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Conversational AI: An Introduction

Guest post by Nine Connections

Is Customer Service dead?

The other day, my 73-year old father, was grumbling about something he read in the news about automation of processes at the local bank.

“People don’t talk anymore. In my day, customer service meant talking to someone, saying hello, asking how your day was. Now it’s a recorded voice or reading tiny print online. Customer service is dead.”

That got me thinking. The role of a traditional customer service representative has evolved over the years. Once the domain of primarily the service and hospitality staff, the role of customers and our relationships with them has seen several costume changes — the phone IVR, surveys, forms, smiling uniformed people, you name it. But even as the modes change, the role of customer services and engagement has only just increased. Today customer relationships have become a full-fledged industry. 70% of buying experiences are based on how the customer feels they are being treated. The more people feel they’re being listened to, the happier they are and the more money they’ll spend — or that’s the hope. An Adobe report even suggests that customer service can deliver a higher ROI than marketing. Customer service, once upon a time, used to be about happy people, lots of solicitous questions and a solution with a smile. While it’s certainly true that the human factor seems to have declined over the years, the key tenets of a human interaction customer service have remained — conversations, solutions and a smiling demeanor.

Related:
Woveon: Using AI to Create a Better Conversation with Your Customer

So can a bot — the latest entrant into the customer service role — actually deliver these admittedly-human qualities?

Chatbot as the perfect concierge

Businesses that recognize how much time consumers spend on messaging apps such as Facebook Messenger and Slack have developed automated messaging technology. In 2015 messaging apps surpassed social networking apps, and chat apps have higher retention and usage rates than most mobile apps. Today, brands are looking at bots to become the next concierge, to understand what the customer wants, which direction they’re headed on, to involve them in interesting content, spread brand awareness and indeed, carry on conversations with a smile. But is all of that realistically possible?

On paper, it’s the perfect solution. Bots are machines, easily duplicated and incapable of human drama. They can be taught to function perfectly with a specific set of rules or through machine learning. These capabilities, limited as they are, can be trained to emulate the perfect customer service person’s skills — kindness, patience and solution-oriented. A machine can be taught to never be sarcastic and to always have a listening ear. And because it doesn’t have human failings such as fatigue or just being an asshole, it’s becoming an increasingly widespread phenomenon.

Any company with a chatbot interacting in the marketplace has the opportunity to gain valuable customer information. This has benefits in several areas — more personalization, targeted marketing, sales strategies as well as manpower allocation.

Not there yet

While bots were also a hot topic at the recent Corporate Social Media Summit, the jury were admittedly slightly skeptical. Bots are still very much in their nascent stage. And there have been several failures. In the rush to develop the next Siri or Cortana for their businesses, what most companies have ended up with are simplistic, underdeveloped tech with limited capabilities and faulty data. Of course there are the filthy people of the internet. It took less than 24 hours for Microsoft’s Tay to turn into into a filthy Nazi racist troll and two weeks for the cute little hitchbot to become roadside shrapnel. Even if the world were a perfect place, everyone was sunshine and unicorns and keeping empathy and other qualities aside, the actual functions and solutions given to customers by these bots need to work. That requires very skilled developers — but even they aren’t free of error.

Having said that, the possibilities for a bot are immense. Even though the big tech companies haven’t quite cracked how to make it work. Our co-founder Chris has a strong vision on the problems with Conversational AI, and perhaps more importantly — he offers solutions. He will share his vision 26th August on Startup Friday (still some spots left) and will start to share his vision in our blog series about Conversational AI that’s coming up here on Medium.

I know I will be paying attention. My own life have tons of bots — from the local Asian store from online magazines to Facebook to even my fitness wearable. Chatbots might very well be the face of the future one day. Now if they only knew how to smile.

Managing Multiple Customer Channels

The way people reach your business’ customer support has changed significantly in the past couple of years, primarily because of the advent of the internet, social media and more importantly, smartphones. Companies are now expected to answer the customer’s grievances over a vast array of channels – these can include emails, messages over social media such as Facebook and Twitter, SMS, contact page on the website and last but not the least, the very traditional but still relevant… phone.

Request a FREE Conversational Technology demo today and Learn How to Manage Multi-Channel Customer

The customer expects your representatives to be available for any queries around-the-clock, 24/7 and wants prompt replies. Failure to address your customer can result in losing out on important business resulting in loss of revenue. All the different channels of communication should be consistent with each other, for instance handling the customer’s emails should not keep your agents so preoccupied that they miss out on a customer’s phone calls.

