(If you would like to read the discussion between Kimberly and Bassam, the video transcription is at the bottom of the page.)
Are you terrified that technology will replace you? Is it all happening so fast that you can’t wrap your head around it? How do you fit in? Artificial INTELLIGENCE is SMART! On this edition of H2H, I was joined by Bassam Salem. Bassam is the Founder and AI Pioneer, #tedtalk giving, and fabulous story-telling genius behind Atlas RTX. We are zooming forward to show you what the not-too-distant future will hold and how you fit into it. We are looking at the sexy side of AI, chatbots, assistants and how they can help you to meet your buyers WHERE and WHEN they are. Listen in to learn if this technology might be the right fit to support your busy team for sales, marketing, or even customer support after the sale and after the close.
Not a webinar or a podcast. Head-to-Head is a conversation, and you are invited to participate when you join us LIVE. We are only offering Head-to-Head six times in 2022 and I know you won’t want to miss any of them. Coming up on the next Head-to-Head, on May 10th, Leah Turner from Melinda Brody & Co will join me to reveal the results of this year’s Benchmark Study compiled from 100s of video shops. We knew in our hearts what most salespeople were doing wrong in this market, but now we have the undeniable truth. When Leah and I got together last year, it was and still is one of our most popular H2H events, so please make sure you register and mark your calendar.
Kimberly: Alright Sam, we are live here on Head-to-head. I’m sitting here in Florida at 80-something degrees, and I see you’re sitting there with all that lovely snow in the background. It’s like two diverging worlds here.
Sam: It was single digits this morning and my bald head can barely stand it. Now we’re almost to 20 degrees, so that’s correct. I love the live format. This is going to be great.
Kimberly: Sam, we have so much to cover that I’m going to go ahead and kick things off and people will join us. We had a huge number of people registered today, so I’m excited about that. For those who are joining us live, you get to participate in this. I always say that Head-to-Head is not a podcast and it’s not a webinar, it’s a conversation, and you get to be a part of it when you join us live. We are recording, and we will send this out so those that aren’t able to join us today can hear it, but you don’t get to take part in the conversation, unfortunately. We’ve already got the chat going. Sam, you’re getting everybody kicked off good. We are talking about making artificial intelligence sexy and personal, so I figured who better than to have Sam. A little bit about me so we can get those intros out of the way for you guys and get into the meat of the program, I am Kimberly Mackey, and my company’s New Homes Solutions Consulting. There is so much confusion around what I do, so let me try to clarify this for you. Because I train and speak, people think that’s what I do, and yes, I do that, but primarily I am an immersion management consultant. I go into builders, and I help them to make sure that their systems are in place, that they are having profitable sales, and that they have the back end to support those sales so they can continue to build them profitably and sales doesn’t become the engine that runs the company off the tracks. It should be the engine that drives the train, so if I can help you with any of that, help you to be more profitable, set your absorption rates, work with your sales team, work with your management team, work with your operations, I do it all, so give me a shout. Sam why don’t you introduce yourself and tell us about the mission for Atlas RTX.
Sam: Thank you so much, Kimberly. I’m sincerely excited and honored to be here. It’s fun to do it in this format. I’m Bassam Salem, CEO of Atlas RTX, and I love Kimberly’s comment because a lot of people are not sure what I do either. A lot of people aren’t exactly sure what real-time experience is, and I’m excited to cover that today. We work with many industries; however, we have a huge concentration on production home building. A lot of experience in production home building, and we cover sales marketing and service experiences powered by artificial intelligence. Hopefully, this will make a little bit more sense further in the conversation. I’m originally from Cairo, Egypt, in case you’re wondering why my name looks like that, and why I look like this. I’m sitting in beautiful and incredibly cold Park City, Utah where we went from single digits to almost 20 degrees right now so I’m surviving winter, and I love it this way. Thanks again, Kimberly, for having me.
Kimberly: I’ve cut Head-to-Head down, so I’m only doing it about 6 times this year, and the next program is going to be on May 10th. This one is back by popular demand and is one of the most popular that we’ve ever had, and I happen to enjoy it immensely because it’s with my dear friend, Leah Turner, whom everybody knows that I travel with. I love her. We go Head-to-Head regularly, so it’s like a Tuesday for us. We’re going to do Take Two of The Top 10 New Mistakes Salespeople Make. Melinda Brody and Company just has their benchmark study in, and we have validation, guys. We got the numbers to show what is going wrong out there in our industry and maybe we’re going to cover a little bit of that today. Sam, without further ado, let’s dive into this and look into the future. Let’s talk about what artificial intelligence is and you know what our world will start to look like maybe 10 years from now.
Sam: I love these topics. I love looking forward and projecting in tech, especially. I’m a huge fan of tech. I’m a technologist at heart, and I think that there are 3 thematic trends that we’re already amid now, but they’re accelerating and will be accelerating over the next decade or so. The first is AI and robotic automation, the second is augmentation and virtualization, and the third is decentralization and disintermediation. I wanted to introduce you to the fancy buzzwords first.
Kimberly: Those are really big words.
Sam: They’re big words, and they sound impressive, but they mean sort of simplistic concepts that I think we can quickly define. The one that I’m sincerely passionate about because it’s the space I have studied for a long time and live in is AI and robotic automation. I think this one’s intuitive to us. When I talk about robots in factories helping us as humans, that’s been a trend we’ve been seeing for decades now – 3 or 4 decades – although it’s certainly accelerated. It’s also digital assistance on our phones and in our cars and sometimes in our appliances that we can quickly ask, “What’s the capital of China? What’s the temperature in Dallas today?” We can have these automated experiences where I can just ask a digital assistant to help me or even book an appointment for me, to self-driving cars. I think we have all seen the capabilities and the enhancements that are happening. Robotics automation and artificial intelligence is all around us, and I think it’s hard to presume that the themes there don’t accelerate over the next decade.
