Last week, CRE Tech and MIT put on a fantastic meet-up event in Boston. For anyone who has been to enough of these, it was easy to tell the tone of discussion about technology in the CRE industry is a lot more sophisticated than it was even a couple of years ago.

One of the comments that struck me was from a CRE tech investor—someone who’s done a lot of research on the thousands of emerging solutions available in the market. Noting the number of “tenant engagement” mobile apps hitting the market, he sounded a note of skepticism uncharacteristic of this type of event. He voiced his doubts that these apps have scalable staying power unless they become a required element of the tenant experience.

In his view, features like retail discounts and a sense of digital community may be nice, but they aren’t going to drive broad and lasting adoption without a stronger hook (by being, for example, necessary for accessing the building).

We may be approaching “peak app”

This got me thinking about my own behavior with mobile apps. The truth is, I’ve probably deleted more than I’ve downloaded over the last year. And of the ones that are left, I tend to use only a few of them regularly. It turns out I’m not alone. According to comScore, the majority of smartphone users have downloaded exactly zero apps in the last 30 days, and most use fewer than 20 each month.

This doesn’t mean people aren’t using mobile apps. Quite the contrary! On average, smartphone users are spending over 2 hours per day on mobile apps, accounting for over half their digital media consumption. It’s just that they’re concentrating more of their time on fewer apps. We may be approaching the “peak app.”

Messaging apps are more popular than ever

Some categories of apps are still growing, however, and messaging is one of them. WhatsApp freed the mobile world from expensive SMS messaging, earning a $19B acquisition by Facebook in 2014. By 2015, messaging apps rivaled social networks in monthly active users.

It turns out that conversational connection is important to people, even if much of it has been digitized. The impact of conversational technologies on businesses is already huge. Twilio found that nine out of ten consumers would like to be able to use messaging to talk to businesses. Chris Skelly of Chatlogix has built a pretty compelling case that businesses need a messaging strategy rooted in AI-enabled chatbots if they’re going to keep up with their customers; others have argued the same.

Messaging’s Impact on Commercial Real Estate

So what does this mean for CRE? For years, I’ve been advising CRE professionals to develop strong, deep relationships with tenants in order to build their loyalty. But what if today’s tenants aren’t looking for that level of commitment? What if they’d prefer to keep things more, well, conversational? Even long-term relationships are comprised of a lot of casual touchpoints. Also, what if more people than the traditional single-point-of-contact want a voice in the conversation?

Building Engines has long been at the forefront of mobile CRE innovation. We have an industry-leading tenant mobile app, The Hive™, that enables all the things tenants have to do in a building: work order requests, resource reservations, visitor registration, and message delivery. But, as customer service becomes more conversational, we need to ask ourselves, is that enough of a hook to warrant real estate on tenants’ smartphones?

Well, maybe—but we’re not banking on it. To serve our clients well, we are committed to enabling a natural, modern customer experience for their tenants. Right now, we’re thinking that means engaging them on the mobile platforms where they are already active. That’s why we’re taking a hard look at expanding the channels through which tenants and buildings can talk to each other

The future of the tenant experience is conversational. And we plan to be right in the middle of it.