Property Management & Me

Ep11: Mastering AI Chatbots — with Ben Burton

September 04, 2023 PropertyMe Season 1 Episode 11
Property Management & Me
Ep11: Mastering AI Chatbots — with Ben Burton
Show Notes Transcript

"My view with AI is you've got to pick a system that's simple enough, or you're going to be sort of burnt before you start. But you've just got to get started, this is exciting."
— Ben Burton

This episode features practical tips from Ben Burton from ReHeroes and Kate Sunol from PropertyMe on mastering AI chatbots to reduce repetitive conversations.

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Kate: Hi and welcome to Property Management and Me, a series from PropertyMe bringing quick tips and insights to support your everyday property management practice. I'm your host, Kate Sunol, and today I'm joined by Ben Burton, CEO and co-founder of ReHeroes. Welcome Ben. 

Ben: Thanks so much for having me, Kate.

Kate: Thanks so much for joining us here today. It's great to have you on. I was really excited to get you on the podcast and chat around what you're doing at RE Heroes. There's a lot of hype and talk about chat GPT and AI. How tech is progressing in those areas, but you've actually been using AI in your product for a number of years now. Do you mind sharing a bit about that journey? 

Ben: Yeah, sure. So I'd love to. I guess just first off in terms of what we are, so look, Alex for Tenants is an inquiry management platform that helps automate tenant requests and issues, including maintenance. Alex, which is the name of our AI chatbot, he is a property manager's assistant.

He just happens to be digital. So he's there 24/7 for tenants to engage with if they have a question or issue about their property or their tenancy. So what this actually means in effect is every property manager can now delegate their transactional tenant requests and issues to Alex. If a chat needs to be escalated to the property manager.

Alex will have collected all of the necessary data, gone through questions, troubleshooting, etc. And then he's going to put that request seamlessly into the right bit of the PropertyMe workflow. So that could be a task, that could be a job. 

Kate: So, as an example, they could be repairs that are coming in, enquiries on listings, where I might pay to with my rent, all those sorts of phone calls that you get on and off all day.

Ben: Spot on. They're three good examples. Yep. So in terms of sort of how our business started out, so we used to be called Rental Heroes. We rebranded recently to RE Heroes, Real Estate Heroes But Rental Heroes was really born from our own experience as tenants and landlords. So in 2018, way back in 2018, while I was working on enterprise chatbots for big corporate. So enterprise customers I experienced what I'd say is a less than optimal situation when I needed as a tenant to get my dishwasher repaired.

So what happened was my Property Manager was actually fantastic and very attentive, but I found myself stuck in this communication cycle of voicemails and emails while my PM tried to get all of the troubleshooting done. The model numbers for the dishwasher, the videos organized, um, which I now understand was to enable a more seamless landlord approval and trade work order.

So at that time as a tenant working on chatbots, but just in another industry, I thought to myself, you know, there just must be a better way. I'm sure it's not fun for anyone playing phone tag. No, no, it's not. And it's frustrating for everyone involved and it's, it's sort of no one's fault. So it's sort of, it created some ideas.

So myself and my co-founder Dom. So we, we started the business together, you know, just before we launched in 2020. But the first thing we sort of did before we, we launched into building a PropTech business was we sat down and we interviewed over a hundred property managers to really try and understand, you know, how we might be able to use, um, what was the latest thing at the time, conversational AI technology, to make a tangible difference to the work lives of Property Managers, whilst also trying to remove this sort of communication bottleneck that we found out is just prevalent in so many communications in property management departments across Australia. 

The other sort of thing that we learned on our journey, Kate, when we did these interviews, it became very apparent that Property Managers, you know, they already have a lot of systems to log into. And so right from the start, we were really determined that for this AI to work seamlessly for our customers, it must integrate with their existing core systems and, and that's how our PropertyMe integration was born. So what really makes us different, I guess, chatbot. Provide us is what we're able to do is produce an out of the box experience in relation to many of the things that Alex does.

So things like maintenance troubleshooting, but we're also able to have our, our customers who are the property management teams really personalize that experience around their own. So an example of that is Alex is smart enough to read labels in Property Me. So we know if some properties, you know, have owner-approved trades only.

We know if some properties have compliance or smoke alarm companies attached to them. And what Alex is able to do is, is, is adjust his response, you know, based on that. individual tenancy. And that's, that's really, that's, that's, that's unique, but it also means that it's, it's literally behaving like a human, but it's only tackling those more transactional activities so that the PM can focus on, on things that humans really should do.

Kate: Great. That's what we want, people focusing on people. So talking about chatbots, I'm sure everyone listening has experienced them from time to time with varying scopes of success, you know, you've got your send you an article to read, you've got your chatbot that fills in a form request. How does Alex work?

Ben: Yeah, sure. So look, there are many different ways that AI comes to life that we're seeing today and, and it's become more prominent. ChatGPT launched their public beta in November last year. But in terms of the technology that that we're talking about today. It's called conversational AI. And conversational AI, as opposed to some of the other, you know, forms of, of, of interaction, conversational AI is designed to be human like.

So you, you make a comment or you ask a question and the chatbot will respond to you within context. So it's a back-and-forth dialogue. And, and quite frankly, that's how humans have been communicating since the beginning. And that's why this Technology, I guess, is so powerful and why we've just seen such a wave of adoption, you know, off the back of, off the back of the publicity that was put out into market through ChatGPT.

