Watch out! You’re failing to talk to your customers

Bots and Artificial Intelligence (AI) are all over the place and have been for a while now. Some companies are embracing this technology in useful ways. Some are trying to be ‘down with the kids’ by launching experiences that end up useless or just a gimmick. Others, well some others aren’t even thinking about prioritising this.

I guess the big questions, particularly for those unsure of where to start or how to leverage these technologies, are ‘what value can this technology create for our customers and for us?’ and importantly, ‘how can we get there if we don’t embrace digital service already?’

Some stats, because everyone loves a stat

It’s been 25 years since the first SMS was sent. Now 25 years on, how natural/satisfying/useful does it feel when you get an instant heads up that your parcel is going to arrive today, without having to check your emails?

In 2017 1.3 billion people used Facebook Messenger each month — with 2 billion conversations between customers & businesses.WhatsApp just launched a product for small business customers — very similar attributes to their motherships Pages for business.

There are now SO many ways to talk: Do I direct message on Instagram? Do I message through Facebook Messenger? Do I WhatsApp? Do I text? Or do I SnapChat? With 1.3b people using Facebook Messenger each month, it’s natural behaviour and is the perfect place to enable your customers to reach you.

17 billion real-time video chats on Facebook Messenger — 2x more than 2017. Again, this is becoming natural behaviour, particularly with the likes of FaceTime and Stories across Facebook, Instagram and SnapChat. Should companies be looking to test and validate real-time video as a means to help customers solve problems? This plays into creating human experiences as we move further into a world where customers want convenience with a couple of taps.

Times are changing

Customers, technology and competition are changing, rapidly, and a lot of companies are behind, some are just keeping up and very few are ahead of the curve.

In 2017, I had more conversations with companies through digital channels such as Facebook Messenger, Live Chat, Messenger, Bots and Twitter than I did through call centres. I’m not the only one doing this but at this moment in time I’m certainly not the majority. However that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be thinking about different ways to serve customers. Companies should be preparing for this shift in behaviour right now. You only need to look at examples such as Blockbuster vs Netflix or Hotels vs Airbnb, to know that if you don’t adapt to change, you’ll become irrelavant.

If I need to contact to solve a problem, I do my research to make sure there’s absolutely no other way to do it than just calling — a quick Tweet or DM usually answers this.

I’m quite stubborn in that way, I guess I’ve got high expectations of the companies I choose, so I expect them to be able to service me in my given channel of choice at that particular time.

Start somewhere

Companies that have embraced digital channels, bravo(!) — you’re the reason I join, the reason I stay, the reason I recommend.

To those of you that haven’t got any form of digital service channel, start simply and prove the value to those around you and slowly but surely you’ll start to take people on a journey. There’s plenty of ways to do this and it’ll help you to validate demand, share success stories and most importantly, provide customers with choice.

Remember you don’t need to launch to EVERYONE! Go Beta, create a test group, don’t be afraid to learn out loud. Once you start to scale, if you find you can’t cope — simply switch it off, go plan your resources and switch it back on when you can maintain it and provide a super experience.

When Bots are most useful

So onto Bots and AI. (For the record, I’m not saying that humans are the wrong approach, I’m simply focusing on scenarios where bots are the way to go.)

Many companies are focusing solely on human chat (human to human), without considering the truly amazing value that bots can bring (human to machine); not only to the company but to customers too. Human to machine scares people. They don’t realise that you can start with human to machine and in defined scenarios, then hand over to a human.

It’s important to clearly identify where the bot should be utilised, and where humans should be utilised. This is by far the best way to think about the different scenarios and where bot is the answer — thank you Paul Adams!

From Intercom’s ‘Rethinking customer support automation’.

Think of a time when you had a problem with a product or service. You went to Google and found endless articles, you decided to go through to the legit website and you’re totally lost in their help section. You’ve no other option than to call — but if you saw you could ‘Need help — Chat now’, that would have been the ideal scenario, given you’re busy between tasks.

On launching Chat, you could be speaking to a bot and that bot could help you with easy, common or repetitive questions and if it starts to get complicated, the bot then hands you over to a human within the same chat interface. This is probably one of the most useful and simplest cases I’ve come across so far — bots don’t need to bring complexity, just help get a job done quickly and efficiently. Over time, you’d look to train the bot to handle more and more scenarios (that make sense).

Human only can be time consuming, and in some scenarios you want to provide a superwoman experience that can respond instantly — as we know, customers are gradually expecting more — convenience, speed and personalisation.

An example to bring this to life

To explore the value of the two types of service, I thought it’d be good to share an example scenario.

John is the Human
Sally is the Bot

Imagine you’re on the move and you’re surfing the internet for a summer holiday. It’s a real pain for you to go through 20+ packages. You know your budget, you know your expectations — why not get the job done quickly, with a helping hand?

Sally has the ability to handover to John at any time during the session if she can’t answer a question or feels that the customer requires a human.

So, you start speaking to Sally and unlike John, Sally can respond instantly. She can include links to hotels in the blink of an eye, she can even pull in reviews from TripAdvisor and present visual cues such as buttons to make it a seamless experience; no need to keep typing back and forth, just hit a button to respond to her suggestion.

Sally in some cases means less Johns; which in turn means lower costs but the solution must be right for the customer. Sally could play a huge part in helping a company reduce their customer service centre costs, drive efficiency and build up a knowledge base that not all Johns could cater for without the help of an intranet site; but companies should never forget the value of human interaction.

What can you do next?

Well you could read some more:

And then you could start to explore what others are doing in this space (not just competitors!) and start to put together a plan, start small but have a vision of where you want to get it.

I’m super interested in this sort of this, so if you’ve got anything to share or want to chat you can say Hello over on Twitter!

I write about Product, Teams, Data & CX 🚀

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Chanade Hemming

Chanade Hemming

I write about Product, Teams, Data & CX 🚀

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