Sharing the Love: Amy Krouse Rosenthal and the Emerging Connection between Author and Reader

By | Automation, Bots, Customer Satisfaction, Texting | No Comments

Throughout much of history, authors have maintained a distance from readers, their experiences separated by both time and place. As novelist Paolo Coelho noted, writing is “a solitary experience.” The work of the author was often created in isolation—seemingly forged in the rarified air of their literary mountain before being handed down to the waiting masses.

Now, not so much.

Modern writers are encouraged to engage with their readers and, thanks to technology, have numerous possible channels to choose from. This makes the modern author more a reachable human, and less a remote mystic.

This may seem grievous to the lone wolf author who would prefer to remain isolated and mysterious. But the reality in our connected world is that readers expect a level of access to authors, and success in the literary world depends on it. In his editorial piece “The Aloof Author Is Dead, Long Live the Writer,” David DiSalvo of Forbes Magazine writes:

Technology has riddled the barriers between authors and readers full of holes. Ignoring the multiple ways readers can interface with writers isn’t an option — but more to the point, why would anyone want to ignore them? In the new economy, writers must build brands for themselves and maintain them over time. Every mode of interaction with readers offers opportunities to strengthen the brand.

As novelist and blogger Kate Pullinger described in her article “Connecting Readers to Writers: the only possible future of publishing,” “(T)he only important question left, really, is how to connect writers to readers. Any publisher who isn’t addressing this directly and urgently will be in trouble soon.”

While blogs and eBooks have begun providing a somewhat interactive experience, printed literature has remained in the same static place it has for centuries. After all, how can the ancient medium of paper provide a modern interactive experience?

Enter author Amy Krouse Rosenthal.

Amy is bending the world of print media towards truer interactivity by partnering with OneReach to use text-based audience participation. Written in a wry, memoir style, her new book Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal invites readers to actively join in the discussion.

At the beginning of the book, readers are encouraged to text “Hello” to a Chicago number (the author’s hometown). A cheery greeting comes back from the author, which sets up a relationship of sorts between author and reader.

At various intervals in the book, Amy prompts the reader to engage by using text inputs to the previously used number. Information either flows from the reader to the author (such as self-portraits and photos) or from the author to the reader (such as audio files of a poet reading his work). All of these inputs are then posted on the author’s website.

This unique immersive experience was done very intentionally. Amy Krouse Rosenthal says “the text-messaging aspect of the book, at the end of the day, is about connecting with people.” This human need for connection is well-documented and has even been recently called “as fundamental as our need for food and water” by neuroscientist Matthew Lieberman.

We are only just beginning to see this connection between author and reader. What OneReach has done is create an interactive and immersive experience that has been lacking up until now. Future writers may be able to construct an entirely new way of providing details or even compel an interaction with their story lines. The possibilities are limited only by the author’s imagination. Consider these:

• Choose Your Own Adventure books. Remember those? Also known as “gamebooks,” they used to let the reader choose different endings and options as they progressed through the pages of the book. How cool would it be to adapt that in a more technologically immersive way? A reader could text their choices and receive instructions for the next step in the story.

• Interactive mysteries. Readers would need to solve part of the mystery before getting a text with the next clue. This would make them almost a character in the story as they help to solve the crime.

• Immersive talk tracks. Imagine going on the Boston walking tour and getting texts showing images of what you’re looking at, but from the colonial period. Bot technology could also be used so you could ask questions about what you’re seeing and get a real-time answer.

• Scavenger hunts. Thanks to the proliferation of activities like Pokemon Go and geocaching, scavenging has never been more popular. Authors can include location-specific or theme-specific clues and readers can respond with the correct answer or upload an image of the item.

• Personalized books. When I was a child, one of my favorite books was a personalized one, where my own name had been included in the storyline. Admittedly, it was done with old technology, and looked like someone had just clumsily fed the template through a typewriter. That didn’t matter to me. I loved the idea that I was part of the story, and felt so very important! Using texts, an author could now give prompts for names, details, and image uploads, essentially having the reader build the story as they go. At the end, readers could even get a digital or printed copy of the story they created.