Kimberly: I saw on the Olympics that they were showing the behind-the-scenes experience and they had robots waiting tables and robot bartenders. I’ve seen several restaurants that have adopted this trend here in the U.S. I guess because they couldn’t get staff.
Sam: Do you remember, and I hate to mention the brand name, but when Roomba first came out? We all thought it was sort of a cute little gimmick, but now look at these devices; they’re everywhere, and they’re mowing lawns and cleaning inside homes. It is amazing. I’m waiting for a robotic snow blower or snow thrower that can just clear a driveway. I’m sure someone’s working on it. There are two other themes I just love to mention even though we may not dig into them completely here, because they do certainly impact home building, and that is augmentation and virtualization. You know how our kids sit there in front of the computer with their headphones on and they’re talking to the screen? That is virtualization. They are existing in a different virtual reality whether it’s a video game or a social network that’s now being popularized as a type of metaverse. There isn’t the metaverse, they’re just meta versus. There are different environments in which they can embed themselves. Sad or not, that is happening. We are spending a lot of time in these virtual realities and home builders are seeing this as I can now experience a home on the website in virtual reality. That’s virtualization; I no longer must go visit the physical home to the same degree now. I personally still would love to see the home, but many folks are comfortable virtually. Certainly, younger generations are completely comfortable being exclusive with virtualization. Augmentation is a reference to augmented reality. I’m a car guy, so I’ll keep mentioning car examples where you’re in the car, and we augment the windshield with directions that are overlaid, that are augmenting the road so it will tell me to go right here. It’s drawing an arrow right on the road. It’s augmented.
Kimberly: Oh, that’s cool. My car doesn’t do that, so I still have to rely on Google Maps.
Sam: Mine doesn’t but they’re starting to, so augmentation and virtualization are certainly themes that are materializing for all of us as consumers. Think about how far we’ve come in a decade. Imagine the next decade. The final one, which I think is intriguing as I’m a fan of decentralization and financial systems. I think the themes of decentralization and this intermediation are also worthy of us just briefly mentioning here even though we won’t dig into them. I think everything in our world is quickly getting disintermediated. We’re very much more peer-to-peer than we used to be. We look to our friends and neighbors. As we all know over social networks for referrals and recommendations. There are digital currencies that now are trying to disintermediate our financial systems and allow us to transfer money to someone else without having to go to a central bank or a central banking system. Disintermediation is about taking the middleman, so to speak, outside of the equation. I think the best example of that is where you see brands now going direct to consumers. A brand will try to sell on their website or through a channel that they own and manage. Even Apple has become a retailer. I think you’ll see that more and more including even in automotive. Going back to my car reference at Tesla, it is disrupting that world. They’re disintermediating by not going to go to a dealer. Just come to me and buy the car. It’s direct. It’s peer-to-peer so to speak without a middleman. It’s just incredible to me how quickly these themes are accelerating. Over the next decade, I believe they will continue to accelerate, and the world will be unrecognizable in 10 years because of these 3 trends.
Kimberly: You’re going to have our salespeople hanging up the phone now. They’re getting off the call here today because they’re thinking, “Wait a minute! He’s promoting that we’re going to get rid of salespeople.” That’s not what we’re talking about at all, so I want to put your mind at ease. There’s a way that you embrace this technology, and you allow it to help you work smarter just like you have in your personal lives. It’s made your personal lives arguably better, and in most cases better.
Sam: It is not just a marketing gimmick or a comfort gimmick to say what you just said, Kimberly. Sincerely history has shown us that humans prevail. We get rid of what we don’t want to do, what we can’t do, or what we shouldn’t do. That’s basically what we’re trying to do here. I love driving a car, so I don’t need self-driving, but a lot of people would prefer not to and have the car be able to have artificial intelligence and see the road and drive itself. Some people were afraid of riding an elevator without a human in it who’s the controller. It wasn’t that long ago when that was very normal. The idea is what do we want to do, what do we want to use our time in doing, and where are we adding value to a customer experience? Whether it’s a sales process, marketing process, or even a service process, do I want to do the low-level tasks, or do I want to automate that away and let a machine take care of that for me?
Kimberly: Some improvements we can think of are the answering services when calling a company such as a bank. Press one press for this. I would argue that we went backward in the customer experience with that, so I think if we take not only what we don’t necessarily want to do or don’t do well and automate it, we also must think about it from that customer experience of what will enhance things for the customer, and how do they get the information they need when they want it?
Sam: I love that you bring this up and I know, Kimberly, you talk very frequently even in our prep session that you’re very customer-centric. Consumer first. Customer first. I think that that is at the heart of the premise you just described where you said interactive voice response IVRs from the 80s. We all hated them. We pressed 0, 0, 0.
Kimberly: I still do it today.
