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Automation

You Don’t Need An App for That

By | Apps, Automation, Benefits, Big Ideas, Bots, Communication, ITR, Mobile, Mobile Payments, Texting | No Comments

In July of 2013 Toby Shapshak, the South African speaker, strategist and editor of Stuff Magazine, did a TED talk called You Don’t Need An App For That. Business leaders, innovators and experience designers would soon realize how profound this TED talk was to the rest of the world. Shapshak’s astute observations and message to the rest of the world was years ahead of a revolution that Forbes would call “the new way we’ll be interacting with computers.”

Toby’s 2013 Ted talk touted that “while the rest of the world is updating statuses and playing games on smartphones, Africa is developing useful SMS-based solutions to everyday needs”. Since 2013 his TED talk has been viewed 1,438,046 times as of July 19, 2016.

Fast forward a couple of years and we see more apps than anyone knows what to do with, as well as a notable decrease in usage and app-downloads. This has businesses confused and frustrated. Meanwhile, around the world, messaging (SMS and the ever-encroaching uptake of IP messaging – Facebook Messenger, Spark, Slack, Kik, SnapChat, etc) is by far the most used function or app on mobile phones – smart phone or not.

2016 brought a wave of new businesses and products that fall into the category of bots; chat bots, messaging-bots, conversational-bots, “invisible apps” or “conversational commerce”. Messaging-bots are popping up for everything, increasingly displacing mobile-apps. New bots are being brought to life daily by startups and household brands alike. Whether the experiences are where they need to be or not, bots existing today which allow you to order a pizza, make a payment, read the news, be reminded of an appointment or even make an appointment. Even city and county municipalities are seeing the value, for example, Washington DC uses a bot for their 311-public services hotline.

Silicon Valley and other capital ventures hubs around the world have already backed several startups that leverage, if not rely entirely on, bots. Benedict Evans, Partner at the Venture Capital Firm, Andreessen Horowitz (‘a16z‘) tweeted “I genuinely can’t remember the last time a concept blew up as quickly as bots”.

For years, I’ve been part of a business that, like Toby Shapshak, was ahead of the “bot” curve that’s now consuming the business and customer experience worlds. Expedia, Bosch, DHL, Unilever, Stella Artois, HomeAdvisor, The National Domestic Violence Hotline, Red Cross and many others use OneReach to create (and manage) self-service messaging bots and live communications with their customers. The most popular use-cases include live and automated customer support, proactive order status notifications or order updates, payments/purchasing and text or chat-enabled IVRs (now called chat-bots). Who’d have thought that a bot could reduce 40% of a major brand’s customer support costs, increase revenue by 30% or boost NPS scores?

Toby Shapshak seems to have been the oracle that foretold one of the most prolific changes in how consumers and businesses communicate and do commerce. He suggested that bots are “effectively an intersection of the most basic and sophisticated communication. It’s remarkable that the very rich (in the developed world) and poor (in the developing world) have effectively ended up in the same place (both using bots)”

Years have past since his Ted Talk and we thought it would be valuable to see what Toby thinks of today’s climate and where things go from here.

Our interview with Toby Shapshak

Elias: Messenger Bots are impacting the everyday life and habits of consumers – in commerce, purchasing, managing one’s time, getting news and so on. You’ve been watching the impact of messenger bots in Africa for sometime. With this in mind, what perspective would you offer to business leaders and experience-designers on the impact that messenger bots have on consumer habits – in commerce and purchasing or donations, customer support, managing one’s time, getting news and so on?

Toby: Business leaders and UX designers should be aware of how chatbots can have an impact on consumer habits; both positively and negatively.

For the youth of the world, who have grown up using chat, it’s a logical extension to communicate through this channel, ask questions, even make purchases. Pew Research found that American teenagers were only using email to communicate with “authority figures” – adults, parents and teachers. Now chatting is so dominant that WhatsApp has over a 1 billion users and Facebook Messenger has some 800 million users and 50 million businesses. WeChat has some 800 million users, mostly in China, and has been using bots in a very sophisticated way for a lot longer. Wechat is the future of chatting mingled with commerce.

The great thing about SMS – which is arguably the greatest communication medium the world has ever seen; and the most expensive – is that it works on every single cellphone, no matter how sophisticated. The other key thing is SMS has a 100% read rate – even the spam.

In this context, doing new things like search or shopping via messaging/chat seems obvious to a generation of youngsters that prefer chat to email or anything else. Chat is cheaper and it’s a paradigm that people understand. It also doesn’t have a learning curve, the way that conventional apps do.