These are just a few ideas, limited only by the imagination of writers now and in the future. As culture changes, so must the authors and publishing companies operating within it. Although really, no matter how much technology changes, people are—as always—still just earnestly searching for connection. And a writer like Amy Krouse Rosenthal gives them just that.

Try it for yourself and let us know what you think!

 

Image courtesy of www.whoisamy.com, taken by Brooke Hummer

customer service skills

[INFOGRAPHIC] The Top 10 Customer Service Skills You Need to Have

By | Customer Service, Guest Posts, Infographic | No Comments

 

This guest post is written by Matthew Olszewski, a Polish writer who covers topics surrounding personal development, psychology and business. 

If you want to stand out from your competition, it isn’t enough to have a high quality product. Many companies have realized the fact that the market isn’t as important as the customers. In addition, the present market is maturing, and acquiring new customers is getting harder. Therefore, it is more profitable to retain existing customers than to acquire new ones. According to experts, maintaining a loyal customer costs a company much less than acquire a new one. These costs are mainly related to marketing, selling and adapting to meet new customer needs. Losing customers means losing not only losing their profits from one transaction, but all purchases which he could make in the future.

Gaining customer loyalty is something very precious. Satisfied customers that are associated with the company for many years, should be the ultimate goal of any company’s activities. This approach is increasingly characterized by forward-thinking companies. Even small entrepreneurs see an opportunity for additional earnings the more they care about their customers.

Each employee should be able to create and satisfy customer needs. However, not every employee is fit to work with customers. The person who is responsible for the company’s relationships with customers, should have the appropriate knowledge, skills and a high work ethic. The following infographic made by mattsfactor.com represents the most basic customer service skills. This is obviously a small part of knowledge that as an entrepreneur you should know. I hope that the tips on presented infographic are so practical that you will be able to use them immediately.

customer service skillsCredit: Matthew Olszewski

Customer Service Infographic via Matt’s Factor

Why Your Mobile Strategy Isn’t Complete Without Text Messaging

By | Mobile, Texting | No Comments

mobile strategy

In today’s world, customer service is no longer restricted to a simple phone call. A recent report from Dimension Data found that digital interactions account for 35% of all contact center interactions.

In fact, customers are so vested in the idea of emerging channels that contact centers have ranked it their number one priority. As digital use climbs, nearly 75% of contact centers predict an increase in non-voice interactions within two years. Over 40% expect a decrease in voice traffic in that same time period.

Some of this digital dominance can be attributed to smartphones, which have exploded in popularity over the past few years.According to Pew Research, over 64% of American adults now own a smartphone, up from 35% in 2011. But it’s not just limited to the U.S.—one in five people across the globe own a smartphone.

Global smartphone users typically spend 2 hours and 30 minutes a day on their phone, trumping tablets, computers and even television for the most time spent in front of a screen. Smartphones are also dominating the connected device market, and are predicted to surpass 1.7 billion units in global sales by 2017.

And customers are certainly app happy—there are 224 million active app users in the U.S, a little over 70% of the population. And over85% of time spent on a smartphone is spent in apps.

But let’s break this down a little bit.

Why Your Mobile Strategy Can’t Rely on Apps Alone

Of the 85% of time spent in apps, 32% of this is games and 18% is Facebook. The rest of the time is broken up between news, productivity, and other apps (see below). And while it’s true that 91% of top brands have an app, unless you’re a big hitter like Facebook or Amazon, you’re going to have a hard time getting a customer’s attention.

Part of this is because 42% of all app time spent on smartphones takes place within an individual’s most-used app, and 75% of time is spent in their top 4 apps. For the average person, those are most likely going to be social networking apps and games. Think about it–what are the most commonly used apps on your phone?

