AI-Powered Assistants ‘Work Weekends’ to Help Offset Onsite Staffing Challenges

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Progress in virtual leasing assistant technology is helping apartment companies that are struggling to find and train leasing staff.

Leading executives speaking at the NMHC Apartment Strategies Conference in January spoke repeatedly about how their companies and onsite teams must do “more with less” in the current operating climate.

Staffing concerns are real, and often worse than operators may be willing to admit.

Meanwhile, employee satisfaction survey firm SwiftBunny reported that 45% of respondents recently said that their onboarding has been “unorganized” and turnover in just the first 90 days is rising.

Additionally, 35% of new employees do not agree the training provided has helped them become effective at doing their new job.

No wonder the average tenure for many positions is low. For onsite leasing, it came in at just 1.3 years; for onsite management it was just 3.3 years.

Because of COVID-19, operators used technology to shift how they did things onsite such as tours and leasing, one executive shared, adding, “This change has to become permanent.”

Inexperienced Job Candidates a Challenge

According to a new report issued by National Apartment Association (NAA) with AppFolio, “The inability to backfill positions and the influx of inexperienced new hires that require training mean teams have to do more with less, contributing to inefficiencies within property management operations. Additionally staffing challenges are forcing an increase in wages/benefits packages to attract and retain talent that are not yet being offset by increased revenue.”

Additionally, from that survey, “turnover has always been a challenge, but COVID-19 has only made that worse by placing headwinds on both sides of the equation: more associates are resigning and the hiring pool for replacements is smaller than usual.”

Brent Bunger, Executive Vice President at Adara, agreed, saying, there is shortage of leasing professionals compared to the demand needed from the never-ending supply of newly developed properties.

Data-Driven Decision-Making Taking Over

Companies are doing more with data, as well. One of the largest multifamily operators in the country, which owns all of its data, is using it to make decisions on “everything,” its top executive shared at the NMHC event.

With so many companies looking to technology this year to bring automation to processes that help them to solve for staffing shortfalls or to be more efficient, another panelist, Tama Huang, Chief Innovation Officer, CohnReznick, presented a general rule to consider for this decision-making. “If it’s something that can be done with your eyes and fingers only, automate it,” she said. “If it’s something that must be handled by using what’s between your ears, have a person take care of it.”

AI Helps Lean Teams Lease Faster

It’s important to recognize the difference between a chatbot and a true virtual leasing assistant.

Virtual leasing assistants powered by AI can fill staffing gaps immediately to alleviate overwhelmed and understaffed leasing offices. A bonus: They don’t get sick and never need vacation time. Plus, they only need to be trained once and can be setup and working for properties in as a little as 24 hours.

An AI assistant can reduce call center expenses and many customer-experience nuances that are present when a call center gets flooded. It ensures that every prospect is answered on multiple communication channels—phone, text and web chat.

“[This technology] is fundamentally changing the leasing culture at Adara by connecting with prospects any time of the day, after hours and on the go, Bunger says. “Thanks to our own virtual assistant, meaningful and timely responses have enhanced experiences and elevated expectations.”

ZRS’ AI-Powered Leasing Assistants ‘Work Weekends’

ZRS Management is improving their lease conversions, saving their onsite staff precious work hours and effectively communicating with prospective residents 24/7 – yes, including weekends.

Jeremy Brown, VP of Marketing for ZRS, said having virtual leasing assistants that can save his leasing teams countless hours by filtering the noise to provide sound leads to us has been advantageous.

“This way, our leasing team can focus on what they do best – leasing,” he said. “The [technology] has been able to keep our pipeline full of pre-qualified prospects ready to visit or virtually visit your communities.”

In 2022, property owners and managers can expect AI to continue evolving with a keener focus on the entire resident lifecycle—think maintenance requests, amenity scheduling, and lease renewals.

Paul Bergeron is a freelance contributor.