The wait is over! View the November 2023 Rentsync National Rental Demand Report.
If you’ve been playing around with the idea of making use of a bot in your company but have been worried about the added time and effort it takes to set it up, you may want to check out BetterBot. Today, we’re joined by our guest, Robert Turnbull, the President, COO, and Founder of BetterBot. He’s with us today to discuss the benefits of BetterBot and the world of artificial intelligence. As you tune in, you’ll hear more about Betterbot and the intention behind its creation and also about the primary product philosophy. Robert shares why he doesn’t believe in AI mimicking human conversation and why people don’t like finding out that they weren’t talking to a [real] human. We talk about what sets BetterBot aside from other bots and why free isn’t always free when it comes to the use of bots. If you want to find out how bots, and AI in general, can serve the multifamily industry, then this episode is for you. Be sure not to miss out, so subscribe, and tune in now.
Key Points From This Episode:
Links Mentioned in Today’s Episode:
“With regard to our business, so we're going to take the 80% of the repetitive, mundane stuff. We're going to give the time back to the leasing team, who can now be very empathetic when the person walks into their office and says, “Hey, I've got a situation.” Or, “Hey, my neighbor is doing something.” Or, “I'd like to stay here, but.” That requires human empathy, creativity, and critical thinking. That is what we're trying to help humans get their time back, so they can be more human.” - Robert Turnbull
[0:00:30] ANNOUNCER: Hello, and welcome to Sync or Swim, a weekly podcast brought to you by Rentsync, where we take a deep dive into the prop tech, multifamily, and the rental housing industry. In each episode, we uncover the technologies and strategies used to help overcome operational challenges and increase the value of your multifamily investments. Let's get into our conversation today.
[0:00:55] MH: Welcome back to another episode of Sync or Swim, a podcast where we take a deep dive into the prop tech, multifamily, and the rental housing industry. I'm your host, Matt Hildebrand, and today I'm proud to be joined by Robert Turnbull, President, COO, and Founder of BetterBot. Robert, thanks so much for joining us today.
[0:01:12] RT: Hey, thanks for having me, Matt. Appreciate it.
[0:01:14] MH: Now, for those who don't know, BetterBot is an industry-leading chatbot created specifically for the multifamily industry to assist with leasing agent functions. Recently, Rentsync has partnered with BetterBot to provide their AI chatbot integration to our clients. We wanted to have Robert on to discuss the benefits of BetterBot, but also to discuss the world of artificial intelligence. AI has been a hot topic as of late, but before we get into it, Robert, why don't you let the listeners know a little bit about yourself and what led you to found BetterBot?
[0:01:45] RT: Yeah. It's funny, the origin story most people have getting into multifamily isn't that we went to school or studied to be in multifamily. We just found ourselves in it. Once you're in it, you just stay there for years and years. That was what exactly would happen with me. Some former partners, we started apartmentguide.com in 1999. This is back when they had all the guidebooks and all these racks across the country. This internet thing was new.
Just to give you a sense for the time, I was speaking all over the country in 2002, I was speaking in San Antonio, Texas about the internet, the advent of it, and how it was going to change the way consumers looked for properties and rentals. This guy afterward came up and goes, “Hey, Robert. You're a really entertaining fella, but you realize the internet's just a passing fad. It's like the CB radio, the 70s.” I thought, “Oh, my gosh. What have I gotten myself into?” I always wonder where that guy is to this day. Obviously, the internet came and it completely changed the way people look for properties and for their next rental.
Over the years, I've been lucky to found a number of — and help co-found and build out a lot of businesses, realestate.com was former partners, Rent Wiki, rentals.com. Later, I moved into the chat world. I was able to work all over the planet with some of the biggest AI bot companies like
IBM Watson, GetJenny, Chatfuel, Robotify, BotCentral. I realized, this automation thing could really help multifamily, because the leasing teams are so overwhelmed right now with the leads coming in, people coming in, and resident questions. They just can't get through it all. If we could provide a level of chatbot artificial intelligence, really automation. We can give them some other time back. That's the Robert journey for the last 25 years of multifamily to BetterBot.
[0:03:38] MH: That's a very interesting journey to end up here. I appreciate the old background there.
