Generation Rent presents a huge opportunity for developers in the flourishing Build-to-Rent market. Henry Jinman believes it’s also raising the bar for customer service across the entire housing sector. Here he explores the amazing potential of Artificial Intelligence (AI) to revolutionise the traditional tenant-landlord relationship.
As young people struggle to get a foot on the housing ladder and would-be individual landlords abandon their buy-to-let plans in the face of recent Government tax pressures, the Build-to-Rent (BTR) sector is flourishing. Global real estate consultants Knight Frank predicts that £50bn will be invested in the BTR sector by 2020, with an estimated 6.75 million households living in rented accommodation by the end of the decade.[i] Generation Rent – as they are affectionately called – are lured by other benefits offered by BTR properties such as flexible tenancies of up to five years, no letting fees, predictable rent increases and professional management. Utilities are often included in the rent and amenities may include a gym and even a residents’ lounge.
Room service anyone?
This new ‘rent with all the trimmings’ approach suggests that customer service – along with affordability – ranks equally highly in delivering today’s rental lifestyle. In an era where consumers are tech-savvy and expect greater returns from their hard-earned cash, the same service ethos can – and should – apply to all parts of the rental housing market. For example, students facing the prospect of years of debt now seek much more than brilliant academic facilities. Social housing associations with squeezed budgets are focused on delivering both efficiencies and great service to the families in their care.
According to Colin Sales, Managing Director of 3C Consultants, a leading provider of specialist IT consulting services to the social housing sector, “Increasingly, technology is fast becoming an enabler of this new era of customer service and the good news is that many organisations are already embarking on a wide range of transformation activities to improve their business models. In a recent survey[ii], nearly 94% of the 70 organisations surveyed are either currently delivering some form of transformation programme or planning to implement one soon. The main drivers for this transformation are seen to be the delivery of efficiencies (61%) and the need to improve the customer experience (53%).”
7 ways to transform customer service using AI
In EBI’s 18 years of experience in this area, the latest advancements in technology, particularly AI in the form of bots, chatbots and virtual assistants, are set to revolutionise the way tenants and landlords interact with each other. Let’s take a closer look:
1. Satisfy the needs of a tech-savvy generation
Many tenants are tech-savvy and expect immediate results. They see the landlord/tenant relationship primarily as a service provider/customer one. Why send an email or phone when it can take less than a minute to report a broken washing machine and have an appointment booked in for a repair? The fact is, AI improves the speed and efficiency with which tenants can report simple maintenance issues.
2. Seamless move-in experience
The latest bots are designed to help people settle into their new home the moment they open the front door, from letting them know where they can buy groceries down to giving instructions on how to use their induction hob. The beauty of bots is they learn from tenant queries so the more they are used, the smarter they become.
3. Virtual assistance for time-poverty – AI offers a quick solution for time-strapped tenants. Everyone, from young, professionals working long hours in the City to busy families with small children or pleasure-seeking retirees, can use AI chatbots to ask tenancy questions 24/7 from the comfort of their home.
4. Minimise the maintenance headache
For property managers and housing associations, maintenance issues can be a time-consuming headache that gets in the way of delivering great customer service. Organisations can integrate the bot technology they offer tenants with the calendars of in-house maintenance engineers to offer time slots automatically to residents and then ensure the right engineers are available to fix that broken-down boiler, cooker or leaky tap.
5. More time for quality service
Because bots, chatbots and virtual assistants take on more routine tasks like maintenance requests and contract information, they free up property managers and housing association directors to concentrate on the overall service and maintenance of the building, providing a better experience for tenants.
6. Improve and extend the service culture
AI is based on machine learning meaning the more it is used, the better it gets. Organisations can easily add a feedback functionality to their tenant bots to better understand their needs, improve their rental offering and deliver a highly personalised customer experience. Once perfected, the bot can be replicated to support other properties in an organisation’s portfolio, saving time and money on building an AI solution from scratch.
7. Create connected neighbourhoods
With the ability to bring together, analyse and communicate data across the whole property eco-system – everyone and everything from tenants, landlords, maintenance staff to white goods suppliers, utilities providers and gardening services – AI has the power to accelerate and simplify interactions to create connected neighbourhoods where residents, landlords and businesses flourish. It’s a great model for the future.
Our final words of wisdom come from Dave Butler, CEO of the UK Apartment Association, the trade body for the Build-To-Rent sector. He believes that organisations looking to improve customer experience (CX) should focus on the natural ability of AI to capture customer data, interpret customer interactions and then use this information to better understand their requirements now and in the future.
However, how you do it is critical, he says, “Raising standards to give customers great experiences is core to the UKAA’s purpose in the BTR sector. Success begins and ends with data. It begins with seamless integration of customer information across different technologies and ends with effective knowledge-sharing between all parts of the business. Without doubt, AI is both a potent trigger and the enabler of CX transformation.”
To discover how AI can transform customer service in your property company or housing organisation, visit www.ebi.ai
Henry Jinman is Commercial Director of EBI.AI
Established by EBI in 2014, Warwick-headquartered EBI.AI is among the most advanced UK labs to explore the mind-boggling potential of Artificial Intelligence for customer communication. It is changing the ways businesses interact with their customers by providing faster and better resolutions to customer queries using conversational AI technology.
The company has applied its collective 18 years’ experience of working with big data, analytics and systems integration to create a range of innovative and natural tools for all businesses in multiple sectors including Transport & Travel, Property, Insurance, Public and Automotive.
EBI was one of the first IBM Watson Ecosystems Partners and EBI.AI’s core platform was originally based on IBM Watson. This has evolved over 5 years and EBI.AI now selects the best AI and cloud services available from IBM, Amazon, Microsoft and others, combined with bespoke AI models to deliver its EBI.AI communication platform. Customers include Get Living and Jones Lang Lasalle Residential (JLL).
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