Article

Conversational AI for real estate customer services

Boosting service excellence with intelligent and customer-centered automation

The real estate industry faces significant changes as new technologies and digital offerings change the way people live and work. Enhanced customer expectations for real-time, high-quality services are a major challenge, because under conventional approaches, workloads would steadily increase and human beings would represent a bottleneck. While chatbots are already in use, they are often quite simplistic, offering only limited functionality and little technical sophistication. What is needed instead are so-called ‘intelligent virtual assistants’, which are built for purpose, have a rich set of capabilities and are integrated into the end-to-end process landscape of the enterprise, while simultaneously acting as an important interface within the entire real estate ecosystem. This article is about applying conversational AI to level up and shape up your customer service for the digital future.

The era of customer experience: When digitalization pushes requirements to a new level

Client-centered services and valuable customer experiences have always been drivers for success. But alongside the digital transformation of business processes, a key success factor is aligning technology and business models according to customer needs. Customers still decide on brands or products primarily based on personal experience, but their expectations toward the customer service experience are mainly driven by the standards set by large technology companies. Even though personal contact is no longer the major relevant success factor in many processes, the most relevant customer requirements of the digital age include easy and simple contact channels, 24/7 availability, fast response times and a low error rate. New digital offerings, the rapid evolution of technology and enhanced customer expectations could therefore highlight major customer services deficits in many organizations. 

Good to know what it takes

Service desk automation and conversational AI enables you to design and deliver an experience that provides value to both your customers and your business while optimizing and enhancing your customer service experience at crucial points, which is a true USP for your customers and a differentiator against your competition.

However, this can only be achieved if you evolve your AI offering beyond a static Q&A chatbot to a personalized agent with the ability to trigger or perform relevant tasks and events. For some selected use cases (e.g. rental offerings specific to target groups or cross-selling services), additional capabilities will evolve, which will also allow the assistant to act as an intelligent advisor capable of making suggestions based on its integrated AI-driven recommending engine. In the future, add-on services like these could make the difference in real estate, just as they do in modern online retailing.

Before you can benefit from all of these capabilities, there are of course obstacles, bottlenecks and potential pitfalls to overcome. Most early movers have made painful yet valuable experiences as they have implemented chatbots according to their individual requirements. Based on these learning outcomes, their goal is to sharpen the underlying specifications and use cases, redesign or align impacted processes and validate and select the most appropriate technology setup and partner. Building a simple chatbot might be a quick win, but providing and maintaining a content-rich, suitable and intelligent virtual assistant/ advisor certainly is not. 

 

Unique Real Estate market segments and differing requirements 

Conversational AI has already entered the market, but its implementation is typically not treated as a multi-domain exercise across the entire real estate industry. Virtual assistants impact your customer service no matter if you or your competitors apply them. While they can add value in many different ways, use cases differ between domains (e.g. housing associations, corporate real estate and facility service departments, RE service providers, nursing home operators, concierges, hospitality, etc.) and need to be adapted accordingly. This includes specific designs and sets of capabilities and of course individually tailored dialog flows. Opportunities for ‘quick wins’ exist especially where there is little diversity, no sensitive client data to manage (e.g. residential marketing or letting research) and no demand for sophisticated interface models.

However, much value can be found in areas characterized by high connectivity and complex environments (e.g. corporates). Here much more attention and consideration is required. In a Corporate Real Estate Management (CREM) case for instance, a virtual assistant must respond to individual responsibilities and requirements for all players involved (owner, tenant and service provider) and cope with a diverse interface landscape while requiring a clear data governance definition (e.g. ownership/ usage of data gathered). 

 

Early adopters set standards 

Within the real estate industry, only a few companies, particularly those in the housing industry (approx. <10% of housing associations in Germany), have already started realizing the benefits of conversational AI, such as the opportunity to provide value-adding experiences, more satisfied customers, cost savings and higher efficiency for their customer service. However, at present most conversational AI services obviously lack maturity and/ or scalability for reasons such as the functional depth of the real estate ecosystem, the diversity of requirements and lacking process alignment. This often leads to bad user experiences, forcing businesses to rebuild their solutions on more appropriate technology platforms and with a higher focus on business requirements. Overall, we currently see companies at three distinct stages of maturity with regard to their customer service automation activities:

  • Implement (new solution for first time movers)
  • Modernize (replacing existing solution)
  • Supplement (enhancing existing solution)

 

Conversational AI as a Service

To successfully introduce conversational AI in your company and for your customers, you must be aware of the potential challenges, as well as how to provide the expertise, resources and product features that are required. Moreover, there are major ongoing efforts to consider, which can cause your service to malfunction if they are neglected. These efforts range from simple product enhancements to a constant re-training of the virtual assistant in order to adapt to market changes and evolving language patterns. Finally, the diverse technology landscape with thousands of providers and prop techs needs to be surveyed, while considering that the actual target operating models, given IT infrastructures and process landscapes of real estate companies are, in most cases, not yet ready to implement or maintain comprehensive AI offerings.