Elias: In 2013 you commented that “while the rest of the world is updating statuses and playing games on smartphones, Africa is developing useful SMS-based solutions to everyday needs”. Is the current wave of messenger bots solving real problems or this just the new version of “updating statuses and playing games on smartphones”?

Toby: Right now, a lot of chatbots seem like a nice-to-have. Give them some maturity and we’ll see if they are a flash-in-the-pan hype or something that will be continuingly useful.

Elias: Is the rest of the world catching up or is Africa still ahead and in what ways? What has the rest of the world yet to learn still from African innovation?

Toby: Africa is forced to innovate the way it does because there are no other alternatives. it’s the purest form of innovation out of necessity. More people in Africa have access to a cellphone than to electricity. Because of this there are brilliant power solutions, including solar-power systems like M-Kopa. If you have a pressing problem, it’s the best incentive in the world to solve it. If you have electricity, what are you likely to do? Watch TV or YouTube. it’s sadly that simple.

Elias: What are your predictions for where messaging and bots go next, in Africa and elsewhere?

Toby: The sky really is the limit, isn’t it. Text-based services are revolutionary in Africa, offering everything from Google search via SMS to important health information via South Africa’s mHealth initiatives.

Kevin Kelly, the founding executive editor of Wired magazine, said some very interesting things at SXSW this year about how artificial intelligence will become part of our lives. Right now, he says, “it’s like the early days of cloud computing, but it will ultimately be as sophisticated a service as cloud-based offerings are now”. He called it “intelligence as a services”. “Like electricity, which you now buy in what we now call an on-demand model”, Kelly says “you won’t have to make your AI, you will just purchase it. It will flow like electricity from the grid to wherever you want it. ” He says: “Artificial intelligence will soon be a commodity”. AI services at low cost will spur the chatbot industry and make offerings increasingly sophisticated.

There is also the network effect to consider. Part of the reason Google’s search algorithms are so fast – and can predict or suggest answers so quickly – is because of the volume of search queries it has already performed. This inventory of queries and searches mean there is a greater volume of info to reference. As the volume of chatbot data increases, they will also become more effective.

Reflection & Looking Forward

In reflecting on Toby Shapshak’s 2013 Ted Talk it’s evident that he saw something revolutionary emerging amidst the noise in the world of experience design, business and technology.

Similar to the concept of hindsight being 20/20, until 2016 the business world largely ignored the opportunity to leverage the most ubiquitous communication channels in the world (text messaging and IP messaging) for customer support.

The first text message was sent in 1992 and by 2007 74% of all mobile phone users worldwide used text messaging. It took the western business world roughly another 10 years to accept the notion that just maybe they should consider communicating with their customers over the single most prefered communication channel in the world – SMS.

For the last 6 years at OneReach, I’ve been lucky enough to see startups and huge international brands alike use our tools to easily create and iterate on fully reportable and integrated bots. It’s been 3 years since Toby Shapshak’s TED talk and it’s great to finally see so many companies designing for the channels consumers actually prefer (messaging).

Now that we’re here, let’s not be foolish enough to think that leveraging chat bots to drive business impact is any easier because the interface is an ‘old’ technology. The businesses world learned that building any old mobile app really isn’t all that hard. Similar to mobile apps, the success of a today’s chat bots will not be defined by whether or not your company offers chatbots. Success will rest on whether or not your chatbot experiences achieve desired outcomes for your business while being meaningful to your customer.

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

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.

 

How to Write Automated Texts That Sound Human

By | Automation, Best Practices, Texting | No Comments

This post is co-written with Leslie O’Flahavan of E-WRITE.

If your customers have opted-in to receive texts from your company, they probably realize that some of your texts are going to be automated. They understand that sometimes texts from your company were sent by an automated system and that you don’t actually have a human employee, chained to a desk, hand-typing each appointment confirmation or loyalty program welcome message!

However, even if your texts to customers are automated, they shouldn’t sound mechanical. Here are ten tips to help you write automated texts that sound human and build rapport with your customers.

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conversational bot

The Perfect Tool(s) for Joining the SMS Bot Gold Rush

By | Automation, Big Ideas, Mobile, Mobile Payments, Texting | No Comments

Through the history of the Internet, we’ve seen a bots of all flavors (scrapers, viruses, worms), all often giving bots a bad name. They’re small bits of code that can carry out a host of malicious actions–stealing web content, screwing up web analytics, and encouraging click fraud.

This all sounds pretty dire, but more recently, the concept of bots has been harnessed for more and more good. And one of its new and improved forms is  conversational SMS bots. Read More

business bot

Why Your Business Needs a Bot

By | Automation, Big Ideas, Customer Service, Self-Service, Texting | One Comment

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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