Virtual assistant or virtual assassin?

While attending the 2018 International Builder’s Show the topic of Chat-bots, artificial intelligence, and sales automation seemed to be at the forefront of conversations and presentations. As I sat and listened to how these technologies could be applied to online sales – a bot that could respond to a late night inquiry, that’s able to ask questions, or provide information back to prospective buyers on move-in ready homes; I found myself feeling defensive, but I wasn’t sure why. Was I merely trying to protect the idea of an online sales person, or was I concerned that this type of automation may not be in the best interest of the consumer?

Actual Experiences May Vary

First, I wondered if chat-bots made real-world sense for our online prospects. A good online sales program is based on responsiveness and customer experience. Imagine browsing builder websites for your new home at 9 pm during the commercial breaks of an episode of “This Is Us” on Tuesday night, and you receive an immediate pop up response to your inquiry asking you questions about what you’re looking for in your new home. You give some information about what you’re looking for a new dream home. Your response is then followed by quick responses with more questions from the chat-bot sales agent.

At first you might think this is great – until the loop of canned responses becomes obvious and frustrating. Consider the following real conversation one of the DYC team encountered with a chat-bot:

What kind of experiences are chat bots providing?

The current truth is that when AI or automation takes over, it dehumanizes the customer experience. The promise of an engaging and personal chat-bot for our industry has yet to be realized. I’m proposing that chat-bots can be assistants until the point of deeper engagement, and then it has to be the online or onsite salesperson taking it to the next step.

More Bandwidth Needed

At the show, I continued to listen to an industry friend talk about this subject, and my thoughts also turned to protecting the role of the online sales specialist. Are chat-bots replacing us? Are they a virtual assassin disguised as a virtual assistant? Sure, there were many times during my career as an Online Sales Specialist, I pined for an assistant! If only I could respond more quickly on a super busy day when the phone is ringing off the hook. Oh, and those times when it’s not so convenient to respond to an incoming lead during a parent/teacher conference or date night with my husband…. but, there’s something to be said for personally connecting with the online buyer (at 9 pm) by text to simply say “I wanted to let you know I received your inquiry this evening, and I will be phoning you first thing in the morning to discuss your dream home. Have a wonderful night.” There were countless nights that this happened that turned into countless success stories of happy homeowners for my builders.

With A Human Touch

Sales professionals are always looking for tools to make their day more efficient and chat-bots, artificial intelligence, and sales automation are all certainly possible answers. However, I want to remind everyone that one of the core reasons for having an online sales specialist present on your website is to make that human connection on such an important purchase. A real person on the other side of the screen that can help with a limitless number of questions! So, what is the answer? I would suggest that it lies somewhere in the middle, and if we continue to keep the customer experience as the focus, we can’t go wrong.

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