So you've got to be sort of careful, you know, when you're talking about chatbots and AI, sort of what it is, because I guess a lot of people, you know, think of a chatbot as a, you know, bubble that sits on a website on the bottom right-hand side and you click it and it sort of does something. But, but what it does is, is very, very different depending on, you know, the experience that's put into, into that, that little bubble, that little interface.

So, you know, our chatbot, we're proud that it is powered by AI, which means it has that human-like conversation. And then helps obviously the, the user, the tenant in this case, you know, get to the outcome that they need, whether that's how do I pay my rent or, you know, my hot water system's broken and it's 12 o'clock on a Saturday, what should I do that?

It'll get you to an outcome, but it's going to get you to an outcome, you know, in quite a delightful way, in a way that you're just used to communicating with your friends. And that's why this tech when done right, he's so powerful because if people, you know, want to engage with it and feel comfortable engaging with it, and it actually delivers on the promise, they will go back and use it again. 

Not everyone, some people are always going to want to speak to people on the phone and email and that sort of stuff. But most of your tenancy base, once they've used it, they're going to feel very comfortable because it's designed to be a human-like experience.

Kate: And that conversation lives inside of PropertyMe, so the property managers can go back and reference the things that have been said? 

Ben: Yeah, so look, we have a, we're very fortunate to have a really nice integration with PropertyMe. So, so the nice thing about this is everything that happens from a conversational perspective in the chatbot will go into the right spot of PropertyMe for the property manager to have visibility.

So Alex for Tenants is designed to handle in-life cycle tenancy requests and there's some optional extras. So for in-life tenancy requests, look, we've seen everything under the sun. So that ranges from how do I pay my rent? When does my lease expire? I want to break my lease. What should I do? I want to have a pet, my tap's leaking, my toilet's blocked. I only have one toilet, my electricity's out. So there's, it does the maintenance side of things. And on the maintenance side of things, the goal is to try and help the tenant resolve it if they can the first time. And if they can't, it will escalate to a PM or go through our agency's preferred after-hours process.

When we introduce Alex to new PM teams, one of the biggest sighs of relief that we see from them is that they are going to be released from those repetitive conversations. I mean, there's only so many times you want to tell a tenant in their 20s that there's something called Mr. Muscle that may help with your toilet blockage.

And I know that sounds a bit funny, but the amount of toilets that Alex has helped unblock and therefore avoid on the weekend plumber call outs. It's phenomenal. And that extends across all of those sort of low-level troubleshooting things that PMs help tenants with every day. So this is great. I mean, the tenants still get that fantastic level of service, but they can get it instantly 24 seven and the PMs not being bugged by it.

Kate: That is a very cool use of AI unblocking toilets. First time I've ever heard that one done. So well done. This conversation that's happening, you know, behind the scenes with the tenants and Alec's chatbot. Does that send alerts to Property Managers at some point? Or does it just always go on in the background sort of sitting there for you to access?

Ben: So you're not going to get messages at all hours. So what's going to happen is you're going to have visibility of all of those. chats and messages that happen and you're right, it's 24/7, but you're going to have visibility in another console. Um, so that you're not disturbed. We don't want to be pinging property managers, you know, at 11pm, if Alex is handling a request, um, you know, they can see that in, they can say that Monday morning when it's completed.

Kate: Okay, so it's got those points of escalation in there if it needs to be sent through to a PM, but other than that it will just run itself in the background. 

Ben: That's right, so I think that's a really good way of describing it. It's an AI system that is operating in the background and you're still using your current systems and processes.

The bottom line is you're just going to notice that there's less phone calls and emails coming through to you and more escalations that are ready for your attention with all of the information. So a job request with all of the photos and the videos and the model numbers and the troubleshooting steps that have been done already so that you can get on with that next step in the Property Me workflow which is either your quotation or your landlord approval or your trade work order.

Kate: My favorite question to ask everyone who has done a whole host of tech implementations is what are your key tips? It can be a tricky process. Everyone has their little key tips and hacks. What would you say are the most important things to pay attention to? 

Ben: Yeah, so look, look, it depends on the tech, obviously, but in the case of, of our product, you know, right from inception, we designed it so that it was really easy to switch on.

My view with AI is you've got to pick a system that's simple enough, or you're going to be sort of burnt before you start. But you've just got to get started. Like this is exciting. Like the real estate industry has really adopted AI, especially since publicity around ChatGPT came out.

We've been phenomenally busy and it's an exciting journey. Like your PMs are going to have training on what is A cutting-edge technology in real estate. And quite frankly, is going to become a really important technology to get your head around for the jobs of the future. So it's going to become a really key skill set in the industry.

So I, I mean, I really understand the hesitancy that there can be around sort of new tech. But if it's not changing your workflows and you know, the customer experience is going to be fantastic. And you do, because we've got over two and a half thousand property managers and over 200,000 tenants on our platform.

You've just got to give it a go. What you're going to actually find is if you take your team on that journey and really position it as a benefit for them, which it is both in terms of giving them a bit more time back in their day, but also in terms of setting them up, you know. With really important skills.

If you take them on the journey, they're going to love it. 

Kate: That's Ben Burton from RE Heroes. If you'd like to reach out and continue the conversation, you can grab all the details at