Sam: Exactly. I think there’s a fundamental difference between what was happening 15-20 years ago, and what’s happening today. 15 or 20 years ago automation was led by companies trying to cut costs. I don’t want to have to talk to the consumer. Unless you’re a white glove customer who’s paying me a ton of money, I’m not going to give you a human. Everybody else is forced to this low-end, very simplistic, almost deflective experience where we’re trying to make it impossible for you to talk to us. That used to be what we experienced as consumers, and just like you said, that’s not consumer first, that’s company financials first. Don’t you care about me as a consumer? Today, it’s exactly the opposite. Today, we as consumers are saying, “Let us help ourselves.” When I buy something from Amazon and I never talk to a human, I’m not looking to talk to a human; I just want to buy my freaking thing from Amazon. Now that’s not a house. it’s a very different kind of thing, but we buy some pretty expensive things on Amazon never talking to a human. We handle the return never talking to a human, and we don’t want to. just make it simple for me. Make it easy for me to return it. Make it easy for me to buy the Tesla. It may not show up for a year because of supply chain shortages, but it’s easy and transparent and allows me to help myself as a consumer to buy a Tesla or order an Uber. I don’t need to call for a taxi when I can order an Uber. I feel powerful as a consumer. In 2020 and 2022, it’s the consumer who’s asking, “Please make it easy for me. Make it so I can help myself at 2 in the morning if I’m sleepless and I want to browse your store or your houses and reserve one or ask questions about one or ask if you have a single-level floor plan.” I love that the driver is the customer at this point, and it can be a luxurious experience that is sort of self-service enabled, shall we say.
Kimberly: If you think about that Amazon experience where you get to look at the different colors. If I want to buy something, how many colors does it come in? You see pictures of it, and you see videos. I would say Amazon’s behind on even the video part of it, but they do incorporate that in. Carol Morgan and I just did for our Sales and Marketing Power Hour that we did a week or so ago, we talked about VR and floor plans and allowing people to choose colors and change out cabinets. The gaming technology has made a world of difference, and that digital experience that seems very real to people now, they’re used to it. They like it. On Wayfair, I can take a picture of something or hold up my phone to my room and see exactly how that item is going to look right there in my room. That’s what people want and that’s what they expect.
Sam: Exactly, and that’s what’s wonderful. What I love about what we’re describing here is you’re describing your preferences, Kimberly. You want to be empowered. You want to feel like you’re in control of choosing and browsing and not having to be dependent on someone else. With all due respect, that’s our generation where we’re comfortable doing what we’re doing. We’re comfortable talking in person.
imagine a 28-year-old or younger and what their lives look like and the limited experiences they have in the real world versus the virtual world. I don’t say that I say this judgingly, it’s just a different kind of experience where this notion of give me arm’s length experiences. I may not want to even be face to face. I may not be comfortable negotiating face to face. I may want to negotiate – no one’s negotiating anything on the house these days – but I may want to negotiate or ask questions, and I may want to do it at arm’s length over text at 8:30 the in the evening when I’m talking to my significant other. I can feel empowered to think about my messages before I send them, whereas going and facing a professional salesperson in person in a model home or sales center may be a lot more intimidating to a 28-year-old on average than I think we appreciate.
Kimberly: We can allow the buyer to come into that what I call the customer experience funnel which now looks like you know an F4 twister. We used to have a linear funnel. It’s not linear anymore. it’s all over the place. People want to come into it where they want to, let them enter where they want to.
Sam: Absolutely. I love that concept, and it’s completely true. Let them enter when they want to, how they want to, and when at the time of day that they want to which is also crazy. Business hours were completely normal 10 years ago.
Kimberly: Even 3 ago. That was so 2019.
Sam: Even 3 years, that’s true. That was so pre-coded. We as consumers struggle with business hours. We struggle with that because I don’t want to know that I can only order an Uber between the hours of A and B. I don’t want to order an Airbnb or reserve an Airbnb only if I’m in my waking hours. Candidly, a lot of consumers now want to be able to see homes when they want. I may want to see it after work since that might be the only time that my significant other and I, or my family and I, or my kids who are at school may want to come, and that’s putting a lot of pressure on all of us as businesses. This is it’s a lot of pressure to deal with. That sort of consumer expectation. The bar to delight a customer has gone from here to here. How do we bridge that gap? We expect a lot from everything.
Kimberly: When we weren’t doing a great job of it to begin. We were saying, “Here’s when you can find us.” For a lot of builders, they don’t even have full-time staff in their models. Back in the day, I had a community where I was getting so much after-hours business, I hired somebody to be there after me, and it was amazing how many sales we got. It was just before dark in the summertime between 6 and 8. I wrote an article back in 2010 – I’m dating myself. In 2010 I wrote the article It’s 7 p.m. Do you know where your customers are? Builders would say, “Oh well, we close at 5.” But your customers don’t get off work until 5. How are they supposed to see you if you’re closing at 5:00?
Sam: So clever. Absolutely.
Kimberly: That was back then. Now expectations from the buyers, because of
the opportunities that we have online whether it’s a virtual tour; that’s truly a video tour or just even still photos that are put together as a video so that people can take a tour and look at it. Map next to the homesite. Your Matterports. There’s an expectation. We saw a huge surge in March and April of 2020 where builders said, “Wait a minute, I’ve got to get busy with my digital platform here.” We can’t rest on our laurels now that the world is reopening and going back to whatever normal was because the next thing is going to be here if it isn’t already. The next thing is going to be here.
Sam: You’re absolutely right, and consumer sentiment, our sentiment has already changed. Our preferences have already changed. We’re all now used to things that we may have been a little less comfortable with before. A common example that I bring up all the time is how many of us when we first saw a QR code thought it was really cool, but then we thought it was going to die? I don’t know if anyone’s using it. Now it’s across the whole board.
