Automation in multifamily that saves time is probably a good fit but there is a balance to strike on execution with your teams and training.
By Chase Harrington
Automation is no longer an abstract concept to multifamily operators. Previously deployed by only the most tech-savvy of properties, automation has firmly woven its way into the daily routine of the apartment landscape.
Operators are leaning on automation solutions more than ever to create efficiencies and save invaluable time, including the use of chatbots, automated lead follow-ups, self-guided tours, automated screening software and data management. But as automation possibilities continue to evolve, overload becomes a plausible reality. Yes, there is such thing as too much automation.
A firm gauge of the effectiveness of automation solutions can be measured in time. When it saves time, it’s probably a solid fit. If the setup and execution processes take longer than manual efforts to tackle the same task, maybe it’s something to avoid. While that idea can serve as a general guidepost, striking the balance of which solutions to implement can be a bit more complicated—but doing so is key to the overall efficiency of an operation.
Four Key Questions In Assessing Tech Additions To Your Organization
When assessing any tech-related additions to an organization, four key questions can help shape the roadmap: What happened under the existing way of doing things? Why did it happen? What could happen with the new solution? And how do I make it happen? The same holds true for automation solutions, as operators can analyze small snippets of data pertaining to the challenge they are aiming to solve, learn how to adjust the application of the solution and slowly expand its usage. In fact, automation solutions can be used by operators to analyze and aggregate the data stemming from all kinds of solutions, automated or not.
For instance, an operator aiming to streamline the lead management process might start by blasting out automated follow-ups to a small sample size of prospective residents. They then can finetune the process based upon the follow-up schedules that are most effective and slowly roll it out across the portfolio. Essentially, the operator shifts from an analytic perspective to prescriptive as they learn how automation can best assist day-to-day processes.
Perhaps the most critical component to effectively onboarding an automation solution is training, which enables teams to know what tools to apply for certain situations. For instance, you wouldn’t use a hammer to knock down tree branches when a hacksaw is available, and a fluency level must be reached with automation tools, as well. Associates must be comfortable enough with the technology to drive a desirable result based upon what they’re hearing and seeing.
For example, while chatbots might be effective for answering upfront questions from prospects, the chat will sometimes reach a point where human interaction is genuinely needed. An organization’s chatbot should be configured to transfer the prospect to a live agent once it reaches this threshold, as prospects will often move along if they get stuck in a loop and cannot have their questions answered effectively. As always, the implementation of these solutions and the fine-tuning of them should be done on a realistic, non-stressful timeline.
Most automation solutions are fueled by artificial intelligence and machine learning, and as these concepts continue to evolve, the possibilities will increase for multifamily. A gradual adoption works well for operators, as those too hasty to implement every new solution might find themselves overburdened rather than on the forefront of the innovation curve.
That said, AI and machine learning promise to bring unparalleled efficiency to tasks like marketing, building maintenance and even answering phone calls from prospects and residents. They will also have the ability to take scores of unstructured data and ultimately convert it into organized, actionable information.
The possibilities for maintenance teams alone could constitute a separate story, as technicians are already achieving automation efficiencies through quicker communication to residents; automated notices of malfunctioning appliances, boilers and LED lighting; and assignment notices through apps that tell them where to go next. The days of returning to the office and realizing the next assignment was only a few doors away are dwindling.
The common denominator with all current and upcoming automation solutions is that community teams—whether leasing associates or maintenance techs—still have a vital role to play. The human touch remains crucial in serving residents, and that won’t change. In fact, automation enables teams to offer higher service levels because time is freed when many day-to-day tasks can be automated.
Striking the balance between automation in multifamily and the human touch is paramount. Too little automation leaves too much manual work. Too much automation can create challenges and, even if effective, lend something of a cold feel. Operators who best blend automation with tried-and-true soft skills are a step ahead of the game.
About the author:
As president of Entrata, Chase Harrington commands the product strategies of the company’s suite of more than 30 products. Because of his leadership, Entrata now serves more than 3 million apartment units across the U.S. He also is a regular speaker at conferences hosted by the National Apartment Association and National Multifamily Housing Council as well as the annual Entrata Summit. He was named a 2022 Multifamily Influencer by GlobeSt. Real Estate Forum.