[0:03:43] RT: Yeah. Yeah.
[0:03:44] MH: BetterBot is leading an AI automation charge in multifamily. Why don't you just take us through, maybe a little bit about the primary product philosophy?
[0:03:54] RT: Right. We noticed as I said a little earlier, that you did this anthropological exercise of going to properties and talking to people who worked at the properties and people who managed people at the properties. We noticed that they were getting through maybe 30%
of their daily tasks. Inundated with phone calls, and tons and tons of emails from residents, prospective residents. They weren't even getting through the majority of it. They weren't even getting through half of it. They simply did not have the time. We said we want to replicate your best leasing agent. Who's your best leasing agent? Oh, well, that's Donnie and Jamie over here. Okay. Let's watch what they do.
We realized that the timeliness and the fact how they got back to people, the conversational flow that they had, both on the phone. We said we're going to replicate that. That's exactly what we did. We created a chatbot that sat on your website, but then we built it so it could be on like Facebook, Instagram, Yelp, and any other place where consumers can find you, and your property. We created a conversational format that answers 80% of the same questions they get asked over and over.
The bot can schedule appointments in real-time on calendars. It gives virtual tours and videos. What was really interesting, we started noticing that 60% of the conversations and these appointments being scheduled were happening after hours. After 6 pm and before 8 am. What was nice is the leasing agents started to notice they were getting less phone calls, less emails, and more appointments. They were waking up to appointments already scheduled the next day where they didn't even have to do anything.
Anecdotally, we started realizing these folks really love this. Then the data proved out that we're saving over 104 hours per property, per month. We're giving that time back to the leasing teams. Why? So, they could be human again. They can do the human jobs, and have empathy, critical thinking, and creative thinking because we got a lot of the mundane tasks off their plate.
[0:05:59] MH: You touch on one thing there, the rule of being human, which I think is obviously very important in the leasing world. People quickly realize when they're talking to a human and a bot, but you don't really believe in using AI to mimic human conversation.
[0:06:16] RT: Correct. My business partner has a great saying for that. He says, “The only time we like to be fooled is when we go to a magic show.” People don't like to think they're talking to human only to find out that they weren't. There are a few reasons for that. One, first of all, it's illegal in several states. You actually have to define and identify yourself as a bot. Secondly,
when you think you're talking to a human, whether it be by email or chat or anything else, and you set a level of expectations. “Ah, talking to a human.”
Here's what we noticed. AI solution sends an email back. Hi, I'm such and such. The consumer thinking they're talking to a human starts this five-paragraph conversation in their email about all the issues and all the questions. Well, the AI today, most of the time doesn't actually know how to interpret that. What it does is it either gets confused half the time, or it answers only one question. Now the other person on the renter's side says, “Well, that's not what I was expecting.”
We look at customer satisfaction or CSAT scores. It's very important to us. What's the CSAT score when someone thinks that they're talking to a human, their CSAT expectation is around 70%. When they think they're talking to a bot, it's around 60%, but a funny thing happens in the process. When it's artificial intelligence and they realize that their expectation plummets and it goes down to almost below 40%. When they know it's a bot and the expectation is set, but the bot is giving them the information they want accurately and quickly, the CSAT scores are actually over 90%. It flips.
We say, do not identify yourself as a human, because you're setting an unrealistic expectation and the consumer is going to be disappointed. You're setting up an expectation. If they think it's a bot, but then you outperform, they're very pleased with the dialogue. That is why we took that philosophy and it has worked very well.
[0:08:07] MH: Yeah. I think that's very interesting. Staying on that a lot of people are using maybe like an email bot, which usually does try to imitate a human. What are maybe some other main differences between some commonly used email bots and a tool like BetterBot?
[0:08:25] RT: Well, so again, that is one of the big differences. Email bots do two things. One, they do try to imitate a human, as we've discussed, that's not a good thing for the CSAT scores and expectations. The other thing is they use natural language processing. Now, we'll get to chat GPT, which is in just a second.
[0:08:41] MH: We definitely will.