Kimberly: It’s on t.v. People thought, “It’s only for print. You can only use QR codes for print. You can’t use it for digital. We said, “Why can’t you use it for digital?”
Sam: We’ve been trained with Covid and menus to all know how to trigger a QR code. That 85-year-old is just as comfortable doing it as a 45 or a 25-year-old. That’s kind of crazy, but just that quickly we’ve been changed, and we know what it means as soon as we see one. We know what we can do with it. It’s crazy.
Kimberly: Our phones have gotten so much smarter about it. You used to have an app but now you don’t need an app; just hold up your camera.
Sam: It’s so cool.
Kimberly: Let’s talk about the now. The future. We know it’s happening, and people want to say that it’s 10 years in the future. No, it’s now. All this stuff is happening. It’s only going to get better, but let’s talk about what savvy builders are doing right now with this technology and how are they how they are integrating it from the customer experience standpoint.
Sam: Fantastic. I’d love to tackle this because I have to admit it’s a very different story now than it was 2 or 3 years ago and certainly 6 years ago when we first started talking to homebuilders. I’ll tell you in the 90s, they were the last businesses to accept email for service and sales. In the 2000s, they were the last companies to have a website. In the 2010s they were the last people to endorse the notion of social networks and social media and texting that everybody was switching to and switching channels. Now in the 2020s, I sincerely believe the theme they will be the last business to endorse the notion of artificial intelligence that can help my team meet these expectations, so let’s make it. What are we talking about when we say AI because there’s so much? Artificial intelligence is such a broad computer science term. It could be from computer vision to natural language understanding, to robotics, to speech synthesis. It’s a huge world, but let’s zoom it down. Can I get a digital machine, a digital workforce, a digital colleague or assistant that does 3 things? That’s why we call them digital assistants. Number one; delights customers by delivering on their real-time experience expectations 24/7 and immediate and personalized to me.” All these expectations you and I have been talking about for the last 10 minutes. How are you supposed to do that with an unlimited team? Well, can we have a digital workforce that that does that number one? Number two; alleviates the pressure and monotony on our team, because clients of ours have endorsed it and realized that it removes the stuff they don’t want to do; the monotonous stuff, or the stuff they can’t do since they can’t be up at 2 in the morning. Can you cover a few things? You’re obviously not going to be me, but can you do something at 2 in the morning so I don’t have to, or can you do something at 2 in the afternoon, so I don’t have to feel glued to a 6-second response to a web chat request which is impossible to hit? Number three; can we increase our efficiency? This is for the company’s benefit sort of. Can we as a company augment our staff with these sorts of low-cost, entry-level virtual assistants? Digital assistants who are helping us, so I don’t have to hire the best of the best. I can now hire the best of the best for the best of the best tasks and keep the basic tasks for these machines. It becomes this win-win-win notion of the customer wins because they get the real-time experience that we all want. The team wins because they get rid of crap they don’t want to do and can do it more effectively and efficiently, and the company wins because it doesn’t have to hire 20 people to meet those crazy expectations and to do the same thing.
Kimberly: Which you cannot find right now.
Sam: Which you cannot find right now. I will be blunt to show you that I’m not afraid of tackling the topic of our roles as humans. Yes, it does mean that we can’t be lazy and not knowledgeable and not proactive and not willing to engage and rude. If we are that, we shouldn’t be there. Let the machine do that. It does mean the value of that awesome salesperson, marketing person, or service person, and this is really across the board because I know our focus here are sales folks, but it does cover everybody. An awesome person is still an awesome person, and a machine is not going to replace an awesome person. It never will, but now the company can say, “I’ve got my 3 or 6 or 12 awesome people. Maybe I’m struggling to hire more awesome people, and I don’t want to lower the bar and hire those who would lower my average for this team. I can augment that great team, make them more effective, more efficient, and happier with their jobs because something is taking away that monotony.” I hope you see I’m willing to talk about this very bluntly because I think it’s the truth. It’s what’s happening out there.
Kimberly: I think a great example as I talked to online sales counselors and with the sales teams that I’m working with, they tell me that a lot of the time the calls that are coming into them that they’re answering involve a vendor trying to get hired or somebody needs directions. That’s basic stuff that has nothing to do with trying to schedule an appointment or to get somebody in front of a salesperson or into a community. Those things to me are perfect things that can be handled by either a chatbot or some form of digital assistant.
Sam: Automation. You’re exactly right, and those are exactly the kinds of tasks that we’re talking about, Kimberly, and you ask, “What do home builders find?” It’s exactly that. It’s not something to be scared of. It’s something to take away the low value and the redundant and allow me to focus my time on the high value. Then I can delight the customer that way because I’m now giving them automation when they want and need it, but I’m giving them the personal touch when they wanted and need it. Now I can afford to because I’m not wasting my time on frivolous questions or talking to the wrong folks because they’re not prospects; they’re someone getting information for something else. It’s coming to me, and now I’m not helping my customer, so it de-clogs. I think as we all get better at what we do we will just get super efficient at focusing the right tasks to the human and the right tasks to automation.
Kimberly: I hear people who want to add staff. They’re going to add a receptionist or they’re going to add an online sales counselor because of the volume of calls. To me, throwing bodies at problems is not a good solution. I think you have to think through what positions you really need and what specifically their role should be. Then what support does that person in that seat need to have to do a great job? It may very well be that you are getting a volume of calls that you do need to add another OSC, but that’s not enough information to make that determination. It’s what kind of calls are you getting?