Deloitte is aware of these challenges and has therefore implemented a platform for deploying conversational AI in an “AI as a Service” model, stripping away all the burdensome operations and maintenance tasks for our customers. Both standardized and custom dialog flows can be integrated as a service into local infrastructures on the basis of our secure and scalable cloud technology stack. The Deloitte Cognitive Service Platform (DCSP), our global marketplace (incl. all service management aspects) for “AI as a Service”, provides you with an easy entry point and vastly decreases your own time to market for your new conversational AI service. 

Deloitte Cognitive Service Platform (DCSP), https://deloitte.ai/cognitive-services-platform

 

VIA - Deloitte's Virtual Assistant for Real Estate

In line with our Cognitive Service Platform approach, Deloitte provides VIA, a virtual assistant for real estate which is ready to use and easy to scale. VIA is preconfigured and built for purpose to address many specific use cases within the real estate industry. It provides a set of standardized capabilities, which ensures a lean and profitable utilization without the need for a large or risky implementation project. At the same time, the technological approach is flexible enough to allow for custom requirements and additional use cases. As well as automatically handling customer incidents (e.g. letting, technical maintenance or service requests), the system can generate service tickets, provide answers in real time (multi-channel, multi-language, 24/7) and trigger related processes or APIs for connected systems. Furthermore, it is feasible to leverage your virtual assistant for cross-selling by introducing new services to your customers based on alliances, e.g. for household insurance, specific target groups (e.g. families or elderly persons), cleaning staff, child-care, nursing or individualized interior and decoration services. 

 

End-to-end process alignment to allow orchestration in real estate ecosystems

Addressing and fulfilling all real estate related requirements requires that your virtual assistant and the underlying digital service platform (e.g. DCSP) are integrated with as much of the real estate ecosystem as possible. The more relevant stakeholders within the process cycle participate, the better. This of course becomes much easier if your virtual assistant covers real estate processes from end to end (which demands a deep and comprehensive understanding of all underlying workflows and tasks specific to real estate) and provides open interfaces for connectivity, e.g. to ERP systems, individual databases, CRM/ ticketing systems, apps, smart devices or external service providers. Single vendor solutions or ‘closed shop’ system environments pose the risk confining you to a functional niche, as they might not be flexible enough to stretch their own scope or integrate services from an ever-growing universe of micro-services whose relevance will continue to increase in the digital future.

More incidents and better quality

Applied conversational AI and intelligent automation make a wide range of suitable and easily accessible communication channels available (e.g. web, app, voice, smart speaker, smart watches, etc.), all of which lower the barriers to getting in touch with your customer service. We therefore anticipate a higher number of reported incidents to be processed and managed, whereas in the past, companies sometimes tried to avoid contact with customers due to poor accessibility or their inability to appropriately meet customer demands. Since digitalization allows you to better utilize and leverage your customer service resources, your subject matter experts are free to take care of the more extensive and value-adding tasks while virtual assistants work on simpler client incidents. 

 

Unleash the hidden potential of your customer service employees

Digital offerings such as conversational AI and process automation are often seen as a potential threat to customer service employees, but if conversational AI is designed, built and managed correctly, it can unburden your employees and increase the quality of their work. This way, the digitalization of your customer support enhances the capabilities of your employees, allowing them to solve more complex problems faster, whereas at present, your qualified and highly-paid employees stay busy with simple customer incidents. Having to manually enter these into a workflow or ticketing system is not only time-consuming, but also produces errors. Even now, a large proportion of all client incidents are notified by email or letter. As a result, your customer service is either unnecessarily expensive or its capacities are insufficiently and inefficiently allocated. 

Apart from virtual assistants, AI can help you optimize and orchestrate your customer service processes in many other ways. A simple example is automated classification and triage of all incoming customer emails and scanned letters. If AI can understand your customers’ concerns, record them with standardized processes and (where necessary) gather additional information through targeted inquiries, you are in a position to either reduce external costs or even free up valuable capacities, which can then be used to deal with non-standard incidents that need human involvement and specific problem-solving expertise. 

Customer service employees should therefore view Artificial Intelligence not as a risk, but an opportunity for a more attractive workplace with more responsibility and personal impact. This in turn will have a positive impact on your service desk quality and employee satisfaction, potentially reducing workplace fluctuation as well.

 

Digital Ops as catalyst for sustainable customer satisfaction

Having a suitable conversational AI platform and intelligent service offerings in place is the only way to foster a sustainable and successfully digitalized customer service. Of course, implementing a solution is only the first step. Providing conversational AI and virtual assistants to your customers is not a one-off task, but rather an ongoing activity. It requires robust monitoring and analysis of all interactions in a professional digital operations setting optimized for the world of AI. This way, continuous improvements, e.g. with respect to the capabilities needed and improved dialog flows, become possible, ensuring continuous service excellence and the overall success of your initiative.

 

Ambition is the first step to success – the second is action

The digital future for your customer service is bright and close: It won’t take much to start the journey:

Ihre Ansprechpartner

Tobias Piegeler
Director | Real Estate Consulting
tpiegeler@deloitte.de