[0:08:42] RT: Yeah. Then your typical NLP that we've had today. Your typical NLP that most of these bots use today, and we have that, too. We reply. The difference is [that] the email bots try to keep you in the medium of email. They're trying to go back and forth, back and forth, back and forth an email. That can take days. We call it interest decay. If I'm not getting the interest of my questions, I'm getting frustrated. Now I have to send another email and another email and another email. There are spam filters. There were very full inboxes. It's just really not a pretty scenario.
What we do is we say, “Hey, we're not a human, but that's okay. We can answer all your questions. Click here. It looks like you wanted to schedule that appointment. Click here.” It takes them immediately to the schedule appointment intent. “Looks like you had a pet policy. Click here. We can answer all of that question.” We're using NLP to provide intent so they can click, take them out of email, and get them into an immediate web-enabled mobile version or web enabled bot. Now we're having a conversation and those conversations last an average of 90 seconds.
They're getting five, six, seven, 10, and 12 answers to all these questions in a minute and a half. Now they're happy because they're not doing email back and forth for days. Materially, this is what happens. Because we do that, our bot, our nurture solution converts one in four leads into an appointment. The next closest email bot is one in 12 leads. For all the reasons I just mentioned, because they're going back and forth and not getting their answers. With ours, they're getting all the answers enough that they're making a pre-buying decision, which is scheduling an appointment to go in. That is one of the biggest differences, the medium in which you operate.
[0:10:27] MH: Quite a disparity between those stats there. Now, one thing your company has really identified is that fewer marketers in the property management space are using free bots. There might be a lot of listeners out there like, “Well, my company is using one. We tried it out. It's free. It does a job.” Many solutions offer free tools to help costs, little add-ons. I'm hoping you can explain why in a lot of these free scenarios, free doesn't always mean free and why more – yeah. Why marketers are moving towards a paid model.
[0:11:01] RT: Yeah. That is a wonderful question. Yeah, free is actually quite expensively, we learned. Let me just put these in a category. There's what we call the bolt-ons or the add-ons,
so you have companies that have another primary business. Maybe that's website development. I mean, that's a CRM. That is their primary motive, and focus. That is what they focus on. This bot over here is an add-on, almost an afterthought. They are not putting in the resources, because this is all we do. We wake up in the morning. We think automation and bots. That's it. That's why we're miles ahead of everybody else who has these bolt-ons.
First of all, they just don't have that focus. They're just not keeping up with the times. Check it. What we noticed with a lot of the free bots or add-ons. Yeah, of course, people who are cost conscious say, “Oh, well, it does most of the same things.” No, it doesn't. One of the first mistakes these bots do is they're called Legion. They're lead gates and Legion bots. Their goal is to create more leads. Nobody wants more leads, right now. Nobody is looking for more leads. They have too many. They want fewer leads, but they want more appointments and conversations, and engagements.
A lot of these bots you go in and the first thing ask is your name and your email address. The consumer doesn't want to give you that or they walk you through a process and just before they give you the information you're looking for, “Oh before I give that to you, can I get your email information and your contact?” That is not a good consumer experience, first of all. Secondly, because these bots are so sparse in real content, they don't have community maps and virtual tours and videos embedded in them. They are providing a very limited amount of information, so the stuff that's coming through these leads is just that, uninformed.
Now we've actually not reduced the time spent by the leasing teams at the properties. We've now increased their workload. They're now having to answer even more leads than they did before, and that costs time and that costs money. When I tell people, “Hey, we're saving you an average of 104 hours a month.” At 18 bucks an hour here in the States, that's about two grand. You actually added 13 more leads, which somehow, or for some reason, these companies are proud of. That means they've actually added $600 in cost to you. They haven't saved you a thing. We call the free bots are actually very expensive bots.
[0:13:21] MH: That is very interesting. I think the old ad of time is money is very key in this discussion.
[0:13:27] RT: Absolutely. It's key. I mean, it's the what's honestly times the one commodity you can never get back. You can never get that back. It's so important how we as people and how our leasing team, how they're spending that commodity. We have to be very – it's a precious commodity. We need to be careful of that.
[0:13:42] MH: Just like one more functionality question, there are probably people listening. Oh, is it going to take a lot of time and effort? We're not a large company to set up and use a chat box. What would you say to them?
