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AI, Alexa and Apartments: 12 Provocative Statements

AI apartment

A lot has been written about Artificial Intelligence (AI) and voice-activated search devices such as Alexa or Google Home. 

Yes: Apartment property management is beginning to take steps to bring this remarkable technology onboard. 

I recently spoke to dozens of apartment industry professionals about how AI plays into their operations. Below are the 12 most provocative comments.

View the full story in the April issue of units Magazine and see who said what.

1. “Real estate is a top industry that could benefit from AI, but it’s way too early to say devices such as Alexa are making an impact. Even the leading, break-through industries are not using AI regularly yet. So, real estate is not ‘behind’ when it comes to implementing AI.”

2. Asked if the company is working toward implementing AI in day-to-day operations, one apartment REIT with a long-standing, strong reputation for experimenting with cutting-edge technology, says, “Not now. But check back with us in the third quarter.”

3. “For AI to truly be a better and enduring solution from the resident experience point of view, it has to deliver answers, information and convenience that is greater than or at least equal to other options, including what a person could deliver through conversation or what they would need to look up themselves via a web or resident portal search.”

4. “When it came to using chatbot for customer service, owner/investors’ responses were mixed. Some would say, ‘I think that’s great’; and others would say, ‘I would never do that.’ The response from upper management so far has pretty much been, ‘Go for it,’ when it comes to discovery because it doesn’t cost much to go through that process and figure out how much time, development effort and cost will be involved in building a new technology.”

5. Building this kind of technology involves many things, including software development, user-experience design, etc. Building a chatbot from scratch will cost about $100,000, but that’s just the start of the investment. When you look at that investment, even building it from scratch, it’s cheaper to use a chatbot than to, say, hire full-time employees (plus benefits) to answer questions online. Maybe we start out by hiring two employees and assign each of them five communities to track. If they can handle more, we increase it. But we have 350 communities. Do the math.”

6. “The ultimate goal is to have chat-bot conversation that leads them toward setting an appointment for a call-back by one of our real-live leasing professionals or to have them begin completing an online application.”

7. “There are things you can do to be more appealing to voice search, but it doesn’t require a complete rebuild of SEO like some people would like to think. One trend that is showing positive results are ‘near-me’ searches.”

8. “A voice-activated apartment search model would likely be built by a large aggregator of apartment listings, not an individual apartment owner or manager.”

9. “AI is not always smart enough to determine what complex questions mean. If you state, ‘Show me some apartment listings in Charlotte, N.C., near the subway station,’ the software might be thinking, ‘Oh, here is someone who wants to know if the movie ‘The Apartment’ is playing someplace near a Subway restaurant, so he can buy a ticket for himself and his girlfriend Charlotte!’ ”

10. “With voice-activated search, having the number one result becomes far more important, because Google or Alexa are only going to read one answer.”

11. “When using voice command with a lock, it is critical that it does what it is told and does so on a consistent basis. If it is asked to lock, or give a status, it will, responding to the command. But when asked to unlock, it’s critical that the lock is responding to the correct voice. How does it know the person doing the asking is the one who lives in the apartment?”

12. “When you’re working with AI, you’re building things that nobody has ever built before. [No one knows yet how it’s all supposed to turn out]. If [you’re] not open to being completely wrong, and having the humility to say [you] were wrong, [you] need to reevaluate why you are attempting it.”

Paul R. Bergeron III, Director of Publications at NAA