The Age of AI and Automation: Time to Assemble Your Team

by Feb 6, 2018Innovation, Blog

Henry Ford once said, “To resent efficiency is a mark of inefficiency.” Although that quote translates well to the innovative business practices Ford produced over his lifetime, it may spark a flame of fear in a generation of employees who experienced the day-to-day impact of his operational advances.

Just imagine being a factory worker watching the first moving assembly line produce an automobile in about 90 minutes, compared to the 12 hours it previously took. Yikes!

Fast forward to 2018, the topics of artificial intelligence (AI) and marketing automation are dominating conversations beyond the confines of the tech industry. In response, people seem to display a mixture of natural curiosity and apprehension about the impact advances will have on day-to-day workflow. These feelings are particularly prevalent in industries – such as multifamily – where meaningful one-to-one relationships have been the driving force behind quality (and profitable!) customer interactions.

Just imagine listening to a robot mirror the same conversation patterns as a live salesperson or customer service representative instantly, without human error. Yikes, again!

The underlying fear is understandable – just as it was in 1913. However, we also have the opportunity to rewrite how current innovations, specifically AI and sales assist technologies, are recorded in history books. Channel the fear that automation will take over traditional relationship-building practices into its ability to enhance the experience overall.

At 30 Lines, we advise against sitting back and watching technology assemble before your eyes. Instead, let’s take an active approach toward making the behavior shift work best for you, your brand, and, most importantly, your customers. After all, it’s going to become an arms race once your competition becomes more informed.

Here are some ways we’re steering the conversation away from “yikes” toward a destination of efficiency and quality human engagement:

Know Your Customer’s Journey

Today, customers are smarter and better informed. They’re accustomed to seamlessly sifting through product options and buyer reviews from the comfort of their couch. They complete their purchase with a simple click of the mouse, and expect their package to arrive neatly on their doorstep in a timely manner. If that procedure doesn’t flow the way they expect, they want it fixed in a way that restores confidence in the company and their purchasing decision.

Whew, talk about demanding! Now, this isn’t to say your brand should be mirroring this purchasing process exactly; however, it’s helpful to consider how your customer base may be interacting with other companies – even those outside your industry.

For apartment marketers, consider how a prospective resident discovers and thoroughly researches your property initially. The decision-making process is certainly more complex than conducting a low-impact purchase on Amazon. By the time a prospect interacts with a leasing agent they’ve often already compared renter reviews for apartment communities located in the same neighborhood, developed an understanding of available floor plans, sifted through social media profiles, and even scrolled through photos and videos. That’s a lot of online interaction with a property before a human conversation even takes place.

Understanding your customer’s journey before, during, and after one-to-one communication occurs can pinpoint the avenues AI can assist.

Let’s go back our prospective resident. If we’ve done our digital marketing duty by shaping content that best answers the visitor’s search query, the prospect has discovered your brand. However, that isn’t where the online interaction should end. With a chatbot, or a chat-based persona that uses AI to deliver answers to customer inquiries in natural language, installed on the property’s website, a customer can request and receive information instantly. After all, we know the customer is conditioned to receive instant responses as a member of our always-on society. 

This is the point where fear typically wheels back in. You’re probably thinking, “I don’t want this impersonal bot interacting with my prospects!” When that apprehension sneaks in, we have to think about our current processes and how technology can enhance how we currently operate. Chat with our 30 Lines chatbot, Linus, to learn more.

By programing the chatbot to seamlessly pass the conversation to a live leasing agent, salesperson, or customer service representative, you can not only control the conversation, but also feed the customer’s desire to engage instantly. Also, keep in mind the continued conversation doesn’t need to happen right away. For example, maybe your offices are closed when the chatbot interaction occurs. That’s perfectly fine, and drives home our next point…

Drive Toward Meaningful Data

Capturing data and insight into customer intent can only add value to the relationship-building process. Any staff member responsible for facilitating one-to-one conversations will probably agree – the more information they have on an individual customer’s journey the better.

Your customers aren’t just data points on a graph. Scanning through reports to find collective patterns is only an ounce of the potential available. Maximize the return on your investment in data mining by identifying individual customers as they engage with your brand online. Then, translate that insight into comprehensive customer profiles.

