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The art of conversation: Maintaining a human touch in the era of automation

The rising tide of technology has left few industries untouched, and real estate is no exception. From customer relationship management (CRM) systems to enhanced property search, data analytics and artificial intelligence (AI) tools, technology has revolutionized the way properties are marketed, sold and managed.

But the most pervasive changes can be seen in the client experience — a space where automation has enabled a wider gap in human connection.


Two sides


On one hand, buyers and sellers have more power than ever. Automated search tools allow consumers to have a constant eye on the market, social media provides a near-endless resource of market insights and virtual reality allows buyers to get a feel for a property without ever setting foot inside.

On the other hand, many of the touchpoints that allow consumers to build trust with agents and brokers have moved online, leaving some to worry about gaps in the customer experience.

“As a team leader and coach, I’m seeing lots of agents rely too heavily on their CRM. Not to say we shouldn’t utilize automated campaigns to nurture our sphere of influence, but I think it is becoming a crutch,” says Courtney Atkinson, owner of the Alberta-based Atkinson Team at eXp Realty.

“I think it’s great we can be more efficient (using these tools), but it can be a potential letdown for consumers when they come face-to-face with an agent who has structured their persona in a way they can’t maintain in person.”


Risk of becoming “too operational and not intentional”


Stephanie Soave, an Ontario-based broker, echoes Atkinson’s concerns, noting that while tech can be used to enhance the client experience, a delicate balance is required to maintain trust.

“We have to remember that we’re asking for a family to make the biggest transaction of their lives. That takes less tech and more time to move them along their journey,” explains Soave. “The tech piece can keep us too operational and not intentional.”

The urge to be more reliant on tech may be a sticking point for younger, up-and-coming agents in particular.

Tony Joe, broker/owner of Prime Real Estate Properties and instructor for the British Columbia Real Estate Association, says he often sees young agents thrive in online engagement, only to struggle when closing deals.

“Technology and social media are great if the consumer wants to know more about you. It’s not necessarily great at closing the deal,” says Joe.

“When the markets were crazy two years ago, of course, social media was working — real estate was a race. As we transition back to a more normal market, it’s a matter of using these tools differently to yield results. Business isn’t dropping into our laps anymore. These are the moments that remind us that face-to-face is very important.”


Honing the art of conversation


So, what can agents and brokers do to hone the art of conversation and maintain that human touch in every interaction?

Joe notes that it’s important for agents to understand the value humanness brings to transactions in particular.

“From a regulatory standpoint, when sending things electronically, the consumer knows what they’re signing. Technology can’t replace what we are obligated to do,” Joe points out.

Atkinson adds that agents and brokers have a tremendous amount of control in today’s market so long as they take the time to truly understand their clients.

“If we as agents can communicate with people in truth and integrity, what I know to be true is that many can be compelled to get off the fence and into action so long as they feel safe,” Atkinson explains.

“So, what if we asked better questions and sought a deeper understanding of our clients’ situations? What if we better understood their motivation and helped to unpack them in a way that’s meaningful? These crutches make us feel like we can sit back and wait for the business to come to us, but the reality is we have to open the doors and invite people in.”


Staying relevant and valuable


Similarly, Soave notes that more isn’t always better when it comes to tech. Information overload may distract consumers from their own needs and wants.

“Consumers are getting inundated with information. It’s up to us to question what it is they’re looking for and help them navigate the journey by being the experts — not relying on ads to sell them,” she notes.

“We can actually become replaced if that’s how we’re running our businesses.”