Sam: You’re right, and you’re hitting on another point that I’d love to address which is the difference in sophistication between digital assistants that you need at various points can vary substantially. Taking a very customer-centric approach, this is how I would do it if I were a home builder; I would map my journey. What does my customer experience look like? What does my customer want at the discovery stage when they’re just learning about us to the decision stage when they’re trying to choose us over someone else, to the delight stage where we’re trying to make them happy with what will be a pretty protracted build and delivery process in most cases and move in process? There are some parts of that process where automation makes sense, and there are some parts of that process where a human makes sense. We all know if there’s a charged situation and I’m an upset customer, I want help. Let’s not even try to throw automation at that, and in fact, the automation there should be very savvy to be human-backed and the human is ready. Even when we map these experiences with clients, we will tell them that this is a stage where we don’t want too much automation. You don’t want this digital assistant – this bot – to try to deflect away from your customer. That will only hurt their experience. It’s not a good way to go, so you want to invest your human capital here; put them there. At 2 in the morning with someone just browsing your website, it’s going to be hard. Can we hire people and ask them to work at 2in the morning? Do we want them to be talking to every prospective person who may not be a real buyer or who may be a trade wondering if they would work with them? All of this enormous funnel, and when we introduce digital assistants, I will tell you the one thing that happens is the number of conversations balloons because there are so many more people now who can engage your brand, you’re not having to pay for that with the pain of a human being who has to deal with it. Mapping the journey and figuring out where automation makes sense and where humanization makes sense is important.
Kimberly: We promised sexy. We’ve talked about the after-hours and backup support, but some things are being done with this that I just think are super sexy. One of them is through surveying or outreach to people who come in, and as they leave, all of a sudden, the AI starts to engage with them. How was your experience? Giving them avenues to answer further questions.
Sam: I’m not going to go as far as calling anything we do, or I do as sexy, but I appreciate the characteristics., although tech in general to me is certainly sexy. The use case you mentioned is the one that galvanized our relationship and our experience in homebuilding. It wasn’t long ago before this crazy market that we’re currently in – and we all know transient markets like this can’t exist for the long term in any industry – the word was follow-up. Do you remember, Kimberly, when everybody was talking about that we had to follow up with people?
Kimberly: Oh, you had to follow up with people?
Sam: Follow-up was both hard and something salespeople didn’t want to do. That’s the intellectually honest comment. They didn’t want to do it. Why do I want to? It’s tough to be pushy. It’s tough to leave to call someone 14 times over 2 weeks and leave 6 voicemails. I don’t want to be the annoying salesperson. Candidly, the consumer on the other end thinks, “My gosh. I don’t want to register if I’m just going to get bombarded with unsolicited phone calls and I’m going to have to keep sending them to my voicemail, and then I have to somehow text them to please leave me alone. I’m not interested.” What if you could have a digital assistant, and I will call this sexy thanks to you, do that follow-up for you. After an experience or after a model home visit, it can be respectful and reach out to the prospective buyer and ask if they are interested, how the visit was, and if they’d like to learn more. It’s wonderful because if you’re not interested, it can ask you to give it some feedback on what about the home or the community didn’t appeal to you. In some cases, they might state they were just there for the weekend, and I was just going through open houses. Fantastic. We don’t need to bother you anymore. They might say that they’re not a buyer because they wanted to be in this school district. We do have a community in that school district. I can help you. Having a digital assistant that takes that task away is sexy because it makes it so the salesperson doesn’t have to do a part of their job that is painful, difficult, and high volume, and it’s sexy because it’s respectful of the consumer who then feels like they can just say they’re not interested so they can move on. It also means that if they are interested, it’s now given them a direct channel to the brand, to the builder where they can reach out anytime and talk to the right person there; maybe an assistant if it’s a very at various stages in the journey, but it could be a human. Now they’ve got this unified place they can always go to talk to talk to the builder.
Kimberly: That’s important. When we talked about this back in 2018 when Chris Hartley and Will Duderstadt and I presented for the first time anybody had done this at the International Builders Show about the customer experience and the customer journey. We talked about this, and we incorporated this there. One of the studies was that the salesperson thought that they had this really hot prospect on the line and that this was going to be a slam dunk. The buyer instead, when they started conversing with the AI, said they didn’t care for the home. They felt more open to answering the AI because they knew they were not talking to a human being.
Sam: You’re so right, and I hate to cover this topic because salespeople do hate me when I say it; the other one is easy to cover because great salespeople are great salespeople, but you are right, Kimberly, our direct research has shown that around a third of the time even great salespeople miscategorized the interest level of a buyer. Apparently, we as consumers, are pretty coy, and if we’re interested, we can hide it, and if we’re not interested, we can hide it. There is for every 2 that a great salesperson qualifies appropriately or classifies or dispositions appropriately, there’s another 1 that they missed. In some cases, that’s missed to the downside. This is a strange market where everybody’s a buyer, it’s kind of crazy as we all know,
Kimberly: But that’s changing and it’s rapidly changing.
Sam: It appears to be, although who knows? I’m certainly not going to try to forecast. I give up on trying to forecast the future. I’ve been wrong more often than I’ve been right. It is amazing how honest, to your point, people will be 1, to a digital assistant and 2, over text, so even to a human over text you are going to say things that you weren’t going to say in person. You get the reality, and the question is are we asking, “How was I as a salesperson?” Nobody’s asking that. This is not about the salesperson’s quality. This is about if this buyer is interested in that community or that model or that home.