[0:13:56] RT: I would say, they're absolutely right. They don't have a lot of time to do that. We learnt in the very beginning, especially multifamily, if you want to get business, man, you can't add work to the workload. You have to take work off. We said, “Look, we are going to train the bot. We are hooked. We have over 100 integrations. We're hooked into everywhere. You tell us
where you want the leads and calendars you're using. We'll do the rest. We'll put the content in. We'll hook up the APIs. We don't have you train it for three or four weeks. We train it and usually have it to you in two to three days.”
We have a fully trained, ready-to-go, market-ready. When we deliver it to you, it's been QA’D. It's been integrated. It's been hooked up and it's ready to plug and play. Here's your one line of code. It goes right here on your website. Here are your social sites. Redirect your leads from your analysis. It all goes here and it's ready. There's not a lot of work that they have to do on ours, but yeah, with some of the other solutions, they require the property to answer 200 questions. 200 questions they have to answer to start times that by 50 communities or 30 communities, they have. Then they have to update all that because we have all these APIs we hook into. We update all the content. No, they don't have time to do that, which is exactly why we built our solution the way we built it.
[0:15:14] MH: BetterBot can sync, I'm sure with most CRM data.
[0:15:17] RT: Every CRM you can possibly imagine. We have every calendar. We've got 13 different calendars we work with. We've gotten pretty darn good at that. We read the calendars in real time. We can say, how many hours do you need before scheduling? You need three hours or a day before we'll schedule it, so you need a lead time. Very flexible model. It
recognizes if you allow two appointments an hour or three or just one. It's a very robust scheduling solution.
[0:15:44] ANNOUNCER: Like what you hear so far? Make sure you never miss an episode by clicking the subscribe button now. This podcast is made possible by listeners like you. Thank you for your support. Now let's get back to the show.
[0:15:58] MH: Now we got a lot of the stuff out of the way there about a bit of the functionality of BetterBot, how it differentiates from email bots and some free bots. Now we touch on how it's going to save leasing agents a lot of time. What are some other ways that BetterBot and maybe just AI in general, can best serve the multifamily industry?
[0:16:21] RT: Yeah. I would say – okay, I'm going to use an analogy I use from time to time. Sometimes we get people to come up and say, “Hey, is this going to replace our leasing team?” Leasing folks are really afraid that this is going to replace my job. Some executives are hoping for being honest. Maybe it might replace it. The very simple answer is, not today. Quite frankly, not anytime soon. Here's why. This is my analogy. I've used it. It may seem a little goofy, but everyone gets it. Here you go.
If we've all seen Star Wars, you watch Luke Skywalker in RTD2 flying the X swing, right? People are wondering, “Well, what the heck is RTD2 doing in the back here?” What he's doing is he's looking at navigation, looking at all the dials. He's making sure everything in the flight system is – he's looking at the automation. He's handling a lot of the data and the information back and forth. While he's allowing at the same time, Luke to be creative, be critical. Maybe it's in battle. Maybe he's thinking, but it allows him to use the empathy side of him, the human side of him.
Now, one isn't flying it more than the other, just have different roles. One is deploying creativity and empathy. The other one is using logic and automation. That is how we have seen automation play out over and over and over again. It's happened the same way, which we could
get into some other time and the whole automobile industry. It didn't take away jobs. It actually just changed them. It made it less dangerous for certain people.
With regard to our business, we're going to take the 80% of the repetitive mundane stuff. We're going to give the time back to the leasing team who can now be very empathetic when the person walks into their office and says, “Hey, I've got a situation.” Or, “Hey, my neighbor is doing something.” Or, “I'd like to stay here, but.” That requires human empathy, creativity, and critical thinking. That is what we're trying to help humans get their time back, so they could be more human. Does that make sense?
[0:18:18] MH: It makes a lot of sense.
[0:18:19] RT: Okay.
[0:18:19] MH: I love the Star Wars analogy.
[0:18:22] RT: I'm a Star Wars fan, too.
[0:18:25] MH: Now, I think that's a good transition. Something you mentioned earlier, definitely want to get into. It's the topic of chat GPT. A recent episode we had a couple of our friends from Main Street Equity come on and explain how they're using ChatGPT to help with their marketing and leasing efforts. I want to get your perspective on it. In what ways can ChatGPT help the multifamily industry and how is your company approaching it?
