Christy Murdock Edgar is a regular Inman contributor who writes about news, tech and marketing. She has two recurring columns, “Lessons Learned” and “Dear Marketing Mastermind that publish weekly and monthly on Mondays and Tuesdays respectively.

The promise of chatbots — real-time responsiveness, seamless follow-up and 24/7 dependability — has always seemed to lag behind the reality. If you’ve used a chatbot yourself when contacting a business, you’ve probably experienced some of the lag time, lack of personalization and frustration in waiting for a response, only to be told to call instead.

A different approach

Michael Butcher

Originally designed to help restaurants, auto mechanics and nail salons follow up with leads, Austin-Texas-based inventor Michael Butcher was soon asked by a real estate agent friend to develop an iteration of his chatbot, now Nextbot.io, to help pre-qualify buyer and seller leads.

The result is a fast, intuitive and convincing chatbot that gathers information an agent or broker would normally require to pre-qualify a potential client before ever getting on the phone. The lead is then added to a subscriber list in Facebook Messenger, in order to allow for remarketing until the lead either converts or opts-out.

“In the real estate community, there is such an emphasis on personal relationships,” Butcher said. “Early testers were concerned that a chatbot would interrupt the interaction between agent and client, making it impersonal.”

However, Nextbot.io’s customization options help ameliorate this concern. “It’s not personal, but you can customize the bot however you want, with your own words. It’s still the conversation you already have 100 times a day, and you can change the look, flow, images and more to make it your own.”

Making chatbots work for you

If you decide to go the chatbot route, to customize it effectively, consider your everyday client interactions, then ask yourself some questions: “What was good about it? What could be better? What would make sense as an automated experience?” Butcher suggested.

And remember, “not everything needs to be automated, so don’t be afraid to get the client on a call once you’ve collected the data you need,” he added.

According to Butcher, you can customize the bot further with plug-ins, like a home estimate generator or options that are specific to your market or niche.

“I think of it as a ‘Choose Your Own Adventure,’” Butcher said. “Where a traditional sales funnel is more generic, the chatbot guides the sales process.”

Enhancing the client experience

Besides customization, Butcher trains clients to use the back end of the bot for management and changes, ensuring that it is optimized for their particular needs.

“A good chatbot is one that makes the client’s experience better. Make sure not to be spammy or add unnecessary steps to the bot,” Butcher said. “People are busy, and the purpose of a bot is to make marketing easier for the agent and the homebuying/selling experience better for the client.”

For agents and brokers who are big on Facebook, there are even more advantages. “Send it out through a paid ad on Facebook, and Facebook gives you a reduced cost because you’re staying within the platform,” Butcher shared. “You don’t have to worry about pixel data and retargeting because you’re not leaving the platform.”

Once you do get the phone call or listing appointment, the benefits of the chatbot become obvious, according to Butcher. “You look good because you have the data” related to the lead’s behavior, questions and responses.

Christy Murdock Edgar is a Realtor, freelance writer, coach and consultant with Writing Real Estate in Alexandria, Virginia. Follow Writing Real Estate on Facebook or Twitter.

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