As part of Smooch’s recent State of Messaging report, we sat down with a gaggle of (32 to be exact) product, marketing and CX leaders from the world’s most innovative companies that are at the forefront of the conversational revolution.
We spoke with experts from across the board; channel gatekeepers, software vendors, brand stewards and startup innovators, including those who are working directly at the CX coal face at the world’s largest organizations such as Google, Uber, and LVMH. We asked them about the state of conversational business in 2019.
Here’s a snapshot of what we found:
Despite ample evidence that consumers are ready to chat with brands, businesses have largely lacked the tools to message with customers in a personal, secure and scalable way. Until now. A recurring theme with those who know is that conversational engagement with businesses via messaging apps is set to play a far bigger and wider-ranging role in 2019, driven by demand from consumers.
Hussein Fazal, Co-Founder and CEO, SnapTravel, sees this as the year where consumer impulses shift and “… customers will start searching for brands over messaging first, before looking up their website for customer support.”
As consumers become increasingly familiar with messaging brands they’re looking to engage and do business with, the expectation will grow that this type of accessibility with businesses will exist across the board. This means the ability to connect via any of the major messaging platforms customers are using already, with experience and interfaces designed to make that simple and useful.
According to Jenny Fleiss, Co-Founder and CEO at Jetblack, a members-only personal shopping and concierge startup, which has messaging as the core component of its business, “Consumers are constantly looking for ways to add efficiency in their lives and in 2019, we will continue to see the evolution of conversational commerce as a key tool that will enable this. We have to always challenge ourselves to create a conversational commerce experience that is not just tech for tech’s sake, but meaningfully helps the consumer.”
Next-generation customer experience is about brands connecting with customers on their terms. Customers want immediacy, and one of the solutions that’s finding its place within businesses large and small, is the use of customer service bots.
“Brands were very wary after the initial launch of the bot platforms, mainly because companies tried to build big standalone bots that ended up failing. Now it’s clear that if you combine bots with human agents you can deliver really amazing experiences—I think every major brand will be taking this approach in 2019,” said Joshua March, Co-Founder and CEO, Conversocial.
Pervasive reach and scalability are bot superpowers but a human touch is where experience for a customer can live or die. Bots can connect directly to customers wherever they are—on a web site, in a mobile app, on Facebook Messenger, over SMS, etc—and they can operate at scale, 24/7. Depending on the industry, bots should be able to handle anywhere from 30-70% of all customer requests, and that’s before AI is introduced into the equation.
The key factor in delivering a great customer experience is to recognize when you need to escalate to a human who can bring nuance and personal attention to a situation.
Phil Gray, EVP Business Development, Interactions, believes that in the near future technology will advance and blur the lines between bot and human even further and that “Innovations in conversational AI combined with true human intelligence will be the key technologies enabling intelligent assistants to perform at unprecedented levels of understanding and efficacy.”
New brand, who this?
While opportunities to connect with customers via the major messaging platforms continue to grow as business-ready platforms are rolled out, astute brands will remain cautious in how they engage, only doing so when it adds value for both customer and brand — in that order.
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Eva Taylor, Global Social Marketing, Hootsuite, believes that “Contacting a prospect or an existing customer by private message results in a far more intimate and authentic approach than publishing banner ads or updates on social media. In 2019 brands will need to decipher how to best participate in these conversations without being intrusive.”
When timing and applications are right, a brand engaging with customers through personal messaging has the ability to cut through marketing noise and be appreciated.
As Ali Sadat, VP Product, Medallia puts it, in the year to come, “Interacting with customers in the moments that matter to facilitate and influence experiences as they are happening will be a critical component of every brand’s customer engagement strategy. ”
For more industry insights from over 30 industry voices, check out Smooch’s 2019 State of Messaging Report.