In addition, apps aren’t exactly a high-earning channel for companies. Gartner predicted that 93% of mobile apps will be free by 2016, and for those apps that do generate revenue Apple and Google also take a 30% cut. Granted, most enterprise apps are free for existing customers, but creating these apps can be a time-consuming process that cost an average of $270,000 to develop and deploy Creating apps for different platforms (iOS, Android, even Blackberry) and deploying regular updates can significantly increase costs.

For companies that do develop an app, there’s no guarantee that customers will use them. Four out of five customers spend most of their time in their top five apps, meaning a service app may be overlooked altogether. Customers may have 30-40 apps installed on their phone, but Google research found customers only use about 12 of those apps within a 30-day period.

And apps aren’t always guaranteed to work—according to Pew Research, over 50% of consumers have experienced a problem with a mobile app. But, perhaps the most worrisome fact for businesses is that 79% of consumers will only retry an app once or twice before abandoning it. Despite the fact that every day over 50 million mobile apps are downloaded, 95% are abandoned within a month.

The good news is that you don’t have to rely on an app to provide great customer service or self-service.

Why Texting Needs to Be Part of Your Mobile Strategy

A recent study by Pew Research found that text messaging is “the most widely-used smartphone feature.” Not only do 97% of American smartphone owners use text messaging, but they use it more frequently than any other channel. On a global scale, 90% of people text at least once a day, sending over 11 billion texts daily. With usage like this, why haven’t more businesses picked it up?

To their credit, some businesses have. Over 37% of contact centers offer SMS, with 23% planning to add it in the coming year.

Your company can begin adopting text messaging using these following steps:

    1. Guide agents on proper use.
    2. Integrate it with other channels.
    3. Decide between long codes and short codes.
    4. Find a balance between automation and live agents.
    5. Identify text support targets.
    6. Create text support discovery mechanisms.
    7. Identify what success looks like.
    8. Recognize customer problems.
    9. Have a customer experience plan.
    10. Create a text support rollout plan.

Companies that have adopted texting have received an overwhelmingly positive response from customers. Customers shipping packages with UPS or FedEx can opt-in to receive automated texts that track their shipment and medical organizations can send patients reminders about when they should take their medication. Contact centers can send customers personalized texts based on service history and past interactions, increasing customer satisfaction.

Conclusion

Apps are a highly-used communication channel, but for most businesses, the upfront cost and predominant use of gaming/social apps don’t justify the investment. That’s why texting is such an essential part of your mobile strategy–it can do almost anything apps can do. It’s fast, it can be professional but personal, it’s easy to use, it’s in real-time, it picks up where you left off, it connects to the Internet, etc. There are some situations where an app will work better, and that’s okay. But before you move ahead with a mobile app, ask yourself one question:

Can I use text for that?

To learn more about why texting is an essential part of your mobile strategy, download the whitepaper here.

Image from Pixshark. Edited. Labeled for reuse with modification.

business bot

Why Your Business Needs A Bot

By | Bots | No Comments

Both technological capabilities and consumer preferences are evolving faster than ever before, which amplifies the challenge organizations have as they attempt to establish and maintain competitive advantage. It is not surprising, then, that organizations of all sizes are struggling to adopt artificial intelligence and weave it into a comprehensive consumer engagement strategy.

The promise of artificial intelligence (AI) is compelling; a world where humans can interact with intelligent computers to perform tasks more efficiently. While 2016 may not be the year the promise of AI is fully realized, it is certainly the year that it becomes an integral part of  communication strategies for leading organizations. In fact, these emerging capabilities are increasingly being applied to business.

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Why Digital Customer Service must Balance Automation & Human Connection

By | Automation, Bots, Customer Experience, Customer Service, Guest Posts, Miscellaneous | 2 Comments

This guest post is written by Stephan DelbosEditor & Content Manager at Brand Embassy.

The hype surrounding Facebook’s chatbot announcement made it seem like some people were envisioning a Transformers-like takeover of customer service by bots. The introduction of chatbots into digital customer service is great because bots are fast and very efficient. But humans still have a huge role to play in customer service and always will. It might be less dramatic than a chatbot coup d’état, but the future of customer service lies in the balance between automation and human connections. Knowing the undeniable advantages of chatbots and making use of them, while also giving human agents the freedom to connect with customers will be the key to providing responsive, personalized service that delights customers and inspires their loyalty.

