Connect the Speakers: Neil Dholakia shares Keller Williams' 2019 technology roadmap

'Agents who are in tune with current trends want systems in place to help them make better decisions and create better advice for buyers and sellers'

As the Chief Product Officer at Keller Williams, Neil Dholakia has to stay current with everything that’s coming up in the tech world — and as an active participant in the tech scene in Austin for the past 25 years, Dholakia is perfectly poised to do that. He’s worked at startups as a developer focused on customer experience, a CRM company, and a private equity firm that specialized in the acquisition of enterprise software products, all before his arrival at Keller Williams to manage products.

Dholakia will be talking about artificial intelligence (AI) at Inman Connect New York, January 29 through February 1 at the Marriott Marquis Times Square, in a discussion about how AI is changing the game for consumers and what agents and brokers need to know about it. We caught up with him to talk about current opportunities for agents to focus their business, the need for streamlined execution in real estate, and more.

Tell us a little more about your session. How will it address how the industry can embrace the shifting market?

There are two perspectives that we think agents think about.

Agents are becoming more and more sophisticated in terms of tracking what’s going on in not only one market but across markets, and they realize that to have an advantage, they need intelligent decision support in the form of artificial intelligence based upon data. That creates an advantage over someone who doesn’t have the same type of systems. They want to know the odds of acceptance when they’re writing an offer and be able to convey this information to their buyers. That is, “if we write an offer that looks like this, we’ve got a 50 percent chance of it being accepted” vs. “If we were able to make these slight tweaks, then we move to an 80 percent chance of acceptance.”

An example on the seller side: When agents are sitting down and working out their strategy with sellers, they’ll say, “If we price at this level, it seems higher, but your days on market are going to extend out to 45 to 60 days and you’ll actually end up selling for this lesser price. If you price here instead, your days on market go down and you’ll sell at the same price you would have, but your days on market are down and your net profit based on time-value of money is actually higher.” These agents who are in tune with current trends want these systems in place to help them make better decisions and create better advice for buyers and sellers. Being able to have that intelligent conversation and backing it up, coming in with graphs and modeling that are easily consumable by buyers and sellers, agents love that.

Agents are also focused on AI in terms of providing a powerful consumer experience: How can we, agents as part of Keller Williams, create a consumer experience that consumers want to engage with that allows me to engage with them at the right time? Consumers want to search on their own right now; whether they do that at Zillow, an app we provide or KW.com, they do that self-service. But there comes a time when a buyer needs added intelligence about what’s going on in a school district, what’s going on in a particular market, things that are more than two clicks away in terms of Google searches — agents want us to provide that to the consumer so when it comes time to do the consultation, they have access to the same data the consumer has and they’re a better, more trusted advisor.

Certain agents aren’t looking for all these decision support and data tools; they’re just looking for us to provide more intelligence directly to the consumer so that when they are engaged, they have an advantage in that we have created a better consumer experience.

What do you think are the biggest opportunities to focus on in the real estate industry right now?

While Keller Williams is moving from a realty franchise direction, everybody making serious moves in real estate technology is converging on the seamless end-to-end consumer experience, and underneath that, everyone is wondering “How can I integrate the pieces I don’t have to keep the consumer inside my buy journey or sell journey?” We’re all working toward the same thing. From a broker and agent perspective, they need to start thinking about where they play in this world and how they continually add value to the consumer, not just in the portion they’ve traditionally done — selling or buying a home — but adding value end-to-end, including homeownership.

Instead of basic marketing touch plans to stay front and center, Keller Williams agents will have value plans associated with a homeowner. For example, here in Texas, we have property taxes that go up every year and you have the ability to protest those property taxes. Why isn’t my agent or my agent’s app providing recommendations for that based on data? “You should go argue this property tax assessment because we think you should be able to get a valuation at this level.” There’s a value exchange in that touch.

Agents and brokers all need to be thinking in terms of the end-to-end journey of a buyer or seller — because they all wrap around — and how they’re adding value across every aspect of the journey, not just where they traditionally thought they played. That has ripple effects on who you integrate with. Do I take my vendor list and start integrating those lenders for home inspection, property tax protest or plumbing issues — instead of Angie’s List? And, why can’t it be an agent’s list of vetted vendors who work in your area? It’s all about integration behind the consumer’s experience.

To stay competitive, agents, brokers and companies need to execute quickly. What do you feel are key areas where quick execution can vastly improve the customer experience?

To support our consumer home search app play in Q1 of 2019, what we’re doing now is creating an ecosystem of cascading tools. So in our story, an agent can walk through a house with another agent-facing app we provide them. They turn on the app, which is basically like turning on a video camera, and as they walk through the house, the intelligence in the Keller Cloud will automatically figure out what room you’re in, label that room, label everything it sees in the room, from wood floors to granite countertops to ceiling-to-floor curtains — every attribute you can think of in the home, we’re developing artificial intelligence and image recognition to identify what an agent sees in a walkthrough. So they’ve catalogued the house and deep-tagged it; they can correct it and add more tags, and based upon that walkthrough, the agent will click a button and it will generate a landing page for that house. The agent gets instant value walking through the house and turning on the app because now they have a microsite with every room in the house, everything is labeled and it’s all branded to that agent. They’re able to create a marketing piece in minutes whereas before it took days to a week and was outsourced.

Our AI can create a better user experience by matching them with homes, and then they can schedule a showing to go see it, automatically schedule it, and that gets triggered into our systems to create a showing plan for that individual. Those homes can either be automatically opened because we have integrations with auto showing services, or we can schedule the agent or an agent’s assistant to be there to open that home. That could be just an agent who’s in the neighborhood at the time because we’re doing an Uber-style search. This allows us to move consumers through the buy-side journey much faster because we can condense finding and getting access to those homes. And beyond that — we’re working on the ability to capture feedback and use it to enhance the profile and create new collections of homes the buyer may want to look at. Everything I just described we’re also doing on the sell side, condensing the amount of work that needs to be done by the agent and by the seller, using AI to create value for every participant in the ecosystem, and through that engagement, they’re speeding up the journey.

What are your hopes for the next 12 months, and what will you be working on?

We are introducing an entirely new agent toolset in 2019. As you know, Keller Cloud is our vertical cloud that we’ve built over the past three years. And, leveraging that, we are debuting our smart CRM plus solution KW Command, which is in rollout now but officially generally available in Q1 next year.

Coupled with that is our new consumer strategy. We’re releasing a new consumer app branded by agents coupled with that CRM system in 2019. We’ve created an ability for our consumer app to be wrapped around the agent where the agent is the concierge. That intelligent connection is what we’re really excited about as it’s all based on artificial intelligence.

Later in 2019, we’re rolling out an entirely new agent community and education capacity. We’re creating a virtual community that is in combination with the building footprint — brokerages can have their physical footprint, but we want them to be able to scale inside of this virtual community, so we’re focused on solving for virtual market centers and virtual brokerages: How do we enable that in a hybrid model for brick-and-mortar plus online? So that’s going to be a new experience we’re rolling out later in the year. Our whole year is full of new stuff for the users in our ecosystem.

Underneath that, we’re rolling out a partner program that allows for people innovating in the real estate space to get access to our APIs to create integrations for agents and consumers, so that’s opening up Keller Cloud to other innovators so we can speed innovation to other consumers.

Discover the opportunities in a changing market at Inman Connect New York, January 29 – February 1. Jumpstart 2019 with tactical takeaways, unlimited networking and thought-provoking speakers. Learn more.

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