Here’s How to Manage Multiple Customer Channels

1. Different Channels – Different Challenges

social-media-lead-generation

Each channel has its own set of requirements, challenges, resources and your customer representative team will have different skills. You can’t expect one agent to perfectly handle all your channels with perfect tenacity. You will have to gauge their strengths and weaknesses and assign them certain roles accordingly. You will need someone with good communication skills in order to handle a large number of phone calls, while fast typing speed would be required of someone who is handling emails and social media.

Related: 
The Art and Science of Customer Engagement

With phone calls and chats, both the customer and the support agents are available at the same time and this can allow you to find common ground very quickly. Channels such as SMS and emails mean that neither the customer nor the support agent are burdened with the pressure of time, and can respond to each at their own leisure (not really true for support agents). While both channels have their strengths and weaknesses, the main purpose of a well oiled customer support team is to ensure that your customer has access to useful information in a short amount of time.

How you can go about designing your customer support team depends entirely on the size of your business and how much volume each channel receives. Depending on the type of business – whether it conducts most of its business online or offline – most customers might try reaching your support team on social media than on phone. This is most often the case with media publication sites with a strong online presence. For insurance or professional service companies, however, phone calls and traditional letters seem to be the order of the day.

2. It isn’t Practical to Blindly follow someone else’s Multichannel Strategy

It really isn’t one size fits all, and the preferable means of communication really depend on the customer. For most small scale businesses in Australia, it really isn’t a good idea to invest in every single type of channel you can get your hands on. It takes time and resources to gather useful, talented individuals and train them to properly handle their roles. It isn’t practical to be available 24/7 across phone, email, SMS and social media. Pick one service that might work best for you. If you’re an online seller, chances are that your customers might not really try to reach you on phone. However, that might not be the case if you’re a physical business with a physical store. For restaurateurs, it is more beneficial to have support agents dealing with phone calls 24/7 or during working hours, rather than having a team address customers online. Your preferred method of communication also depends on which channel the customer themselves choose.

3. Variety is Beneficial for both Employees and Customers

A key point to understand is that your support team also needs a break from the hassle of going through a monotonous job on a daily basis. You need to change their roles every now and then to keep them engaged so that the quality of your support teams doesn’t falter. For instance, one week an agent would be addressing the customer over chat, the next they might engage them over phone. The idea is to ensure they don’t get bored. Boredom can kill productivity and your customers might actually interpret this as lack of concern or empathy for their problem.

The operator over the phone needs to have an encouraging, bubbling voice that exudes enthusiasm which can instill confidence in your customer. So even if their problem might take some time for your team to get back to, they will always be patient because the person on the end of the line was so… enthusiastic.

Studies have shown that deploying omnichannel solutions can boost the employee’s morale by more than 80% while giving your customer more options to reach you.

4. Make Notes about the Customer

By keeping a history of the customer’s purchase history, complaint records and other such data, your support agent will be able to address their problems more efficiently the next time they receive a complaint. This also means you can track the customer’s trends by quantifying key business metrics such as the customer loyalty and retention.

How to Do Customer Service The Right Way

Customer service is an extremely important part of a business. Your product is what catches your customers attention, and your service is what keeps them loyal. A strong company will already have great customer relationships. But a smart company will always be asking “What is good customer service?” If you are not constantly on the lookout for opportunities to improve your customer service, then your relationships will stagnate. Here are a few customer service tips for identifying ways to better serve customers.

Request a FREE Conversational Software demo and learn effective customer service.

Customer Service Done Right

1. Get Personal

Your customers want to feel like they have access to real people, not bots and FAQs. Offer more than just automated email responses, and do not let your telephone prompts or website send them down a rabbit hole. Take full advantage of social media (such as Facebook, Twitter and Yelp) and write responses when your customers post on your page. Post photos and bios on your website. This shows your customers that you are real people working on their behalf.

2. Be Available

contact us customer service

Part of the personal touch is making sure your customers can reach you. For example if your business is primarily online, meet in person occasionally with local customers and offer video calls (such as Skype) for those farther away. Work early and late when needed, especially if your customers are in different time zones. Even providing customers with your physical address helps build their trust and reminds them that your company exists off the internet as well.

