Artificial intelligence has been a buzzword in the technology world for several years, and these technologies are now becoming a player in many aspects of the apartment rental industry. At Entrata’s 2019 Summit in Park City, Utah, a panel of industry experts tackled some of the hottest topics surrounding the use of AI from both an apartment operator and resident perspective.
While the words AI, machine learning, and job automation can incite thoughts of job-stealing robots and human obsolescence, panelists were committed to the idea that these technologies should be viewed as an opportunity for growth.
“Artificial intelligence and job automation should be used to create opportunities to support staff and enhance the resident experience,” said Mark Zikra, VP of technology at CA Ventures. “By freeing up staff’s time from answering phone calls and scheduling tours, we can focus on more human-centric ideas, such as learning more about our residents and delivering them an exceptional experience beyond anything seen today. Automation does not create efficiencies, it creates opportunities.”
One of the more popular forms of automation being adopted at a high rate in the industry is chatbot technology. While in its early days this technology often came across as cold and impersonal, chatbots today are more useful, friendly, and interactive than ever before. In fact, the industry has seen residents become much more open to the idea of communicating with chatbots in lieu of a human on a regular basis.
“The latest research suggests that residents are becoming increasingly comfortable interacting with chatbots,” said Ryan Byrd, chief technology officer at Entrata. “A recent survey conducted by Entrata shows that 62 percent of residents would trust a chatbot to schedule maintenance at their apartment, and another 36 percent would use a chatbot to report a community violation.”
The same survey showed that 52 percent of residents are “comfortable” interacting with AI, 40 percent use some form of AI on a weekly basis, and 27 percent of apartment hunters believe that a community’s use of AI and smart home technology make it a more attractive place to live. The trends are clear: as AI is becoming an increasingly common aspect in residents’ lives, they’re embracing the technology.
Other chatbot features highlighted by the panel included the 24/7 availability of the technology as well as its ability to instantly translate conversations with a global audience – a particularly useful feature in the student housing industry.
“The 24/7 availability of chatbots can you really help you identify demand,” said Jonathan Jeans, director of technology at Pinnacle Campus Living. “Not only can chatbots allow for high-quality applications to be started during non-business hours, but this technology can help us from a globalization standpoint at our student housing communities with its ability to instantly translate to a number of languages.”
In addition to improving the experience of leasing staff, residents, and prospects, AI and automation technologies can be leveraged by maintenance teams and apartment owners and operators from a preventative maintenance standpoint. For example, Jeans mentioned that when used correctly, chatbots can respond to an initial maintenance request and send back five ways to try and solve the problem before a maintenance technician is deployed.
“We can use these technologies to evolve from reactive maintenance to predictive maintenance,” said Zikra. “If we can leverage AI to predict a leak or when an appliance is going to break, we can preemptively solve problems that will ultimately impact the bottom line and prove the ROI of these technologies.”
Echoing the sentiment from other technology-based sessions at the Summit, the panelists discussed the importance of integration when it comes to these devices.
“Everything has to be able to talk to each other,” said Ivy Christman, COO at Quest Management Group. “The integration of all of these technologies is what will really take the living experience to a whole new level for residents. This should be the ultimate goal.”
AI, machine learning, and job automation will continue to shape the industry for years to come. But the consensus among panelists was clear: while the robots are coming, they’re coming to create new opportunities, not steal our jobs.