[0:18:51] RT: Yeah. For those who sometimes – I just have to throw out that sometimes you'll have half your audience might totally get chat GPT. Some people necessarily won't, although if they're following your podcast sounds like they're going to know, in real quick. I love the analogy. I had to introduce the speaker who was an AI guy from the NSA. He basically said, chat GPT is the following. If I say to you, the wheels on the bus go, do you know how the rest of that goes?
[0:19:17] MH: Round and round.
[0:19:19] RT: There you go. The wheels on the bus, now you've been conditioned to say round and round. Chat GPT basically just says, “Hey, I've noticed 78,000 times after someone says the wheels on the bus, the rest is round and round. It looks for patterns. It's just looking for patterns. If it's one plus one, it doesn't actually calculate today that it's two. It just knows that it's seen 85,000 times at one plus one equals two. It's just looking for patterns. In the same way, we're looking at patterns that renters are looking for behaviors and chat GPT relative to that is actually very well informed, because it has 52 billion different data points. It's a brain, basically.
It's already starting to reason in ways that even the founders don't entirely understand. That's ChatGPT — things that can do well, things that can't do well today. What it can do really well is provide amazing content and really well-thought-through content, so much so that it's very hard for professors to distinguish a ChatGPT article that they've been given by a student. We used to be able to do that with NLP and other things, but it's actually ChatGPT has nuance. For us, what it can't do yet and what it doesn't have is it doesn't have real-time information that consumers are looking for, so the renter can't get that that building across the street has two two-bedroom units for this price available tomorrow.
Could it get that eventually? Yes, but it has to be given that information in a framework. Today, ChatGPT can't be used for super granular search, but companies like ours have already built. We've been using ChatGPT. A lot of people know this for three years. We actually have the plumbing. It's been there. We've just been waiting for an API. Well, now we have the API. We actually understand how the guardrails can be put in place. We understand now, how we can provide this real-time information so that the marriage of these pattern recognition and content generation can now benefit from real-time information.
There is a secret to the sauce. We've figured that out a while ago. We're just waiting for the API. We're ahead of everybody else, as far as we can tell. It's going to be fun for the next 30, to 60 days to start unveiling how we put the guardrails around ChatGPT. For us, that's as far as I can go on that one today. I'm happy to share in another three months how it all came out.
[0:21:45] MH: It will keep an eye out for that API. You definitely don't try to spill the secret sauce just yet.
[0:21:50] RT: Yeah. I do – put on a broader scale and maybe that's what you're going to ask, Matt, is where is this all going?
[0:21:56] MH: Yeah. Where is this all going really? I know there are so many articles that touched on it even recently. Of course, there's a letter recording this on March 31st. The letter went out earlier this week from Elon Musk, Steve Wozniak, and Andrew Yang. Throwing a little caution into the wind there. I mean, again, throwing it back to you. What's your perspective on some of the alarmists and where do you think this is going?
[0:22:23] RT: I share some of the concerns on the broader level because it's one of those things we don't necessarily know what we're getting ourselves into entirely. Let's be honest, it's not the first time in human history we found a new technology and they can use those things for good, but they can weaponize it for bad. I think that there's some wise wisdom in the caution. I don't know if you saw this, but right after Elon Musk sent out that letter, another letter came from a guy who's, I forget his name, who's the Godfather, if you will, of AI. He worked for AI Think Tanks for decades.
He said this letter didn't go far enough. “We have to put a complete halt on this for a while before we understand fully what it can do, because once it can start thinking on its own and rationalizing, what's it going to think of us and what's it going to do?” That's a legitimate question. Not to freak everybody out, but I do think that there is a pause. Now, are we going to weaponize this in multifamily in the current? No. We're not going to do that clearly. I think with what ChatGPT can do today and how it's growing it is strong enough and powerful enough to provide additional automation and assistance.
I'm not worried about it today. We have ways we could deploy that to help our leasing partners. I do share caution on the overall philosophy of AI and where it could go. I think we need to be very smart about how we progress with it over the next few years. As a civilization, we really do need to think through the ramifications. I don't think it's going to do anything today, but it could tomorrow.