3. Cater to Your Customers

Make sure you are fully meeting your customers needs. Consider assigning reps to specific customers so they can build a relationship. Offer VIP treatment for your best customers to let them know they are appreciated. What special services might your customers like? Set up focus groups, interview customers, or run a survey to get ideas.

4. Create Communities

Your customers will feel even more valued if you treat them as important members of a community. You can bring various customers together in numerous ways, including webinars, interactive websites, social media, trade shows and conventions. And don’t forget that while your customers come to these forums to learn from you, you can learn as much, if not more, from them.

5. Specials Services / VIP

Are there special discounts or services you can offer that your competitors don’t? Can you offer something special for existing customers only? Could your services be considered luxury? Offering special treatment to your customers will help them to feel taken care of, and it’s also something they might be willing to pay more for. There are so many “bait and switch” offers and promotions for new customers only– reward the customers that have been with you the longest.

6. Offer Knowledge

Building strong relationships with our customers is great, but we also get to offer and trade knowledge with them. In our trade, a customer can compare several competing copies of a book online, but they won’t get a conversation about the title’s complicated printing history. When we’re speaking with customers, we spend the majority of time talking about the merchandise itself, trends in the market, and the customer’s own collecting habits. Afterward, we negotiate a deal. A customer can even know more than you do on a particular topic! Take advantage of this opportunity to learn more.

7. Let Customers Get to Know You

customer thumbs up

If you’re running your business from an unknown (or internet-only) location, it makes you more anonymous. This is common nowadays, but adding a face or an address to your business could help assure customers that you won’t disappear overnight. You don’t have to rent office space if you don’t really need it; just be upfront about where you operate from and consider ways of contacting customers aside from email. A little personal information can go a long way, and could minimize concerns of accessibility, trust, or safety.

Customer service is an extremely important aspect of your business that is often overlooked. Following these simple steps can boost your customer’s loyalty to your company and also increase sales! I suggest you start by creating some customer service goals for your support team. Be sure to align these goals to your business goals so you’re on track! This Customer Service Goal Template will help you get started!

Customer Service Software: The New Foundation of Marketing Strategies

More than 75% of customer-company interactions now occur online. Customers are continuously reaching out to companies over social media. Marketing teams that originally focused just on marketing over social media are now responsible for the customer service interactions. Customers constantly interact with these companies and expect quick meaningful responses.

Here are some great examples of customers contacting companies via social media. Shane from Canada contacted Samsung and explained to company representatives how he is a loyal customer. He told them all the products he owned and then kindly asked if they would send him a new phone for free. In return he offered this picture…

customer-service-samsung-canada

Samsung took this opportunity to show off its excellent customer service and market it to thousands of people. They sent him a new phone, and even customized it by putting his drawing on the back! Social media is a great way to get in contact with your customers, but remember, it’s okay to have some fun once in awhile. Samsung and other companies around the world often showcase their excellent customer service over social media because their marketing channels are so well established.

For a better customer service, use conversational technology to easily manage customer conversations. Request a demo now!

Woveon, an intelligent customer service startup, is paving the way in this online industry. Woveon is an easy-to-use online application providing businesses a centralized location to manage their customer channels, such as social media and phone calls. Using machine learning, social listening, a wide breadth of data, and a clean user interface, Woveon helps prioritize inquiries, identify valuable customers, and suggest personalized content. It levels the playing field for small businesses to compete with larger social media teams and helps enterprises visualize customer journeys. It simplifies online customer relations and makes businesses more efficient in managing the touch points they have with customers.

Learn How Woveon Can Improve Your Marketing Strategy

I recently read on Forrester, “I believe consumer behavior will continue to push eBusinesses to re-evaluate their approach to social media and move to more strategic interactions between marketing, branding, and customer service. Consumer adoption of both direct social support and peer-to-peer support has exploded in the last few years. Further, the majority of consumers expect a reply to their Facebook and Twitter posts.”

Companies should be working their best to get their customers to interact with their brand online. This can include Facebook, Twitter, email, YouTube and Google Ads. Millions of consumers are already online, and it is easy to reach larger audiences. But once you have reached these larger audiences, how do you manage the questions?

Single Platform Integration

Most companies have multiple channels of communication with their customers. Woveon has created a platform that combines all of your customer channels onto a single page. The simplicity allows your marketing and customer service teams to never miss a conversation.