Kimberly: As a salesperson, I don’t take it personally. I want to know if they’re not interested because next. If this truly was not the community and the right fit for you and your family, then if I’d known that I probably would have referred you down the road somewhere.
Sam: To push the sexy, I’ll give you a piece of data that I think is sexy and that wasn’t available in 2018 but is new. Now that we have volumes and volumes of conversations, and we’ve worked with our builder clients to see which ones converted to a sale and which ones didn’t over a long time, would you believe that based on the engagement with the digital assistant, if you respond, we can classify you with a hundred x more likelihood that you’re a buyer if you say certain things versus a non-buyer? That is where the digital assistant can tell the salesperson that this person is a buyer and they’re a hundred times more likely to buy than that person. That’s the level of confidence that we can build based on these conversations, which tells the salesperson, “How much time do you have? Do you want to focus on the 100x people or the 1x people? Just focus on these 800x because it’s going to take you a hundred of these to try to get one of these.” That is just crazy. It’s honestly a lot more of a disparity than I expected. I was expecting maybe a 10x, but it is a hundred x. Buyers will elect differently than non-buyers.
Kimberly: This week I did a sales meeting and sales training for a large national builder, and you know the salespeople are telling me, “You know, most people can’t go through my process. I don’t have homes. I only have 3 a month that I can sell, so I’m having to just talk to people as soon as I meet them and give them the bad news and tell them this is what you need to do.” To me, all of this is something where we could have an AI who’s not having a bad day, who doesn’t have to worry about the emotional toll of things to share this information so that when people come through the door, their expectations are more in line with the reality of the situation. Yes, I know this market will change, but we’ll always need to set those expectations. How great to have something that can do that for us when people engage with our website, when people engage with us on social media, or wherever they choose to engage with us, and we allow them to take this channel. I think we should advertise this channel regularly.
Sam: You’re so absolutely right, and I love your nuance on this strange environment that we’re in today because as we worked with marketers and heads of sales a couple of years ago, it was all about conversion rate. Help us convert more.
Kimberly: That’s not the issue today.
Sam: Today it’s not about conversion rate; that’s secondary and certainly there, but it’s not the primary objective. The primary objective is to please engage all of the demand and help us just answer a few questions and let people know what to expect, and that maybe we’re 6 months out, or maybe I just want to join a VIP list but to do that I don’t want them to have to talk to my human person because I’d rather use my human on something else. I don’t want them answering the same question and getting frustrated and potentially starting to have a bad day after 100 of these conversations. So, there’s value in dealing with the volume and that’s where there’s a return on investment. There’s dealing with that volume with a machine, and then there’s also delighting the customer’s expectation and making them feel like this brand. It gives them a way of reaching it. It makes me feel important.
Kimberly: People just want to be engaged. They want their questions answered. The frustration that our salespeople feel is coming from the customers too. I’ve talked to salespeople recently who said someone just jumped the fence and tried to come in through the other door because they were in an appointment, and they were the only person there. This was when they were limiting the number of people in the model and people were frustrated because it was a different experience than what they had had previously, and they didn’t understand it. They felt like this shouldn’t be like, “Hey, let me in.” When we can hit a lot of that upfront and explain what we’re doing, and this is how we’re doing it, and why we’re doing it, and we welcome you. It can be done consistently, and that consistency creates a great customer experience. Humans just aren’t that consistent. We can try but we’re not that consistent as much as we think we are. Let’s talk about how another sexy way we can use this as part of the customer experience is automated engagement as you’re handing off within after someone has already purchased. We’ve talked about before the purchase and setting that, but I know you’ve got some people who are using it through the process itself. To me, I think that can be very sexy as long as there’s a press 1 and you get a real live person.
Sam: Absolutely. Kimberly, you work so closely with these same clients so you would know that the biggest challenge everybody is complaining about today is one word: communication.
Kimberly: It always has been. It’s not new.
Sam: It’s not always happening. It’s that’s a fair point. That’s a fair point. That’s not new, but now this sense of, “If you would just tell me what’s going on. If you would just tell me what’s delayed or what the timeline is, I would be, if not okay, at least better than I am today.” One of the most popular experiences in the journey as we map the journey from marketing-led components to sales-led components, now it’s the operations and service-led components where can we have mechanisms where a digital assistant might update you now and then. “This has just happened or I’m so sorry but because of this, we’re expecting a delay. You’ll get updated in the next week. Very sorry about that.
Kimberly: Imagine sending pictures and doing the weekly updates.
Sam: Yes, absolutely. Whereas in the past, candidly most of our integrations were with the CRM because that was what owned the experience up front top of the funnel. Now the integrations can be with the construction management systems which have the stages and the cycles and the timeline and what’s happening when and delays or post-move-in with the actual property management systems that can allow you to open a service request. A very common communication issue is, Man, it was easy to get a hold of someone in sales when I was a buyer, but now that I’m a homeowner, I can never figure out who to and how to reach them. You made it easy for me to talk to sales, but you don’t make it easy for me to get service.” “Well, it’s because there are a lot of homeowners, and teams have not scaled up. Builders have not been able to scale up their service teams.
Kimberly: And now we’re not finishing them before we close them. Not that we ever have, but you know it’s always better when we finish them before we close them. Then we have fewer warranty issues.
Sam: I like that expression. I haven’t heard that we don’t finish the request.
Kimberly: It’s painful. it’s very painful. But to that point, we have these systems out there where people can log into a porta. Who remembers their logins? They can’t remember their passwords. You have people who are not as computer savvy. How awesome would it be for something to proactively reach out and communicate with them in a tool that they’re already using so they don’t have to remember a password?