[0:23:52] MH: Yeah. I think that's why it's important to look towards companies like yourselves who have thought about this like you said, for years and are putting guardrails in place already to make sure that the AI tools that are meant to act as assistance or to save time are not going
to be used in a way that are going to replace jobs and create chaos and fire off nasty messages to the renters or other types of customers. It's definitely an interesting time right now. It's good to point towards companies who are putting the right guardrails in place and really looking to them
for guidance and assurance that AI is not going to just take over jobs and run the world in the next couple of years.
[0:24:38] RT: Yeah. Yeah. We're a little a bit of a way from that actually, happening and replacing humans, but like anything, the past is precedent. We have to look to the past and how we've developed things and where it went awry. Let's see if we can apply that learning to AI, moving forward. Yeah, that's funny. I didn't think about it – I had this visual image when he just said that of our AI running amok and sending all these messages to residents that we have guardrails. I can't do that. It has to go through filters and all that, but how awful would that be? You talk about AI out of control. I guess it's possible if you don't have the guardrails.
[0:25:11] MH: I think so.
[0:25:12] RT: Yeah.
[0:25:13] MH: We don't definitely don't want to throw up alarm bells, but I think it's very important to definitely caution people on the way AI can go, but also sharing them that there are a lot of limitations currently. I mean, I think it's starting a good place to wrap up a little bit, but I mean, what are some last words that you would give out there to anybody who still might be hesitant about using AI in their leasing strategy?
[0:25:38] RT: Oh, good question. Okay, I would say AI, bots, and automation. All of this is not going away. Now you have your super early adopters. You have your mid-adopters or late adopters. Wherever you fall in the spectrum of that, that's fine. Maybe you're a large company and need to do some due diligence. That's fine, too. But recognize this is not a fad like I said earlier. This is not the CB radio of the seventies. It's not going away. I tell people to learn about it. Figure out how you can adapt it to your business. It can create efficiencies of scale. Above all, it can give some of your folks at the leasing teams a better quality of life and work.
If you're able to give them their time back and they're happier doing what they're doing, you have a happier employee and a more efficient business, and quite frankly, you've got happier
renters, because they're getting information very quickly. Recognize the benefits of AI and all this and what it can do for you and automation. Don't run from it. If you have questions go out and listen to Matt more of the podcasts, check out blogs like what we have, and begin to immerse yourself in this technology.
[0:26:51] MH: I think that's a great way to end this off. Robert, thanks again for joining us today. [0:26:56] RT: Yeah. You bet. Thanks for having me.
[0:26:58] MH: Everyone out there, make sure to check out betterbot.com. They're doing a lot of great work, leading the charge with AI chatbots, putting out a great blog of their own, and lots of resources to educate people on how this is affecting the industry. Of course, as mentioned off the top, RentSync is now offering BetterBots. We've paired up together. There's going to be a lot more news to come on that. If you're interested in learning more about how you can pair your website and your leasing strategies with BetterBot, reach out to RentSync, reach out to BetterBot, and find out how. Again, yeah, Robert, thanks again for taking the time today, and hope we can do this again.
[0:27:34] RT: Definitely. Thanks, Matt.
[0:27:36] MH: All right, have a great day, everybody.
[0:27:38] ANNOUNCER: You've reached the end of another episode of Sync or Swim. Make sure to visit us at rentsync.com/podcast to access show notes, key takeaways, and where you can sign up to our newsletter to receive free bonus content. If you found value in the show, please also remember to rate, review, and subscribe. Don't forget to join us next week for another episode. Thanks for listening.
Manage cookie settings
Rentsync collects cookie data to provide a better user experience, but we offer you choices regarding how we and our third party providers collect and use the cookie data.
These are essential in order to enable you to move around the website and use its features. If you do not allow these cookies, you won't be able to use our site properly.
Targeting and Tracking Cookies
These record your visit to the Rentsync website, the individual pages you visit, the links you follow and the type of device you use. Our use of these cookies might also mean that you may see Rentsync adverts on other websites. Our partners may also use information recorded by these cookies to see how well their ads are performing. If you do not allow these cookies, you may see more content and adverts that do not match your interests.