Research shows that 80% of CRE property teams spend half of their time (or more) focused on improving the tenant experience. They know it’s key to winning in competitive markets. But, what many don’t realize is that how you communicate with tenants could make the biggest difference in their overall experience.
There’s no doubt communication preferences are shifting. Consider this: 66% of building management teams communicate with tenants via phone today, but only 4% of tenants plan to use this method in the future.
In an increasingly mobile world, the commercial real estate and PropTech industries are pouring time and energy into developing technology to meet tenants where they already are–their phones. As Americans pick up their cell phone a staggering 52 times a day, reliable mobile communication is critical to providing an ideal tenant experience.
But, investing the resources in betting big on mobile technology without a clearly defined strategy is risky. And a strategy requires understanding how people actually use their phones, not to mention how they want to use them to connect with their buildings.
The first big question that needs to be answered before embarking on a mobile journey is, “Should my company develop our own app.” In many cases, probably not. According to comScore, the majority of smartphone users have downloaded zero apps in the last 30 days, and most use fewer than 20 each month. This doesn’t mean people aren’t using mobile apps. In fact, smartphone users are, on average, spending over two hours per day on mobile apps, accounting for over half their digital media consumption. It does mean, though, that they’re concentrating more of their time on fewer apps.
This suggests that if we have not yet reached “peak app,” we are about to. Rather than fighting an uphill battle against consumer behavior, commercial property firms would do well to follow tenants to the places where they are already spending the most time: messaging. This includes both traditional texting and social collaboration apps like Slack. Instead of dumping resources into developing expensive apps that take a lot of time and effort to build and populate with compelling content, the real estate industry should take a fresh look at what it means to engage tenants through the mobile channels they’re already using.
One of the biggest advancements in customer communication recently has been the advent of sophisticated software that can talk (or in this case text) people through basic tasks. These gregarious electronic assistants are lovingly called chatbots. They represent the easiest way for building occupants to access property information, request service and stay connected to their buildings. You are already likely engaging with some form of chatbots in your day-to-day life. Consider Alexa or Siri, for example. Bots provide a much better experience than web portals, eliminating forms through the use of conversational language. They are also faster and easier to connect with than mobile apps, with no downloading or additional screen space required.
Consider this example: If the lights go out in an office suite, typically an authorized tenant user would need to log onto a desktop or mobile app (after downloading said mobile app) and fill out a multi-step form to create a service request. But with a chatbot, that same user could simply text, “I need help, the lights are out in the kitchen!”
Based on this single sentence, the chatbot interprets:
- The user’s intent (creating a work order)
- The type of problem (a lighting or electrical issue)
- The location (the kitchen in the tenant’s suite)
- The urgency (lighting problems are high-priority of course, but not emergencies)
Having taken care of all the data entry, the chatbot can keep the user updated on the progress of the request with automatic messages. Finally, the chatbot can ask for feedback when the work is done.
The entire interaction is essentially frictionless. It didn’t even require any training–all it takes to be a “user” is the ability to text (or, with voice-to-text, to speak). Chatbots will forever change the way the industry thinks about tenant-property management communications, not only because they make the process far more efficient, but they also provide several advantages:
One of the challenges property managers face is encouraging adoption of and compliance with new systems. It’s tough enough to have tenants submit work orders through a software platform when many are more inclined to just pick up the phone and call the property management office, or even talk directly with an engineer with whom they’ve developed a relationship. This process may be easier for tenants, but it requires extra, manual work for the building staff to make sure requests get logged and tracked appropriately.
Chatbots provide an easier way, increasing the chances of tenant compliance, as well as the ease and accuracy of tracking and dispatch. For tenants, leveraging popular messaging platforms, including basic text/SMS, Slack and other messaging tools, means a new level of accessibility that is a huge win for an industry that has now accepted its obligation to treat every single occupant within its buildings as a customer. For the building staff, lower friction means more adoption and less time spent fielding calls and self-entering data.
Conversational connection is important to people, even if much of it has been digitized.
The impact of conversational technologies on businesses is notable. According to a recent Tenant Experience Study study we did at Building Engines, 80% of office workers use messaging as their primary means of communicating with friends and family, and nearly 75% say they are comfortable doing the same at work. The Wall Street Journal recently revealed the ubiquity of texting at work, as it has become generally accepted as a professional means of communication.
It’s natural to gravitate toward tools that are simple and quick to use, so it’s no surprise that tenants would do the same. Instead of clunky portals and apps with form fields to fill out–a simpler path to communication creates a stronger connection between property and tenant.
Chatbots represent a huge step forward for the property industry. They give property management an opportunity to be innovative that it hasn’t had before. Whether it’s Amazon’s Alexa or a host of eCommerce sites, artificial intelligence tools are becoming more and more common in tenants’ lives. This is one of the reasons that it will be imperative to utilize modern technology in property management as we move forward, it is what people expect and soon will be what they demand.
Chatbots use natural language processing to interpret what users are trying to accomplish. For example, when a user starts a message with “Hello,” they can understand that someone has posted a standard greeting, which in turn allows it to leverage its AI capabilities to come up with a fitting response. In this case, the chatbot will likely respond with a return greeting, like “Hi, Phil! How can I help you?” By helping provide context and meaning to text-based user inputs, the chatbot can determine the appropriate response.
By using machine learning, a chatbot can improve these interpretations over time. The more it processes and engages in natural conversation, the more intuitive and accurate the chatbot becomes. If the technology sounds complex, it is! But it makes the user experience devastatingly simple.
Offering tenants a mobile touchpoint is no longer a luxury benefit, but a necessity to facilitate effective operations, great service and a positive tenant experience. While customized apps and web portals may provide some benefits over clipboards and phone calls to property management teams, they lack an intuitive sense of tenants’ natural behavior, putting a barrier between technology and its users. With chatbots, property managers can offer something better: an easier, more intuitive and ultimately better tenant experience. The property industry needs to find ways to get closer to its users. They best way to do that is with the device that has connected us all and become the first tool we look for when it comes to communicating, the square piece of plastic, glass and silicone we call our smartphones.