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Automation Nation

Christian Lous Lange famously said that technology was a useful servant but a dangerous master, yet with the sheer volume and pace of new tech implementation it has been difficult to get that balance right. Sarah Bell caught up with Ian Campbell (and Rita) from Aire Software to talk about what is possible in automated technology for prospecting, processes, property management and more.

There is no doubt that we are on the crest of another wave of technological breakthroughs. The next generation of tech implementations are not the clunky packages that forced us to adapt to rules. The new era allows us to literally write the rules while intelligent tech adapts to the ways we want to work and live.

When we think about artificial intelligence (AI) and the rise of bots, it can be difficult to frame exactly how this stuff of science fiction could be relevant to a local real estate business. If we humanise it, however, and start to think of AI technology as an extra person in our business, then we start to gain a concept of what a digital assistant might be.

A digital assistant means that technology is no longer simply a tool to use at work, but that tech has become capable of achieving its own work outcomes. “Automation gives businesses a huge opportunity to do a lot more with less,” says Ian.

“If I was a real estate agent, I don’t think I would be worried about automation replacing what I did. There has been research to support that things like negotiation, deal-making and interpretation of legislation are all higher-order human functions that have fundamental human traits at their core. Agents offer a huge value in the sale; humans want comfort from other humans, generally speaking, but there are some interesting business models starting to challenge that. The idea of digital assistants isn’t to challenge the relevance of the traditional agents – it is to do the heavy lifting at the back end so that humans can be freed to be more involved where they are most relevant.”

Ian has created the first digital assistant for real estate agents in the form of Rita. Rita is Aire’s first digital employee and her name stands for ‘Real Estate Intelligent Transaction Assistant’. For a fraction of the cost of an additional employee – and none of the headaches, breaks or errors – Rita can automate almost anything, and she learns and uses your current systems.

“We do know that this is the first implementation of a digital employee in Australia. Rita won’t do the same thing in any two businesses, because every business is unique. It is a fully bespoke implementation and she has a similar individualised onboarding process to a team and to those systems as though she were a new employee.”

Rita is already working at Watt Realty in Brisbane. Her job at Watt Realty is to manage buyer enquiry, to respond immediately with relevant information, to complete missing information in their CRM, to update customer records and to create follow-up tasks for agents based on inbound enquiry.

Justin Watt from Watt Realty said: “We estimate that Rita saves us around 780 hours of administrative work in a year just from automating enquiry, and that represents a cost saving to the business of over $30,000. Possibly the best part of bringing Rita into the business is the service levels that we have been able to create.

“When buyers are complaining that other agents don’t get back to them, we can boast the fastest response times and we can guarantee that we never miss an enquiry. Rita sends them extra information which they may find helpful and it is all completely automated. The agent has time to call and because Rita does everything on behalf of the agent, when the agent does call they are doing so from a base where they have already given a customer a great experience and started to build a relationship. In that sense, Rita is a pretty powerful listing tool as well.

“Our first version of a digital assistant had similar functionality but it looked like a service desk and ran kind of a ticketing system. We soon realised that people didn’t want to log into another piece of software because their day is already too busy. Most of the software that we leverage exists in the software that a customer is using – for us it is about automating integration using APIs and keeping a complex web of automation really simple for our users.”

When it comes to automation, the capabilities of a digital assistant are very broad and the goal is always to free up the time of an agent to focus on higher-order, complex and dollar-productive activities. While Rita is working on buyer and tenant enquiry management at Watt Realty, from a first response perspective she could also provide an initial reply to appraisal leads and landlord leads and respond to general enquiries.

In database management, Rita could be employed to de-duplicate or segment data, to build and augment data, and to report from the CRM in real time. Rita could take over some of the workload with social media automation, including synchronising data with a Facebook audience or Facebook’s new property catalogue product.

The application to property management is equally exciting, with Rita able to manage leasing enquiry, maintenance, arrears and lease renewals – and she is just getting started.

“I think it is critical for the industry to spend more time on its customer service – to be face to face,” said Ian. “Agents spend a lot of time doing other ‘stuff’ where there is no value-add to the end consumer. There is an opportunity for the good guys to get even better and to create a massive gap between the agents who invest in technology to help them to that – and the agents that don’t.”

Artificial Intelligence creates a new world of possibilities for real estate and, as the use-case emerges for different applications of the technology, we will see providers, agents and consumers adopt and normalise AI.

You can meet Rita at getaire.com.au.

Ian Campbell will be speaking at ‘How to lead a winning team in 2018’ on the topic of ‘How to hire and manage your first digital employee.’ For more information and to book tickets visit eliteagent.com/win2018.

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Sarah Bell

With a background in research and investigations, Sarah Bell married into the real estate industry in 2009 and has found a passion for both the business and its people.