Category

Texting

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 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.

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.

Read More

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