant cost savings, primarily by improving their employee-to-user ratios, while getting increased productivity from smaller human staffs.

Switching to Funnel’s centralized customer-centric leasing enabled Cortland Apartments, one of the largest apartment owners in Atlanta and Dallas, to glean an insight it previously missed when records were isolated in silos of communities: 20% of all leases involved visits to multiple Cortland communities.

“That’s just a really important data point when you’re thinking about your customer-acquisition cost,” Christiansen said. “It’s really reduced their marketing costs, because if they know a single lead can be used multiple times, they can be more efficient with acquiring those leads.”

Camden Property Trust, a Houston-based REIT, has publicly disclosed that it saved $4M annually by transitioning to the centralized model for their multifamily communities, primarily by improving employee-to-user ratios instead having redundant, inefficient silos.

Agents who were previously managing 80 units were able to manage more than 100 on the centralized platform. Camden also has seen its retention of leasing associates increase.

“They have some of the best 10-year leasing associates in the business,” Christiansen said.

“One of the big reasons why is that agent compensation has increased year-over-year by 50%. [Another] is that the leasing associate has moved from doing many, many multiple tasks at a single property and now they are leasing closers,” he said. “They don’t handle the tours, they help get the individual through the leasing process.”