Conversation History

Conversation history is another important feature when dealing with customer service and marketing. It helps to look at past interactions so that if a similar problem arises, you can quickly solve the problem with the steps in front of you. This feature also allows you to know the customer you are dealing with better.

Conversation Prioritization

Woveon’s advanced artificial intelligence and machine learning capabilities can prioritize customers. The program looks into the customer’s social media or purchase history and identify more valuable customers. This can include people with large followings on social media. Your customer service team can quickly respond and market how well your brand takes care of its customers.

Customer Service, The Foundation of Online Marketing

Every company’s priority is its customers. So why not focus on your valuable customers and solve the problems that arise? Woveon has the ability to simplify and better market your customer service. With so many different social media platforms, it can be hard for companies; however, integrating all channels onto a single page makes it extremely easy to keep track of all customers conversations. Conversation history allows representatives to look back on past interactions to learn more about your customer before interacting with them. It takes a software platform like Woveon to provide superior customer service. 

CTA marketing strategy template

Want Your Customer Service To Be Sustainable? Be Dynamic

Guest blog by Jemma Martin

Customer service is subjective. It’s no longer about responding in the ‘right’ way. There is no such thing.

It’s about having the ability to be agile enough to facilitate the right answer in the right moment. Because every customer will want something different, depending on the product, the medium, the day, their mood… it’s all up for negotiation. And without this kind of flexibility, you’re losing out.

The right way is dynamic. The right way is the fastest, easiest way possible; no matter where your customer is.

multichannel communication

Here’s an example. Last week on social media I saw an advertisement for fashion prescription glasses. I have been wanting to freshen up my physical appearance and I was due for some new glasses on my health plan, so I clicked on the link. I recognised some trendy brands and the website suggested I try them on in store. I left the page and forgot all about it.

The next day I was meeting a friend in town. She was running late so I walked through the mall and saw a sign with glasses of the brand I saw online. I walked into the optometrist, tried on a bunch of options and was given great customer service by the staff. I was still in store when my friend met me, and she ended up trying on some glasses too.

The staff then contacted my healthcare provider and gave me a follow-up call the next day. I wrote to the company via their social media page, and they responded to me within a few hours. The next day I went back in store to finalise my purchase of two new pairs of prescription glasses. After the weekend, I received an SMS advising me that my new frames were ready for collection and to follow the URL link in the message to book in a time to have them fitted. The web link directed me to my local store’s online booking system. I had a question about this appointment, so I called the store and they booked in my timeslot for the next day.

It was all very smooth, easy and convenient. And I told A LOT of family and friends about this shopping experience. I now think that I’ll buy some prescription sunglasses from the same company because it was so easy to deal with them.

So, who is responsible for my loyalty? The initial marketer? The in-store salesperson? The follow-up caller? The social media assistant? Or the individual who decided that the process should be seamless?

Or was it all artificial intelligence? Some data and algorithms that resulted in a positive customer service experience?

Honestly, I don’t care. I can tell you that before this experience, I’ve spent many hours shopping for new glasses and had gotten part way through the buying process and not completed the purchase due to frustration.

Why is that? What made this company different? It’s simple; they anticipated that my needs are dynamic, and created customer centric solutions before I, the every-day consumer, realised I needed them.

Over the course of a week, I used multiple mediums to communicate with this retailer; including face to face, text messaging, their website (through the SMS link), social media and phone calls.

I communicated with them when I was in my kitchen, my home office, in their city store, in a store at another location, through my mobile device and through my laptop. Sometimes I was alone, sometimes I was with my husband or a friend. It just worked.

This retailer recognised that I was living my life and that it looks different every day. They made everything easy. Their customer service process was dynamic, just like me.

customer-satisfaction-service

This is now a non-negotiable for companies. Do you want to be sustainable? Yes. Well, how much? At the cost of upskilling your staff? At the cost of creating new processes and implementing in new systems? Can you anticipate your customers’ needs before they do?

The right way to provide customer service, is to do so dynamically. Because your customers themselves are now agents of change.

Expecting customers to follow old breadcrumbs all the way to the checkout isn’t smart business. It’s those very breadcrumbs that will keep you from attracting the customers you need to keep that checkout open.

Are you agile enough, to facilitate the right answers for your customers today?

