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Going to a real-estate conference anytime soon? Don’t let ransomware kill your vibe

(TECHNOLOGY) Ransomware is on the rise and it could cost you big time during your next hotel stay.

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Up the creek without a paddle

Imagine you’re at some swanky hotel on a business trip. You’ve locked your valuables in the safe and you’ve decided to venture down to the bar to unwind after a long day of travel. When you return to your room, you can’t get in – and neither can anyone else in the entire hotel.

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As ransomware is becoming more and more of an issue it would behoove you to know just exactly what is at stake.

What are we even talking about?

Ransomware is a form of malware that encrypts data and locks up phones and computers, rendering them useless unless the hackers’ demands are met.

Generally, the insidious individual(s) will request a ransom payment in the form of Bitcoins.

The difficult to trace cryptocurrency is one of the primary methods of payment used on the darknet- and in this case, will likely be used to commit more hackings, or other nefarious deeds.

Real life hotel takeover

The New York Times reported a real life ransomware incident that occurred at a hotel in Austria last month.

Hackers shut down the Romantik Seehotel Jaegerwirt’s entire key card system, demanding that the hotel pay two Bitcoins, or roughly $1,800, by the end of the day.

Of course, the hotel had to pay the ransom.

Having worked in the hotel industry and been a hotel guest, I can personally vouch for how upset guests can get when they are unable to enter their room.

And a hotel at max capacity? It would be pandemonium.

Luckily, the ransom seemed to be the extent of the trouble for the Romantik Seehotel Jaegerwirt’s hacking issue.

However, to avoid such an event in the future, the Jaegerwirt hotel is reportedly changing from their key card system to an old-fashioned metal lock and key (not that this does not have its drawbacks as well).

If push comes to shove

If you do find yourself in this unfortunate circumstance we would suggest you go to talk to the hotel staff.

Make sure it’s a hotel wide occurrence and not just that you accidentally put your card key too close to your phone.

If it is a hotel-wide hack and the hotel won’t play ball, it very well could dissolve into a ransom room-for-room.

While the Jaegerwirt hotel paid the ransom, experts recommend the opposite.

Don’t give the hackers any money.

Forward thinking

So maybe next time you head off on a business trip you keep in mind things you wouldn’t want to be locked away with no access to (see: medicines, identifications, proprietary information, etc).

It may be cumbersome to have to carry them around, but if you were locked out of your room with absolutely no way in, what could you really live without?

#NotTodaySatan

Andrew Clausen is a Staff Writer at The American Genius and when he's not deep diving into technology and business news for you, he is a poet, enjoys rock climbing, monster movies, and spending time with his notoriously naughty cat.

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Real Estate Technology

Amazon Alexa app for real estate could fill your lead pipeline

(REAL ESTATE TECH) A new app has been developed for Amazon Alexa to connect home buyers and real estate professionals, check it out.

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Voice interaction is truly the wave of the future. Amazon Alexa leads the way. It’s reported that Amazon will be announcing Alexa for Business Platform, which takes voice into the workplace.

Enterprises can use Alexa to manage temperature and lights and to get information, but other skills and apps will be available to help with calendar management, ordering supplies and much, much more. Alexa has the capability to integrate with business to be a voice-activated virtual assistant.

And artificial intelligence via voice interaction with Alexa is now entering the real estate market.

Agent NEO is an Alexa app designed for the real estate industry. This app helps users look for homes to buy, check real estate information and find a real estate agent.

Agents who are registered with the app can easily connect with buyers and sellers and stay in touch with current and past clients through the app. Users can also get information about their home’s value through the app.

How it works:

  • Users ask Alexa to help them find houses to buy. Alexa narrows down the search by locality, budget, size of house and other preferences. Users can even access pre-approval for loans.
  • Alexa matches users to a real estate agent in the area where the user is looking to buy or sell.
  • Alexa sends the information to the agent about the potential client, including their search details. The user gets an email with your contact information, a bio and an intro from you.
  • The app can book showings for users, based on their individual preferences.

Agents can join by going to the Agent NEO website. Although the technology is still fairly new, as more people invest in voice-activated interfaces, it could be a great way to generate leads for your company.

This story was first published here in November 2017.

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Real Estate Technology

How to get chatbots to actually boost conversion rates

(TECH NEWS) Understanding your customers’ expectations and beliefs about chatbots can help boost your business AND save you time.

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Chatbots can save you time and money with the right set up, but first you have to get your customer on board with this relatively recent channel of customer support. A 2017 study conducted by Audience, Drift, myclever, SalesForce, and SurveyMonkey assessed consumer perception of chatbots.

