SXSW 2018 – Tales of Fails & Giant Whales

Why care about SXSW 2018 in August 2017? Aside from hotels getting full already, you don’t want to miss your only chance to weigh in on which sessions and speakers are selected for SXSW 2018 – SXSW panelpicker public voting closes on August 25th!  

It didn’t take long to realize the sea of folks aiming to speak about bots and AI at  SXSW. After rowing our boat in these very waters for over 5 years, we finally decided to heed the call of customers and partners urging us to share our weathered journals, from years of epic successes and scurvy-tales in the  treacherous seas of artificial intelligence and bots.

With so much noise about bots and AI in the current business environment, we are happy to share years of perspective that our customers and partners have found helpful as they looked to make critical build vs buy decisions.  With our company having been an born from a consulting firm labelled by Forrester as the first true UX agency, it’s 2nd nature for us  to let  customer data drive important decisions regarding bots and AI.  

Please know that your vote could be the difference between session upon session about bots from the newcomer’s perspective, or us sharing the unparalleled experience and perspective we’ve gained over the last 5+ years of bot-building with the largest brands and cutting edge startups.

Here is an overview of the talk we submitted for SXSW 2018’s public voting:

Vote here:

SESSION TITLE: Tails of fails & giant whales – 5+ yrs of bot biz


Bots aren’t news anymore. But what’s the Evolved Bot Paradigm (EBP) look like, & what lessons will we have learned 5-7 yrs from now? 2 really smart looking guys reveal exactly that in this session which shares practical lessons from a company with 5+ years in the bot-trenches, implementing the past & the EBP with the largest orgs in the world. We’ll review fumbled bots & ass-kicking bots that cut 40+% of operational cost, while saluting bots that save lives & discussing the EBP.


  1. What is the Evolved Bot Paradigm (EBP) and what will the impacts be?
  2. How are bots quietly ending the lives of APIs?
  3. Will bots act like humans, or will bots have a language of their own, and if they do will they invent their own language?

See the outline of this proposed talk for SXSW 2018:


Tim Wood

Job Title Professor of Industrial Design & Interaction Design – Rochester Institute of Technology

As an Assistant Professor of Industrial Design and Interaction Design at Rochester Institute of Technology, Tim is most interested in emerging technologies, the frontiers of interaction design, and how these two areas are rapidly changing the nature of the human experience and even how we think about design itself. With extensive experience in design strategy, the architecture of interactive systems and the design of digital products, he is keenly aware of the changing nature of design and new roles designers are being asked to fill. Prior to RIT, he was VP of User Experience and Design at EffectiveUI and before that he held the position of Creative Director for Design Innovation & Advanced Development at Eastman Kodak. Tim is an award-winning designer in his own right and is an internationally recognized speaker and author on the topic of user experience and user interface design.

In addition to having authored 2 books, and having held several executive design and technology roles, Tim holds an MFA in Computer Graphics from Rochester Institute of Technology, an Advanced Certificate in Interactive Media Development from Rochester Institute of Technology and a BFA in Design Arts from Memphis College of Art.

Publications EffectiveUI – The Art of Building Great User Experience in Software
Prior Speaking Experience

Lance Christmann

Job Title Director of User Experience – OneReach

Lance Christmann is the Director of UX at OneReach. With his strong background in interface design and design management, Lance extends the user-centered design approach across all departments within OneReach. He helps guide customers with adopting new communication strategies and incorporating best practices into every new bot experience. Lance’s extensive client portfolio includes FedEx, Boeing, and the design of the highly acclaimed eBay Desktop application which won an Abode MAX award, to name a few. Prior to joining OneReach, Lance served as chief experience strategist at Effective, a full-service user experience (UX) agency.

Lance graduated from the prestigious Rhode Island School of Design with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in film/video production, animation and computer graphics. Lance has held several design and technology executive roles, leading the vision and execution for teams delivering solutions for organizations such as Boeing, Fedex, National Geographic, US intelligence organizations, AB-InBev and many others.

Publications Effective UI – The Art of Building Great User Experience in Software
Prior Speaking Experience


You Don’t Need An App for That

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.

7 Companies Whose Customer Service Makes Us Swoon

Last week, a bunch of fellow #ICMIchat-ers and I met to discuss our customer service crushes, just in time for Valentine’s Day. Some of the regular suspects were mentioned (Amazon and Zappos, naturally), but it got me to thinking—what are some other brands that are doing customer service really well? What really makes them great, and what could they do to continue to stay great?