 

jemma-martin-customer-service-customer-experience-expertJemma is Sales Team Manager at the RAA Group and is studying her MBA at Torrens University. She loves to inspire people to think differently, create innovative solutions and take action. With a strong history in frontline sales, in both face to face and contact centre environments, Jemma believes that questioning the status quo is integral to sustainable success.

 

The Art and Science of Customer Engagement

It’s a no-brainer that we no longer interact with customers the same way we did face-to-face in brick and mortar. With customers increasingly using social media, apps and websites to shop and browse, they are being empowered with more information and more choice. With so much choice available to the customer, it really boils down to the quality of their customer experience with the company that ultimately wins a customer and gains their loyalty. For any company that wants to increase their conversion rates and retain their customers (which company doesn’t, really), you need to excel at customer engagement.

Learn how to manage your Customer Engagement. Sign Up for  FREE Conversation Technology demo today!

What is Customer Engagement?

Customer engagement is, in its simplest form, the interaction between a company and their customers. But it should not be mixed up with Customer Service. Customer Service is an interaction with a customer as a result of the customer reaching out to the company.  Customer engagement on the other hand, is an interaction between the company and customer where both parties are actively reaching out to each other. On social media, this takes form of companies posting engaging content such as quotes and discounts to delight their followers, as well as responding and reacting to customers who reach out to them.

I’ll break this down with an example:

A customer has a problem with a company’s product. He takes a picture and posts this on the company’s Facebook.

Scenario 1: The company sees this issue and replies with a solution to the customer. End of interaction. This is customer service.

Related:
What are the Best Strategies to Ace Customer Engagement

Scenario 2: The company replies to this customer publicly with a solution; and privately messages him asking for his email address in order to send him a small token of appreciation for letting them know. This time, the customer posts up his satisfaction with how the company has handled the issue. In response, the company reply favourably to his post and reshares it to encourage other customers to also contact them about issues, because they are actively listening to their customers. This, is customer engagement.

How to do Customer Engagement right?

So, customer engagement is a little more work than your traditional customer service. It might be a real pain, but with such widespread use of the internet, that is the level of customer experience you need to provide to attract, retain and engage customers to develop them into promoters. Whilst there are countless ways to engage with your customers, there are three crucial points you need to address in every customer engagement strategy.

1. Be Omnipresent

customer engagement-customer service - omnipresent

Being omnipresent means that you’re everywhere at the same time. Meaning, you should be on social media, email, phone, chatbot and whatever other communication channel your company uses, all at the same time, around the clock. Customers expect a company to have presence on at least 3 to 4 social channels, as well as fast response times across all these channels. 32% of people who contact a company for customer support on social media expects a reply within 30 minutes. 42% expect a response within 60 minutes. Crazy right! If you’re anything like me, you’re a bit of a sloth replying to your friends on social media. Just imagine if you had hundreds messaging you every day expecting instant replies.

zootopia slow sloth-customer engagement - timeliness - customer service

Some ways companies are overcoming this hurdle is by outsourcing customer service, using social media management platforms, or just start slow by using social listening tools. Customers want to have their voice heard on a channel they use, and very importantly, want to know that you value their time.

2. Provide seamless omnichannel experiences

customer engagement - omnichannel - customer service - cmo - customer support

Omnichannel experiences mean blending the touchpoints a company has with its customers to provide a wholesome, integrated experience. Not only will this improve customer satisfaction, but the reduction of customer effort has been proven to be a huge contributor to customer loyalty.

Disney and Tomorrowland are amongst the top in providing an omnichannel experience to their customers. Customers start from mobile optimised websites, to online itinerary planning, to a mobile app that can be used to find locations at the venue. They have made it easier for customers to transition from platform to platform and from online to offline, making these entertainment giants some of the most successful in the world.

3. Be Personal

Nothing better than having human touch, really. In a Genesys Global Survey, 40% of 9000 consumers say better human service mattered to them the most in customer support, much more than other options such as integration of more channels and enriched content.

customer engagement - human touch - customer service - cmo - customer support - personalization

Being personal goes beyond using their name when interacting with them or showing a picture of your face on the chatbot screen; it also encompasses being responsive to their emotions and knowing their history with the company. The end goal is for the customer to develop feelings of personal connection to a company or brand. Once they are in this comfortable stage, it’s much more likely they will end up becoming evangelists of the company.

