By Nick Kljaic

The real estate industry continually comes up short when it comes to marrying technology with real estate. Welcome to the land technology forgot. One particular area that surprisingly falls short is the customer service department.

Nowadays, potential home buyers and renters do not walk by a brick and mortar real estate office and view available listings from a printed catalogue or listings on a window. Those days have passed. In fact, 88 per cent of home buyers and renters visit a property website before finding their next home according to the National Association of Realtors’ recent survey.



The same printed property details and photos may have been digitized but the one thing that has failed to make the same digital transition is the customer service element. This is still the key element for home buyers when selecting a real estate professional. The process of relationship building and customer service, in general, is seemingly diminishing.

When you step into a brick and mortar store you are typically greeted by a sales representative who helps you with any typical questions or concerns that you may have regarding a particular product. An online shop doesn’t have that same luxury and some customers often times feel disconnected from the business due to the lack of this personal interaction.

Many real estate websites feel like unmanned generic stores. You know there are people running the website, but getting in contact with them can be a challenge. One of the false assumptions that the people behind these faceless websites make is that if users are opting to use a website, they probably want to be serviced by the web without an interactive presence. Coupled with a motivation to reduce customer inquiries, some websites go as far as hiding or making it difficult to locate their contact information. This could be likened to walking into a real estate office without anyone physically in the shop. There’s no one to interact with or to assist you with your hunt for your next home – there’s just a catalogue on a table for you to spend endless time scouring through.

What if you could be greeted by someone on your next visit to an online real estate storefront?

Instead of browsing through the catalogue of properties on your own, what if you could be assisted with your home hunting process in real time? If this “person” could note your specific requirements and suggest a few recommendations to get you started, would this keep your online shop visitor shopping longer on your site? Could it perhaps prompt them to provide their direct contact information?

Allow me to introduce you to the real estate chatbot. Chatbot’s response time, memory and knowledge bank would rival any agent within your office. Not to mention the fact that the chatbot also works 24/7 and can keep a conversation going with multiple visitors simultaneously. Chatbot is an artificial intelligence powered assistant built for real estate client interactions.

Examining market expectations

While over 90 per cent of real estate brokerages have a website, their most common feature includes property listings (90 per cent) followed by staff photos (71 per cent) and testimonials (40 per cent).

If your website has these three elements, you have made it to the top 40 per cent more or less. Perhaps you may have a few other differentiating elements on your site, like an interactive map or some cumbersome home financing widget. But where is the customer service? Is it simply limited to an email address buried somewhere within the website?

An online chat component puts your site visitors in direct contact with a customer service representative through short messages that are exchanged in real time. It’s best utilized for quick spur of the moment questions that do not require extended responses – the kind of questions that a visitor may not have bothered taking the time to compose an email to ask. They are looking for more of a responsive service where they can have their questions answered promptly.

This is where the chatbot excels. While you are busy with your open houses or viewings, the chatbot ensures that all those marketing dollars you spent driving traffic to your site are optimized for conversions and not gone to waste.

Forrester Research found that 44 per cent of consumers say that having questions answered by a live person in the middle of an online transaction is one of the most important features a website can offer. An ATG Global Consumer Study discovered that 90 per cent of customers consider live chat helpful.

Clearly, the surveys support having a live chat, while at the same time 46 per cent of real estate brokerages cite keeping up with technology as their primary challenge. Installing a chat widget on your site will definitely put you ahead of the pack, but who is going to man that station all day long? You guessed right – real estate chatbot.

  • Carolyne L

    The often unseen and even unaccounted for costs of running a brokerage are so high. From what purse would a brokerage allocate money to pay a full time staff monitor to work the chat line? And even more importantly one who would have the necessary knowledge skills to perform a useful redirect, not just pass the inquiry to someone next on the list.
    The chatbot concept reminds me of current situations where customers call online banking, or web providers or call centres provided by email service providers, and end up speaking to someone in a foreign country, a nice person but no good command of English and had been taught to answer questions in nearly robot fashion, not actually answering the question at all.

    One of the chief reasons I left the wonderful corporation I was associated with for many years was due to “redirect.” Would have even been more invasive with a chatbot, maybe.

    When I learned, quite by chance that my own incoming sign calls, ad calls and self promo that I paid for myself (as many as 33 calls before noon some days, I was told) where reception staff were instructed to redirect my calls to the manager who often was not even always in the office, so further redirected to the office deal admin secretary.

    And the explanation was that business I generated needed to be shared in the office. The manager felt compelled to decide which if any incoming calls would actually be put through to me. I needed to be a team player.

    Just one example. Our office was in a mall location. Curious that one evening when in the office (a rare occasion), I did get a phone call at my desk, a spontaneous act from a homeowner, asking to speak directly not saying why; second time trying to get me. Would it be too late to come by their house to list, this evening? I knew the area very well and had recent business in their street. I didn’t need much prep; I could quite chapter and verse and noted to self no need to “sell.” No. They weren’t interviewing anyone else they said. They had “followed” my career for years.