I decided to do a little research of my own to see if I could find more examples of companies with great customer service, and I wasn’t disappointed. While this is by no means an exhaustive list, here are seven companies whose customer service makes us swoon (and could be made even more “crushworthy” with a few key tweaks).

Continue reading 7 Companies Whose Customer Service Makes Us Swoon

Why Contact Centers Should Offer Texting to Customers

This post originally appeared on ICMI.

The use of digital channels for customer service is on the rise. Recent research by Dimension Data found that over 35% of contact center interactions are now digital, not voice-based. In fact, digital interactions in the contact center will surpass voice interactions in two years’ time.

Text messaging is one of the digital channels contributing to that increase. According to the same Dimension Data report, nearly 40% of contact centers use text messaging/instant messaging, with this number set to increase to over 60% by 2017. The research also found that more interactions are handled via text messaging/instant messaging than on smartphone applications or social media.

Continue reading Why Contact Centers Should Offer Texting to Customers

Twitter vs SMS: What’s the Best Way for Companies to Engage?

If you stop and think about it, Twitter and text messaging aren’t so different. They both have limited characters (140 and 160), they’re both fast-moving channels, and they’re both widely-used channels.

But how widely-used? Let’s take a look.

Continue reading Twitter vs SMS: What’s the Best Way for Companies to Engage?

All Call Center Metrics Are Important. But Have You Tried Using This One?

There are a lot of call center metrics out there that measure customer satisfaction—CSAT, Net Promoter Score (NPS), even First Call Resolution (FCR). The way they measure satisfaction is different, but the end result is the same—to make sure the customer is happy.

But what if I told you there was a call center metric that could do nothing but measure a customer’s happiness, one that tracked their satisfaction through every interaction?

There is, and it’s called the Smiley Face Index (SFI).

Continue reading All Call Center Metrics Are Important. But Have You Tried Using This One?

Smart and Fast Fixes for Your Business, Part 3 — Save Money and Reduce Hold Time With Channel Pivot

To view the first post in the series, click here. To view the second post in the series, click here.

What’s the one thing small businesses are most concerned about? If you said money, you’re on the right track: over 45% of small businesses cite growing revenue as their top concern.

Continue reading Smart and Fast Fixes for Your Business, Part 3 — Save Money and Reduce Hold Time With Channel Pivot

5 Questions You Need to Ask About Your Omnichannel Customer Experience

Whether we admit it or not, today’s customer experience is all about omnichannel. People are reaching out to companies on the phone, via text message, through emails and webforms—you name it, someone’s using it. When customers reach out to customer service, they most often use three or more channels, and most businesses offer multiple service channels to answer customer questions.

But an omnichannel experience isn’t just about having multiple channels: it’s about making sure those channels all work together. The idea behind omnichannel is that it all the service channels are connected, integrated, and consistent. When customers call your company, they don’t view your support channels separately; to them, everything is managed as a whole, not a bunch of different departments. And they’re not wrong to view the customer experience this way—91% of customers want to pick up where they left offwhen they switch between channels.

Continue reading 5 Questions You Need to Ask About Your Omnichannel Customer Experience

Smart and Fast Fixes For Your Business, Part 2–Answer Less Calls and Help More Customers

To view the first post in the series, click here.

If you’re anything like me, you’re bothered (maybe even offended) by retail businesses answering the phone instead of helping patrons.

We’ve all seen it happen. A customer is waiting  to check out when the clerk answers the phone (sometimes several times), often only to respond to the caller with store hours or the address. On behalf of the patron who’s standing there waiting and the caller, I’m annoyed by this.

Continue reading Smart and Fast Fixes For Your Business, Part 2–Answer Less Calls and Help More Customers

Smart and Fast Fixes for Your Business, Part 1 — Make Your Business Phone Smarter

When it comes to balancing customer experience and operational efficiency, it can be really hard to get things right for your customers (and for your pockets). There are a lot of strategies, tools, consultants, methodologies and processes that you could be leveraging in order to operate your well-oiled machine (and of course you’re already doing all of those things, right?).

But what if there were things right in front of your nose that aren’t complicated, expensive or time-consuming, and could really make things easier and better for you and your customers?

That’s what we want to address in this series, and first up: making your business phone smarter.

Continue reading Smart and Fast Fixes for Your Business, Part 1 — Make Your Business Phone Smarter