Of the 1,051 adults aged 18-64 who participated in the study, only 15 percent had previously used a chatbot. So the results are a bit limited, but provide insight into how to draw in those who are inexperienced or unfamiliar with chatbots.

If you want to have a successful chatbot, aim for the lowest denominator of familiarity to ensure the overall experience is not frustrating. The goal is to reduce other forms of communication, like calls and emails to save your company time.

About two-thirds of respondents said they would value the 24-hour availability of a chatbot. Receiving assistance at any given time is a huge plus.

When you break that response into Millennials versus Baby Boomers, 66 percent of the younger generation like the round-the-clock availability while 58 percent of Boomers valued 24-hour service.

Over sixty percent of Baby Boomers see instant responses to simple questions as chatbots primary benefit. However, they have slightly less confidence than Millennials that chatbots will be friendly an approachable.

Overall, way less than half of those surveyed had faith in a chatbot’s ability to answer complex questions, or provide detailed, expert responses. There seems to be a general understanding that while chatbots offer help for easy questions, they’re not a catch-all for every use-case or advanced scenarios.

In fact, 43 percent stated they would prefer contacting a human for assistance, and a third cited fears that the chatbot would make a mistake.

Chatbots available 24/7 that aren’t able to sufficiently answer customer’s questions can lead to frustration by the time they end up speaking to an actual person if incorrect info is provided.

Not naming names, but I’ve personally experienced the nightmare of asking a chatbot a question only for it to repeatedly provide irrelevant solutions and ask, “did we get that right?” all the while continuing to not answer my question.

I understand a chatbot won’t always have the answers, but it’s still an aggravating experience to deal with a product that doesn’t seem to work in you or the company’s favor.

Other potential barriers to embracing chatbot use included respondents preferring to “use a normal website,” or if they couldn’t interact with the bot in a friendly manner. Some also reported they would not use a chatbot if it was accessible only through Facebook.

Brave souls reporting “nothing would stop me from using a chatbot” only made up 15 percent of respondents.

When setting up your chatbot, make sure you include as many potential questions and answers as possible.

However, there should also be a clear channel to communicate with a real person should the bot provide unsatisfactory or limited help.

Brokerages are using chatbots on their sites already and annoying users, converting nothing. Heed the advice above, understand your consumer and the limitations of chatbots, and your conversion rates are set up for success.

There are plenty of services out there to help you get started with setting up a chatbot, and some even offer free trial periods. Customers may not be totally sold on chatbots over real people, but if you set yours up in a user-friendly way, you could boost your support levels and customer satisfaction, thereby improving conversion rates.

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Real Estate Technology

Real estate offices can be much more like sexy startup offices

(TECHNOLOGY NEWS) Science proves that open floor plans are more conducive to office productivity, but is that true for brokerages, too?

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Office settings

If you walk into a tech startup, nine times out of ten you’ll find an open seating / bull-pen style seating.

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Open offices are trendy amongst tech startups – has the fad caught on amongst real estate brokerages?

Better together

Whereas traditional work environments are divided up into departments with individual offices and cubicles, open offices have floorplans that put all employees in the same room.

Studies have shown that cubicles don’t increase productivity.

As a matter of fact, people are more productive when they are sitting close together, but can see each other.

Pros of openness

Some of the advantages of an open office floorplan are obvious. These kinds of offices are economical because you can fit more people and more desks in less space, and because it is more efficient to heat, cool, and light one large room than several small rooms.

Open office plans also facilitate communication between managers and their employees, and between departments.

Rather than taking the stairs or hiking down the hall to collaborate with another person, you can simply holler across the room.

Cons of openness

Unfortunately, all of that hollering can be pretty distracting. A University of Sydney study found that half of workers in open offices say that the most frustrating part of their workplace is the “lack of sound privacy.”

Open offices are not only noisy, but are also less secure, since everyone can overhear one another.

Employees may get peeved if they can’t concentrate because of all the noise around them, or can’t make a phone call without being overheard.

Dr. Who inspired solution

A startup called Framery Acoustics offers a solution.

They create soundproof phone booths and meeting pods designed to complement open office floorplans.

One of the founders, who previously worked in an open office, complained that his boss talked too loudly on his cellphone. His boss replied, “Well, get me a phone booth.” Thus, Framery Acoustics was born.

Simple solutions

Framery Acoustics is just one company that offers a product suited to appease open office dissenters. Framery Acoustics isn’t ready to give up on openness and neither should you. Instead, look for ways to make your office more flexible. Whether it is by providing a quiet capsule for private meetings and phone calls or just having a designated section for meeting, the solution is out there.

Compromising allows you to reap the benefits of an open office plan, while still ensuring that you and your officemates have privacy and quiet when it is needed.

#openoffices

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