    Simultaneously the husband happened to be in the mall, inquired if I was in, per chance and said he wanted to list his house with me. Reception told him I wasn’t available but they would send (and named the manager’s best friend) right over. The man said thank you but he would wait for a msg from me. They only wanted me. (Not knowing his wife had booked the appt with me.)

    How did I uncover the issue at hand? The sellers relayed the husband’s office encounter, mall office conversation, to me during the listing appt.

    Real estate is not a team-sport. Unless of course you are part of a designated team, as such.

    What did the admin girl know? Never having been an agent? And had no clue as to the geo-locations involved. So she passed my calls to her office favourites. (As directed by the manager.) And she became the one to make chummy with, and agents knew it.

    Happened several times in a row. Had been happening for awhile, unknown to me, and when I did find out I made excuses to cover the office saying must be a new staff person.

    Eventually a caller would connect directly with me, and that’s how I learned they were told I was too busy, that someone in the office would be “recommended” to take care of the call, but there was a great new agent available immediately, to devote lots of time to the caller, if they could be sent to meet up with the caller, or book an appointment at the office.

    Why would you do that to your top producer and then scratch your head wondering why your top agent would leave? If it weren’t so sad it would be comical. I engaged with the manager who informed it was his duty to support all his agents with my calls and spread the business around.

    This chatbot might work if the brokerage can afford to hire someone to man it 24/7. Someone generically knowledgeable but more importantly having great, not just good, people skills, able to field questions instantaneously. Believe me when I say they are in short supply, and they can’t be cloned, sadly.

    The last couple of lines noted in this
    otherwise interesting promo article seems to defeat its own purpose. Or is it an odd form of loss leader call to action?

    No wonder retail has suffered so much in recent years. There is little to NO retail customer service, online or in person, most anyplace. And real estate is retail, by definition.

    How would it be for department stores to perhaps create an HR extension called maybe “store ambassadour?” (Push button)

    Push button wall contact planted in easy to find locations. WELL-MARKED, use button for, you guessed it: “CUSTOMER SERVICE AT YOUR REQUEST.” (Talk to a real live person! – would that be your chatbot? INSTANTANEOUSLY!) “What aisle is BBQ sauce in?” Rather than customers needing to walk the whole store to find one item. Or having to stand in line (yes) at the customer service desk (sometimes unmanned).

    Or just a call to say: “can you send someone to the pantyhose department. There’s no staff on the floor to help customers.” And not make the customer who wants to leave money there (to pay your salary?) feel like they are an imposition. By the way, there’s no one at the cashier counter, either. I’m on my lunch hour and need to get back to work. Can you send someone to take my money, maybe? (Or measure me for a new suit, as another comment read.) Before I leave my things here and just exit the facility? Not everything can be bought online?

    Like most major cities, using Ottawa as an example: buyer needs to fixate on properties within walking distance of the Mint, where he has just been hired. Use your chatbot? What subdivision should he be checking out? Of course he could go online and find some agent at some company in Ottawa who might even offer to help, even if that specific location is outside their own area of expertise. Online experiences can be wonderful, but they can also be horrid and waste everyone’s valuable time. Especially when you don’t know what you don’t know,

    Until a couple of remaining generations die off, the need for one on one customer service won’t be going away anytime soon. And retail will continue to suffer.

    Not everyone is computer-friendly, still after all these years. And certainly their websites are not. Some think simply because they have a website means they are computer-friendly. An awfully bad joke.

    Anyone who has moved to a new town has experienced this first hand. Websites need the “push this button for customer service” (your chatbot) as badly as in-store retailers do. But there has to be a proper game plan in place. And we’re not talking automatons.

    Did you know that real estate offices (leases) are categorized as “retail” in many locations? And undoubtedly, in our industry, customer service is often sorely lacking. No different than in retail stores, per se.

    Sometimes wonder: is there a gene marker for that? People have “people-skills,” or they don’t. I don’t think that topic is teachable; it either comes naturally or it doesn’t. Thus the gene reference.

    The current REM article topic: commissions – has some great discussion going on, pointing out the root cause of both success and failure has nothing to do with computers or who has the most computer smarts. The real estate industry is all about people skills; about developing rapport in person or even online. It’s all about developing relationships, building trust, and in most cases, building business for the future, not instantly, today.

    Here’s another example: a would-be buyer called the agent name and private phone number on a sign. The office had no info. Must be a new listing. Buyer got through to agent. Asked: how much is street address asking? We are sitting on the street and perhaps would like to see it.
    Reply: I have no idea. The sign just went up today. I’ve taken a dozen listings today and can’t remember. (Top producer agent). The deal was he hadn’t even seen the listing. One of his clones listed it. He couldn’t even say how many bedrooms, so buyer called another agent. So it goes. Would the chatbot have saved that call?

    Consider perhaps the need for mechanizing a system built on clones. Clones of reps who have people skills first and foremost. Then and only then will the chatbot be capable of doing its purpose. We’re a long way from casting overboard the human element “people-person,” in the real estate world of commerce.

    Carolyne L 🍁