Who would the average person rather talk to: A real estate agent or robot? The answer is often robot, at least when it comes to early digital communications.

NEW YORK — Who would the average person rather talk to: A real estate agent or robot?

The answer is often robot, at least when it comes to early digital communications, according to a panel at Inman Connect.

That might seem discouraging to some in the industry, but it also highlights an opportunity for agents and brokerages: using chatbots to grow their business.

Sample conversation between lead and Holmes.

Chatbot refers to artificial intelligence that can engage consumers in a “messaging interface,” such as text and voice communication, said Nathan Joens, CEO of Structurely, the maker of a real estate chatbot called “Holmes.”

Agents can use the technology to capture and qualify leads on websites and via text messages.

“When they think a human is sitting on the back of a contact form they’re less likely to give real information,” Joens said about consumers perusing real estate brokerage and agent websites.

But in the less “sales-pushy environment” created by a chatbot, consumers are often more inclined to hand over their contact information or talk about their real estate needs, Joens said.

Chatbots can be baked into brokerage and agent websites, so they pop up in messaging boxes after a visitor has spent some time on the site.

They can ascertain visitors’ search preferences and qualifications by asking and answering questions, and even recommend specific listings based on their search activity.

Chatbots also can quickly engage leads in conversation via text message as soon as a lead’s contact information is captured. The technology ensures all leads receive a prompt response and is a superior substitute for an auto-responder, Joens maintains.

“Hey, I saw you were looking at this property with a finished basement and a backyard. You might also want to check out this property,” a chatbot might message a lead, Joens said.

Pamela Roberts, chief marketing officer of real estate marketing firm Pixels and Profit, likened a chatbot to a doctor’s PA (physician’s assistant): It assesses a person’s basic needs and conveys them to a professional — the real estate agent in this case — for further evaluation and treatment.

“When you contact the buyer or seller you already have a context,” Roberts said about how chatbots can tee up leads for agents. “It increases your velocity of the conversation.”

“A lot of people don’t want to talk to a real person until they are ready to make a commitment and engage a real person. This is a way to get somebody interested,” she added.

“You become the person that when they’re ready to engage in a transaction they contact.”

Email Teke Wiggin.

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