Sam: That is such a big theme for us, Kimberly. I think there was a time when all of us were building mobile apps. Everybody and their dog was building a mobile app. It doesn’t matter if you’re a home builder or a software company or a brand, everybody was doing it, but there was a difference between 2007 and 2017. We have to give credit to the iPhone in 2007. That first decade we were adding apps to our phones. if you remember early on, we’d discover new apps and we’d download them, discover a new app and we’d download it. The average American and arguably the average user across the world was getting more and more and more apps on their phone. Something switched in the teams, and we all started not wanting all this crap. We only wanted these few subsets of apps. When we upgrade phones, we quickly delete all the old stuff and try to start with a clean fresh slate. We’ve now moved to this world where we’re protective of what apps we add. The average American research continues to show has fewer and fewer apps on their phone every passing year.
Kimberly: We don’t trust them anymore.
Sam: That’s a fair point. We may not trust them. We don’t want to download apps, so we then must judge what is the most convenient channel. If I’m Delta Airlines, and I’m talking to a frequent flyer, and this person flies 30 times a year, of course, they’ll be willing to download my app. I’ll give them enhanced features and so on, but if I’m a retailer, and I’m only going to see this customer once or twice, and I can’t get them to come back, the chance of my convincing them to install an app is really, really low. Well, now let’s go to the home buying experience; it is tough. It is tough even as a homebuilder to convince someone to download an app and have credentials or log into a URL and remember where that is and have credentials. It’s just too complicated because it’s not something I’m doing every day or every week or every month. It’s sort of transactional requests. That is why we believe in text messaging. I sincerely believe in text messaging, and still, where nothing is displacing it yet that I see, we may augment it with video. In texting, I’m a big fan of video messages. Text messaging is wonderful because like the QR code in our cameras now, text messaging is a native app on every phone. I don’t have to download anything. I don’t have to have a username or password. It’s just one number that I store for the brand, and if I want to get a hold of homebuilder A, I just message homebuilder A on my phone. The right person in the journey engages supported by a digital assistant so that theme of just make it easy; don’t make me download, don’t make me remember, keep it easy for me, is a compelling and real one.
Kimberly: Last week I had an experience with a hotel and the first thing that happened is that they gave me the number to text if I wanted something. Then when I got to the hotel room, I got a text, “Miss Mackey, how is everything? Is there anything else we can get for you?” It was fantastic, but it took me a couple of times to realize, “Wait a minute. This isn’t a person. It was very personal. it was very nice. It was not intrusive. My room wasn’t ready because I got there at 0 dark 30 in the morning, so here’s your claim check. Everything was all in one spot. It was fantastic. Then when my folio wasn’t correct when they emailed me after I checked out, I thought, “I can call and be on hold, or wait, let me just try this number again.” I texted back, and within 10 minutes I had a copy of everything that I had asked for. I even said, “Thank you for giving me this outlet to be able to do this.” I mean I’m thanking the AI. They replied, “You’re welcome.”
Sam: This is beautiful because I bet you, and I’m not certain in your case, that I can say this with 100% confidence but I’m 95% confident that there’s still a human concierge who is now assisted by this small army of digital assistants doing the easy stuff so they don’t have to manually text you, “Hi Miss Mackey, is everything okay with the room?” Why would I want to type that many times? Let the machine do that for me, but then when Miss Mackey is having a problem with her folio or her bill, that’s going to involve a human. The digital assistant isn’t just going to magically fix that, but now the human can deal with that in 10 minutes because they’re not wasting their time with everybody checking in on non-issues. I love that example, Kimberly, and it’s outside of homebuilding, so it’s just one we can all relate to. Wouldn’t it be nice if that’s how it always was with everything?
Kimberly: I expect that from now on, but you know I doubt that I’ll have it. I know we only have a few minutes left. I must because of the sales – you know I come from sales no matter what I work in – but follow-up and dead leads. We sort of talked about that, but Chris Hartley did an experiment back in December 2019. Chris is, for those of you who don’t know, a sales manager extraordinaire in Dallas, Texas in the Dallas market. Sales started tanking in 2019, interest rates started going up, it was the holidays, we had a whole bunch of stuff going on, and this is all pre-Covid, so sales started going down. He had used the chatbot to reach out to the dead leads file. These were the Ds. These were the people that we had seen but they were nowhere near ready, they couldn’t get qualified, they had a home to sell, they had issues, and he reached out to the dead leads. I forget how many they sent out to, but it was 1,100 or 800 to 1,100, somewhere in that range. Right around a thousand. They sold five homes. I forget how many appointments they scheduled, but there were quite a few that re-engaged with them simply because they had their chatbot reach out. Where are you in your goal of owning a new home? Or some semblance thereof, and I just thought that was the coolest thing ever that the OSCs had given up on them, the salespeople gave up on them long ago. I mean let’s be honest, but the OSCs said, “They’re dead. I can’t beat this horse anymore.” Now we have the chatbot reach out and all of a sudden 5 homes.