A fantastic example of online personalization is Hubspot’s smart content. Smart content intelligently personalizes content to the user’s need. Using information such as their job title, average page views or stage in the buying process, smart content changes the content the user sees on the website. A regular visitor would for example, see different call-to-actions or forms compared to a new user. The result? Personalized content did 42% better.

Hubspot smart content - customer engagement - customer service - personalization

Whilst there is no one right way to do customer engagement, being omnipresent, omnichannel and personalized (even to some degree) has reaped many benefits for all companies that have implemented it. What are you doing in your business to engage with your customers? Share with us in the comments below!

Hack: Lazy Customer Service Tips To Get The Most Loyal Customers

One of the keys to maintaining a thriving business is a steady customer base. The Pareto principle states that 80% of business comes from only 20% of customers. This exemplifies the importance of your customer loyalty. Add to this the fact that the cost of attracting new customers is almost 6x’s more expensive and you have a powerful incentive to keep that core group of customers happy.

If your business’s goal is to live long and prosper, then any efforts toward building customer loyalty will certainly pay off. Following are 7 tips to increase and maintain greater customer loyalty.

Importance Of Customer Service in Customer Retention

1. Stand For Something

Customers are more likely to ignore you if your company doesn’t stand for anything. Research from the Corporate Executive Board that included 7,000 consumers from across the U.S. found that of those consumers who said they had a strong relationship with a brand, 64 percent cited shared values as the primary reason. If you want loyal customers, you need create real connections with them. What do you stand for?

2. Communicate with Customers

Whether it’s an email newsletter, a monthly flier, a reminder card for a tuneup, or a holiday greeting card, set up a system for reaching out to the customers you already have. Dedicate time to creating and maintaining a database of contact information, including phone, email, and snail mail addresses. If there’s a social media element to your business, invite people to your page or website and keep that online element fresh.

3. Commit to Quality Service

Go above and beyond your customer’s’ expectations. Your product knowledge will engender confidence and trust and enable you to anticipate their questions, focus on their needs and guide you both to an appropriate solution to their situation. It’s almost impossible to ask too many questions of your customers. Once you know what they want, you will be able to deliver the right product at the right time. In simplest terms: Listen to your customers and go that extra mile. Listening to customers also often enables you to make suggestions about your services and products the customer hasn’t thought about and they will appreciate your knowledge and your expertise to help them resolve their needs.

4. Courtesy and Respect

respect-importance of customer service-marketing-cmo-conversation management-customer success

You know how you like to be treated when you’re the customer. We all like to be accorded courtesy and treated as a sensible adult. You NEVER argue with a customer. Even if you know your customer is wrong, resolve the sales question or service issue quickly and in their favor and you’ve made a friend. Research shows that helping a customer resolve his or her issue results in continued business and likely makes a customer for life. Repeat business, not to mention word-of-mouth referrals, is the lifeblood of bottom lines

5. Be helpful even if your business can’t help them

If you can’t get your customer what they want, offer to help them find it elsewhere. It lets them know that you are willing to help without expecting anything in return. That unselfish gesture will make you stand tall in your customer’s’ eyes and will have them return next time.

6. Train Your Employees Thoroughly

Your employees are the face of your company, and training can empower them to make your company prosper. Training sessions should be a positive experience; boring training sessions are a waste of time and money and foster a negative attitude toward the company.

Encourage your employees to engage in training and explain how it will help them on the job and why it’s good for business. An excellent way to teach is on-the-job training, which facilitates on-the-spot demonstration of best practices.

7. Follow Up With Your Customers

No matter what the product or service you have sold a customer, you can be assured that they will appreciate it if you follow up in a couple of days to see how it’s working out. And it may lead to further business and more customers when your attention to detail and customer service is passed on by a happy customer.

The Art of Customer Retention

Customer service is a never ending task that will continue to build your brand loyalty. Customer Service is a long term commitment to customer satisfaction. It’s time to re-think how you engage and interact with your customers. There are many tactics, but no shortcuts. The tactics above should hopefully give you some fresh ideas for approaching retention, but they’re not a cure-all. Your product and service will do most of the heavy lifting in keeping customers loyal, and there are no shortcuts for that.

While pleasing customers with superior customer service is important, don’t forget to align your customer service goals to your business goals! There’s no point if you’ve got good brand image, if you don’t use it to your advantage! Realign with the Customer Service Goals template.