Let’s reopen the door to our example involving the multifamily industry. Any interaction the prospective resident has with sales assist technology can (and should!) funnel into an integrated lead management system. If the property website had a “lead capture” pop-up to collect useful information from a visitor of a particular page, such as one sharing details about property amenities, that piece of the story should pass automatically into the hands of your team. The same data collection can also take place after any interaction with a chatbot.

By easily receiving real-time insights, your collective staff can visualize – at a glance – where a particular client is in the purchasing process. Overall, this enhances efficiency within operations, without downplaying individual prospects or customers to numbers on a page.

Navigate Nurturing Messages

Streamlining communication practices with AI-driven technology, especially during a customer’s information seeking stage, often translates into more nurtured leads when initial human interaction takes place. This not only speeds up the purchasing process for both parties, but also helps introduce a more targeted relationship-building strategy.

Why do you typically unsubscribe from a mailing list? Most likely, you unsubscribe because the content provided isn’t relevant to your needs or interests. If the prospective resident supplies their email address with the intent of gaining more information about amenities available at a particular apartment community, they should receive emails highlighting the amenities available at that specific property.

Content that continues to nurture can take many different forms, including triggered email drips and targeted remarketing campaigns. The most consistent characteristic of content that nurtures, however, is personalization. The more you know about a customer, the more tailored and segmented messaging can be to their needs or interests.

Then there’s the time factor. Your staff is busy, and in an ideal world they may have the opportunity to nurture a client through the entire sales cycle with one-to-one communication. Today, unfortunately, this method isn’t always scalable. There simply aren’t enough hours in a day to give current and prospective customers the instant attention they expect. If technology can take even some of the pressure off, why not give it a try? Even automating simple birthday messages to existing customers is a nice, nurturing message to send via email. They’ll be delighted your staff “remembered,” and it keeps your brand in their thoughts.

Take Your Technology to School

Training sessions for a new staff member traditionally aren’t a one-and-done process. They’re an ongoing commitment to increasing knowledge of your industry, operations, and overall brand messaging.

You have to treat AI the same as a new employee, guiding it along with a healthy mix of patience and belief. There is often a misconception with new technologies, including chatbots, that a flip of a switch is all that’s needed to generate an immediate impact. What’s missing from this equation is the understanding that AI-driven technologies often get smarter the longer they run. The more interactions with current and prospective customers, the more social queues picked up for future communication.

It’s also critical to have the flexibility to pull the car over and problem solve. If an email drip campaign strategy isn’t generating the return expected after a realistic amount of time, don’t just fire the effort all together. Instead, return to the training room and revisit the execution – just as you would with a new staff member. Performance of a team is often a reflection of the leadership in place, and you have to think of AI and machine learning as a true extension of your team.

If given the opportunity, automated personas can work; however, the key part of that phrase is opportunity. If a new staff member isn’t given the chance to fully integrate with your team, the likelihood of them developing an understanding of the team’s overall needs reduces. The goal of AI should be to qualify more leads for your business, transferring into increased conversion potential and a more profitable delegation of resources. So, train it to do just that! The time spent up-front is typically worth the investment long-term when it comes to technology implementation.

Map Out Advantageous Automation

Technology isn’t about taking over human authenticity, it’s about enhancing it. However, there’s a big “IF” that comes next… IF you implement the right digital tools for your business. Creating more efficient workflows through technology is most effective when it produces an environment for more personalized, nurtured customer interactions.

Assemble AI and automation as a true extension of your team, allowing technology to warm prospects to your brand message and keep that message at the forefront of their minds (and email inboxes!) on an ongoing basis. Your sales personnel, customer service representatives, and leasing agents can then focus on facilitating exceptional one-to-one human interactions with enhanced personalization. Using technology to pick up the slack in business operations shouldn’t be feared, as long as the time gained is used to increase long-term customer engagement.

So, how do you start assembling the right digital tools for your assembly line of customer interaction?

Our team is passionate about being on the forefront of sales and marketing innovation. For our 30 Lines clients, we love diving deeper into their existing business practices and recommending ways technology can be used to create more meaningful brand interactions. Reach out anytime you have questions or just want to brainstorm potential ideas. If you’ve already attempted running AI-driven technologies or automation and want to head back to the training room, we’re open to that process as well.

How do you foresee the future of AI and marketing automation impacting your industry? (Yes, we’re asking you to get out your crystal ball and predict the future!)