Many commentators look back on pre-internet customer service as the good old days, with real people helping people and developing long-term relationships. The internet, the narrative goes, put up a wall between brands and customers, making digital customer service potentially faster, but far less personal. The solution to that conundrum certainly isn’t to stop using technology — chatbots and digital customer care can be key differentiators, because they allow brands to streamline and simplify customer service at scale.

But we’ve reached a tipping point, when everyone is starting to realize the importance of customer experience, and that brands need to step out from behind that digital wall. 83% of U.S. consumers prefer dealing with human beings over digital channels to solve customer services issues, according to new research from Accenture. It’s not that technology is suddenly useless. On the contrary, chatbots and advanced customer service technology are more important than ever before. In fact, the smartest brands will actually use automation to put the human back into the customer service equation.

The beginning of a beautiful friendship

We love technology and we’re big fans of innovation. Anything that could possibly help brands serve their customers better sounds fantastic to us. But technology alone can’t provide excellent customer service, because customers want personalized human connections. That’s why 52% of consumers have switched brands in the past year due to poor customer service, which includes brands that made it difficult to get in touch with a human customer service agent. Bots are invaluable, especially when customers also have the opportunity to speak with an empathetic, responsive human.

Think of the popular stories you’ve heard about great customer service, from Zappos to Netflix or Hilton. It’s hard to imagine these being orchestrated by chatbots alone. But it’s also hard to imagine this extraordinary level of customer service being possible if agents didn’t have advanced technology at their fingertips.

The advantages of automation in customer service are too large to ignore. We have the technology, so why not use it? The key is knowing when to use automation and when to rely on humans. Doing so requires a clear-eyed consideration of what humans do best, and what should be left up to bots.

What should be automated?

Great customer service in the 21st century just isn’t possible without technology. Chatbots have all the advantages of computers: they’re fast and they’re rational. In the future, contact centers will take advantage of all that chatbots have to offer, but will only rely on them to do the things they’re best at, the 1st-level contacts for repetitive questions and issues that are easy to solve. There are exciting opportunities for brands who know how to make automation work for them.

As a basic bottom line, all brands should offer proactive live chat. Automated chatbots will seek out customers browsing the website and contact them based on what they are looking at. This kind of proactivity has positive effects on sales and customer satisfaction, but is often too much of a burden for human agents to take on, especially when there are many customers and a small team. Bots can free agents to do more important things.

Intelligent ticket routing is another vital feature of automated customer service. Intelligent routing, particularly in digital customer service where expectations for quick response and personalization are high, is a great way to utilize the best of both worlds. Brands have automation to select the best possible customer service agent, and a human touch to personalize the experience. It’s a question of using technology to lead customers to human agents if and when they need it.

What needs a human touch? 

In the future, human agents will focus on complex issues, and will use their emotional intelligence and instinct whenever they can. Essentially, technology will take care of the technical stuff, freeing up human agents to do what they do best. This will be a systematic change in the way we think about and execute digital customer service.

To cultivate the human touch in digital customer service, brands have to do three things:

  • Recognize the importance of empathy
  • Make personal connections
  • Provide repeat contact points

83% of American customers who have switched brands say that better live or in-person customer service would have inspired them to stay. Customer service should be less about “satisfying” customers and more about moving them smoothly through the service experience time after time. But even earlier, before making a sale, chatbots can get in touch with the customer and guide them along. Bots take care of the easily solvable problems, leading customers to qualified agents who can then develop and sustain relationships with customers over time, which means increased loyalty and distinguishing customer experience.

It’s time we brought humans back into customer service, but that doesn’t mean abandoning technology. Brands that achieve a balance between automation and human connections will succeed by utilizing the advantages of technology without neglecting age-old human contact.

About the Author

Stephan Delbos is Editor & Content Manager at Brand Embassy. He is inspired to bring emotional connections and real experience back into customer service.