Sam: I had forgotten honestly about that until you just mentioned it and when you mentioned Chris Hartley I thought, oh, which story is this going to be? There are lots of great stories with Chris Hartley, but that one is a really, really compelling one and one where the ROI there isn’t it’s not worth the human team member to follow up with whatever hundreds. I honestly don’t remember the amount, but I do think it was very substantial. Do I really want to call these folks or manually reach out to them? The number of times it would take when a machine can just do it so cost-effectively and just clean it out for me and respectfully let them opt out. Let them say, “I’m not interested.” Great. We won’t keep bothering you. We won’t keep spamming you. We won’t keep calling you. We respect you, but if you raise your hand, that’s fantastic. we’ll now engage you right away. I love that you bring this up and thank you for reminding me of it. It really was one of the coolest, sexiest experiences. That chatbot I think has helped home building
Kimberly: The options – I think we think of them as click here if you want to chat with us on the website. The point here is that there are just so many more opportunities for things that you can do with them.
Kimberly: Lastly, CRM. I love CRMs, but I love good CRMs. I want a predictive CRM. I’ve gotten a little spoiled. Anybody on here from any of our home builder CRMs, get a pipeline because you need a pipeline. Pipelines are very important, but chatbots can help move people through that sales pipeline. It’s kind of like we’re just watching them through the journey.
Sam: The CRM and the digital assistants sort of go hand in hand. The CRM is the system of record and the single source of the truth. That’s where you track everything, and there’s sort of a two-way synergy between – sorry to use such a buzzword, but there sincerely is a two-way synergy where all the conversations that are happening, whether it’s a salesperson doing it over a platform, or a digital assistant talking to a customer or a customer asking a question, all of that can now be stored in the CRM. It’s centrally available and you can find it and remember what you said and what your colleagues said a month ago. It can all be stored there, but l you need to have a funnel, a process, and a journey that’s mapped in the CRM. That’s what the CRM, is for and the CRM can trigger experiences automatically. The CRM knows this person just took this action, to go offer them that, or to go remind them that when they came in two weeks ago, we hadn’t heard back and asked them if they were still interested. If they reply that they bought a home somewhere, the CRM asks them where and why they bought from a competitor. Why was builder B more appealing to you? I want that competitive intel. We’re not going to waste our human team’s time doing that, and candidly, the customer may not even tell them that, but they’ll tell the AI assistant. I love the interplay between CRM-led journeys and the customer experience. Thank you for bringing that up. I completely concur, completely agree.
Kimberly: It allows us to be more personal. The canned letters that go out that you plan out. Six to 16 of these letters that are going to drip out, you now can program all of this and so it becomes more personal to that buyer, and their experience. If they’ve already picked out a home site – you’re a custom builder and they’ve picked out a home site somewhere, they have land, and that’s a completely different journey. They have different questions than somebody who wants to build but they haven’t figured out where they want to build yet. That’s a whole different conversation. We can now have the conversation.
Sam: That is the key point. To your point, instead of sending out a letter, a canned email, or just this one-way thing, we can have a conversation. At every point, we can have a conversation. Find out why or why not. Find out how. The trigger now becomes not just this one-way lob of a random message but a full conversation with our customers which is so critical to allow them to have.
Kimberly: I know we’re over time, so I’m going to very quickly cut to the chase. I’m surprised the chat hasn’t blown up with this question. This is so expensive that the average builder can’t afford it. What’s the ROI and how do they go about affording this?
Sam: This is simple, and I always say this, “The cost is only a function of ROI.” If you have no volume of anything, you’re not going to get ROI, you don’t need the digital assistant. If you’ve got 5 people coming to your website, or 10 people trying to reach your salespeople or very small volumes, I’ll be very candid; you could probably just do it manually because your volumes aren’t there. But as soon as you have volumes, it’s very sincerely not a cost question; it’s an ROI question. It’s how can I save costs by getting automation here? How can you provide me with something that makes it so I don’t have to scale a team that I can’t? I only have 4 of these great people, so I can’t. It is a function of ROI. To get down to brass tacks, because you know how these experiences vary, they’re as simplistic as hundreds of dollars a month for a very basic dumb digital assistance that can only basically answer A or B and then route to a human, to probably a few single thousands of dollars a month depending on the number of journey points that you’re touching. The customer, the number of digital assistants, and the volume. Obviously, if you’re a very large top 10 or top 20 national builder – we support almost half of the top 20 national builders. These are enormous volumes of conversations. I mean the number of conversations and visitors that we’re seeing is high, so obviously it scales from there because the systems and sophistication to go with those sorts of journeys are pretty meaningful. But candidly, I would I’m a businessperson, and I would only spend money if there’s ROI. If I’m getting ROI, I’ll spend it all day long. ROI is the question here, and very sincerely we have found the ROI to be incredibly compelling when considering optimizing the top-level KPI whether it’s a conversion or deflection. Some clients want to deflect the questions. Conversion or deflection? The second is how much human cost am I saving because I don’t have to waste my human time to do something? The third is, am I delighting my client, and is there some intangible value to their brand affinity, their referrals, and their promotion of my brand because they love working with me. When you take that ROI into perspective, it’s rarely a difficult conversation.
Kimberly: Interesting. Very interesting. Guys, I know you have questions I’m going to send out this video. It will be live on my YouTube channel. We’ll have it all over social media with Bassam’s contact information, so please reach out to learn more about this. Go to their website and just take some of the experiences that they have right there on the website. It’s pretty cool. The key here is it’s this isn’t something that’s happening 10 years from now it’s, something that’s happening right now, and as home builders, we must embrace it. Sam, thank you so much for simplifying this. I’m getting, “This was fantastic.” Thank you, Heidi, for that, and to all of you for spending time with us today. Have a wonderful rest of your week, and we look forward to seeing you back in May on May 10th with Leah Turner.
Sam: Thank you so much.
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