Making Returns on the Conversational Economy

Article by Adam Rawot, CEO Woveon

I remember reading an article almost ten years ago talking about how teens were sending over 40 texts a day on average. The tone of the article was incredulous, but the statistic pales in comparison to how we exist online now. Speaking personally, it’s not implausible I send off 40 messages before 10 AM in my morning inbox check in. Sarah Guo, a partner of Greylock, expressed it succinctly when she took to Medium: “More than a decade ago, academics such as Thurlow described a “communication imperative”—human beings are driven to maximize their communication volume and satisfaction. More recently, researchers have described it as compulsion.”

While constant connectedness is old news, technology has finally achieved a point it can leverage this behavior. As with all big shifts, there will be survivors and those who don’t adapt fast enough. Companies will need to change to a conversational mode of thought to maintain the experiences users expect and deliver the individuality anticipated.

People Always Talk

multichannel communication

Nearly 25 years ago, Harvard Business Review wrote “today if you’re not on the phone or talking with colleagues and customers, chances are you’ll hear, “Start talking and get to work!” In the new economy, conversations are the most important form of work.” Conversations are how we track knowledge flows. Conversation flows are how people create value, share information, and illustrate how companies operate.

A cited example is McKinsey. McKinsey prides itself heavily on the intelligence of its members, and by an extension the true value of McKinsey over other firms is its extensive knowledge base. That knowledge is curated and developed through internal conversation and shared through internal conversation. In short, McKinsey is conversation.  

We are entering a new age for product development – one dictated by the conversational economy. Broadly, the conversational economy is the catchall phrase for companies, products, and ideas built on, alongside, or relying heavily on a conversational interface. More simply, they are services that leverage conversation.

This definition is board, and intentionally so. While some apps like iMessage, Snapchat and email obviously fit into this definition, conversation works as a backbone in services like Facebook, customer service complaints, and online advertising as well. Finding a common backbone helps derive a working model for these services.

Between the myriad of mobile apps used every day, access to the internet, and the seemingly innate human need to feel connected, conversation based platforms are dominating our lives. We have effectively destroyed the asynchronous quality of day to day life. We persist online, and, consequently, our conversations with one another never really begin or end. This data stream is a jackpot for product creation.

Smarter Everyday

Artificial intelligence, in the eyes of the public, has snuck past an important threshold. Presentations by titans like Facebook and Google have assured that we are moving away from the robotic idea of natural language processing in a rigid sense to natural language understanding. In other words, instead of responding to a keyword or a phrase, computers are beginning to be able to understand sentence, paragraphs, and intent.

There are a variety of causes for this – improvement of machine learning and deep learning, Moore’s Law, and rate of mobile and app data collection, to name a few. Algorithms and software are taking on their own intelligence. Just the idea that failed outcomes can make systems better is an astounding twist compared to five years prior.

Additionally, we’re in the middle of the boom of ambient computing, the idea that our environments and surroundings are responsive. We don’t have to open our phone or flip open a laptop to be connected. On the way to work I may pass a few smart cameras, a plethora of listening iPhones and Galaxy phones, an Alexa, Chromecasts, and more. Despite this, I would characterize myself as one of the less connected people in my demographic. At every step of my day my voice can be heard, position tracked, and activity monitored. Being connected no longer has much to do with if our phone is on our person or if we’re behind a keyboard.

Although passive collection has subtly pushed past our natural aversion to share information with technologies we don’t understand and people we don’t know, this one-sided trade has come with the expectation of usability. When software doesn’t work or apps crash, we no longer blame ourselves, we blame companies. We are inundated with choices, but that means that we have little tolerance of poor experiences. Users are more empowered than ever in that they don’t have to subject themselves to experiences they don’t want or content they’d rather avoid. We so demand these freedoms that events like net neutrality rapidly cause public outcry and social faux pas by companies like EA tank sales.

Computing, connectedness, and data almost completely undermine how product managers need to think about designing products. The need to leverage conversation to deliver value has emerged as one of the most critical company problems. IDEO acquiring a data analytics company, giants like Apple acqui-hiring boutique companies with human-centric software, and Salesforce pushing Einstein all serve as mine canaries that even the most established companies are racing and struggling to adapt.

Buying In and Cashing Out

As George Box famously cited – all models are wrong, but some are useful. Where is the utility of viewing products as ongoing conversations?

