This was originally published on the Smooch blog. You can learn more about Zendesk acquiring Smooch here.
Being a real estate agent is a bit like being a salesperson, a marketer and a customer support coach in one. While you spend your day with homeowners and buyers, you need to generate a steady flow of leads and convert them as fast as possible. All while being available nearly 24/7.
It’s a challenge one startup is helping Realtors solve with AI. Over the last two years, Iowa-based Structurely has developed a unique platform that aggregates leads from multiple sources and engages them through messaging — with a little help from an AI-powered chatbot and an omnichannel conversation platform called Sunshine Conversations.
As a result, Realtors are converting more leads, growing their teams faster, and freeing themselves up to focus on the parts of their job that require a human touch.
Structurely built its chatbot using Sunshine Conversation's web and mobile SDKs, and Facebook Messenger and SMS integrations. "I don't think we'd have a product without it," says CEO Nate Joens.
The need for speed
Real estate is a competitive sport. As Structurely CEO Nate Joens points out, there are about 2 million real estate agents in the US, though only 5 million homes get sold every year.
"There’s a major 80-20 rule in real estate," says Joens, meaning 20% of agents are behind 80% of home sales.
Structurely was built for the 20% of agents who are generating more leads than they can handle. When they founded the company in 2015, Nate and his co-founder cold-called Realtors to ask them what their biggest challenge was.
Their answer, says Nate: "I hate following up with leads and I’m terrible at it." They weren’t just being humble. A 2013 report found that 45% of people who reach out on real estate websites never get a response, and that those who do wait an average of 15 hours. Meanwhile, high-producing agents get an average of 25 leads per month, according to Nate, though on multi-agent teams that number can reach as high as 600-700 leads per month.
Structurely helps them sift through the noise and follow up with leads as quickly as possible. Since Nate’s team is stacked with experts in machine learning and natural language processing, they use AI to get the job done.
"It’s easy to throw a bunch of humans at the problem," says Nate. “But we didn’t just want to build another call center”
Meet Aisa Holmes
The Structurely platform consists of a lightweight CRM that manages leads and an AI-powered chatbot or "virtual sales assistant" called Aisa Holmes that engages and qualifies them through messaging. When leads land on an agent’s website or Facebook page, Aisa starts a conversation via web chat or Facebook Messenger.
Most leads, however, come in through online real estate aggregators like Zillow and Realtor.com — and more than 60 other lead sources that Structurely integrates with — and which real estate agents pay to fill their funnel. In these cases, Aisa typically follows up via SMS.
The chatbot is able to qualify leads based on a variety of questions, such as their timeframe to buy, their budget, whether they’re looking for financing, and their current address. This information is stored in the system under each lead’s user profile and can be used to nurture unresponsive leads over time.
Structurely has also built agent-facing apps for iOs, Android and the web. Their UI enables agents to monitor the bot’s conversations across any channel and take over when necessary. The system also leverages NLP to "listen" for key words and phrases that indicate when a conversation is going off the rails, and automatically bring a human agent into the loop. Agents can mute the bot and jump into the conversation at any time.
With Aisa, Structurely is not just building another bot. The team has added very human elements to Aisa’s conversations such as empathy for divorcees and new parents, deliberate typos, and delays between messages — all to make the conversation feel indistinguishable from talking to a human.
"Buying or selling your home is a wildly emotional and stressful time in your life," says Nate. “So the last thing a buyer or seller wants to talk to is a computer.”
A quicker path to growth
For high-producing brokers, Aisa Holmes — whose first name stands for "Artificial Intelligence inside sales agent" — is an efficient way to scale their businesses without hiring a flesh-and-blood sales assistant, which can be costly.
"I think one of the reasons a human ISA doesn’t work is oversight," says Edric Williams, team lead and broker at RE/MAX Edge in Fayetteville, North Carolina. “With a human ISA you can lose sight of information through translation and the accountability is only as good as the system you’re using.”
Since "hiring" Aisa, Edric’s team’s lead volume has doubled and their conversions have increased 233%.
But this isn’t another case of "robots taking our jobs." By outsourcing lead generation and management to Structurely’s system, Edric has been able to bring three new real estate agents onto his team.
For Juhmad Hollis, a New Orleans-based Realtor, Aisa has proven to be a powerful recruiting tool.
"When I sit down with agents I let them know I have this system in place that will qualify your leads for you," says Juhmad, who has seen a 400% increase in lead volume since using Structurely and went from turning only 5% of leads into appointments to having Aisa book 15% of leads.
"A lot of leads may not be ready to buy right now but she lets me know that we are here to help," says Juhmad, who tellingly refers to the chatbot in the third person. “When I call a lead, it’s not a cold call, it’s a warm call,” he says.
For Edric, the RE/MAX agent, Structurely also brings peace of mind. He is in the National Guard and was recently deployed. But with Aisa Holmes on the front lines of his business, he knows his team is in good hands.
"I have never been more confident about leaving and coming back to an office that was more successful than when I left," he says.