A helpful place to start is in how companies have historically fended off competition. These ‘moats’ include things like brand loyalty, unique data sources, and intellectual property. However, as technologies like AI are more readily available via open source projects, cloud hosting and computing are only a few clicks away, and systems of engagement continually emerge, the traditional ideas of tech defensibility are evaporating. In a Greylock article on Medium, they wrote “In all of these markets, the battle is moving from the old moats, the sources of the data, to the new moats, what you do with the data.”

In another words, companies are now finding defensibility through the experiences they create. To create these experiences for customers in the conversational era, companies will have to harness existing behavior, respond personally, and work faster.

Harnessing existing behavior is an exercise in invisibility. The real frontier for conversational companies to generate solutions for problems before the consumer is even aware. For example, Facebook realized that people asked for recommendations on their newsfeeds. Instead of creating a new service, they had posts automatically update with reviews and locations. They created a new card that changed automatically depending on what a user wrote. As expressed by a product designer at Facebook: “We didn’t try to invent a completely new behavior; rather, we found an existing one and made it way better.”

To cite an example within my own career, food industry companies often lose hours if not days within food recall investigations. Tracking a faulty shipment through several distributors can be tricky. We worked to create a product that reads the complaint before the owner may even be aware it exists and start and investigation. By the time an owner is even aware there is a problem, a report is ready. By approaching complaints, invoices, and shipments and messages between companies, value can be created seamlessly in a second layer.

As I’ve written about before, personalization is an increasingly critical element of producing customer lifetime value. Harvard Business Review started to notice this trend in their research on customer service: “Even as artificial intelligence becomes embedded in everyday interactions; human conversation remains the primary way people make complex purchases or emotional decisions.” The fatal error in a lot of software products is focusing on company efficiency over consumer experience. While these changes may boost bottom line in the short term, they encourage competitor entry and consumer drop off.

Conversational apps have an obvious outlet for personalization, and the power behind them allow easy switching between automation and human elements. More simply: “these intelligent agents will facilitate one-on-one conversations between consumers and sales or customer service representatives rather than simply replacing human interaction.” Imagine a case where someone sits on a delayed flight and sends out an angry tweet. A conversational built system could find the message, tag it, and route it to an agent. While the agent delivers a personal response with an update, the system has already sent an alleviating reward of extra miles to the customer. The captain may be alerted of sentiment on the plane and deliver an announcement. While an autoresponder may have been cheaper, the customer will now remember the exceptional level of immediate service and is more likely to return. As information and computing become free, the real commodity becomes the personality of the person on the other end of the line.

In the shorter term, there’s a simpler way to think about AI adoption – people don’t trust what they don’t understand. In the classic product management advice, it’s best to start with a problem and move to solution. Leveraging conversation is a means to building a better product, but that doesn’t change what the bottom lines should be. In other words, “Bots do not need to be human to be human centered.”

Outside of the shift in new product priorities, another major implication is how we use the technologies we use currently. In a blog post, Dan Rover (sp?) declared that bot won’t replace apps, but inboxes were the new home screen. Our email, text messages, and more were queues demanding our intention and driving our usage.

Companies leveraging platforms like WeChat have been able to effectively create micro services and apps for things like ordering that have integrated seamlessly with how we act now. Bot companies that are able to daisy-chain onto conversations to do scheduling and commuter planning have shone in venture capital funding. It’s not inconceivable the next unicorn will have nothing to do with creating a new platform but layering effortlessly onto the ways we talk with those platforms now.

Speak Now

We talk online all the time, but computing has finally let us create value from that. Companies need to invest in ways to leverage these conversations to deliver seamless and personal content. This means focusing on personnel and focusing on alleviating frictions than automation. Companies that don’t value the communication imperative and connectedness of customers will soon find themselves lagging in experience, and, later, sales.

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A prime example of this is Amazon Web Services’ fast climb to dominance. Legacy systems like Oracle required costly deployments and developers, and setting up cloud instances on AWS is only a few clicks away. IaaS records have shown Amazon’s sheer dominance. Oracle, trying to defend by housing data and curating an elite brand, couldn’t compete with Amazon’s engagement accessibility.

Perhaps the most obvious implication of smart conversational apps is efficiency. However, despite all the news and hype around an artificial intelligence singularity, businesses – and their customers – still revolve around the interactions person to person. This means that products needs to be resolved around facilitating conversation, collecting information, and iterating form that information. The AI boom has made it easier than ever to facilitate personal conversations no matter where customers are online.