SOCAP International

3 Tech Trends to Put on Your Customer Engagement Radar

It's time to start laying a sound groundwork so that you can extend your service offerings while still providing consistency.

The technology freight train continues to barrel down the track at high speed and artificial intelligence is a primary driver. The advancements in this area are manifesting in a variety of ways when it comes to customer experience and engagement. Three topics you need to consider are chatbots, messenger apps and personalization. Some of these ideas are newer and some are continued trends that we’ve been talking about for a while now. But as technology continues to advance, consumer expectations are still rising and pressure on brands to keep up is at an all-time high.

Trending this wayHaving a strategy in these three areas could prove key to positioning your business as a leader, now and into the future. As we take a deeper look at these trends, it is easy to get overwhelmed, but it’s important to see them as a progression, rather than needing an all-in approach. Laying a sound groundwork is important so that you can continue to extend your service offerings while providing consistency and enabling your team to embrace the next new thing when it arrives.

Trend #1: Chatbots.

It’s a fact: People would rather find the answer themselves than call and ask for help. Gartner research confirms this, reporting that 87% of consumers would prefer to start in self-service. This can be great news for companies. If customers are willing to look for answers themselves, that means fewer calls coming in, freeing up your agents to handle more complex situations. While this can be true, there is another side as well. The experience of that self-service channel has to be smooth, easy and friction free.

Consumers don’t want to sort through your website searching for the answer; they don’t want to look through endless search results or dig through clunky FAQs. They want to ask their question, as if they were talking to a friend, and have an accurate answer returned to them (and in a friendly manner, of course). Ah, now providing that is a bit more of a challenge.

This is exactly the type of experience that chatbots are meant to provide. With the use of AI technologies like natural language processing, they can interpret the request from the consumer and truly understand the intent. Once the intent is determined, the chatbot will need to decide whether the request can or should be handled by the bot or by a human. If it should be handled by a human, then the bot needs to decide the best way to escalate it and ensure that any relevant information is passed along. And finally, if the bot is going to handle it, it needs to asses the sources of information it will use. All of this requires a series of artificial narrow intelligences. Narrow because it’s not a replica human, rather it has a series of algorithms that can be used when appropriate to accomplish serving up data or completing routine tasks.

progressionThere are a few reasons it can be a smart strategy to start with a simple chatbot and then see how consumers are engaging with it. First, it allows you to get started. Many companies will wait either because they believe this is only a fad or they suffer with a bit of analysis paralysis. The second reason to get started is that from the moment the bot is in play, it can start collecting important information about how consumers are using the bot. What functions are being used most? What questions are being asked that it can’t handle today, but maybe can in the future? Gathering this information will help you make smart decisions about where to invest additional money into the evolution of your chatbot.

One important factor to consider is where to have the chatbot available. As you think through the options that include the website, mobile site, mobile app or messenger app, reflect on where your customers already are. If you are going to spend the energy to open a new channel, it makes sense to ensure it will be heartily adopted. This leads us into the next trending topic regarding the move to messenger apps.

Trend # 2: Messenger Apps.

Consumers, especially Millennials, are doing more and more on their mobile devices. They are using them to do a variety of activities including shopping, interacting on social networks, and using messenger apps to stay in touch with friends and now with brands. In fact, customers are consolidating the number of apps they have on their phones and are looking to do as much as possible in one place. Apps like Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Kik and WeChat are among the most popular.

consolidatingRather than downloading branded apps from each company, consumers enjoy engaging with those same brands right within these messenger apps where they are already spending their time. The types of engagement they are looking for in these apps is growing. They want to be able to ask questions, get product recommendations, check on order status, perform simple tasks like changing seat assignments on a plane, or even placing an order right from within the platform.

To meet consumers’ expectations, brands first need to be available on this channel, and second they need to evolve the experience. Being available and responsive are clearly the first steps. Then, as you harness more artificial intelligence into your service offering, you may look for opportunities to be proactive with your communication, rather than just reactive. And that takes us to the third trend of personalization.

Trend #3: Personalization.

We, as consumers, are growing more comfortable providing personal information. We provide things like contact information, birthdates, payment information and more without much of a thought. In addition, we provide information that we may not think about every time we make an online purchase or browse a website. Ever look at a pair of shoes, and then suddenly the ad for those shoes is following you around on every other site you go to? What seemed creepy just a few years ago has become somewhat normal to us now.

In fact, we are starting to like it. For example, who doesn’t love that they can tweet the pizza emoji to Dominos and have your favorite pizza arrive at your door just minutes later? They know you. They know what you like. You gave them the information, and they are using it to provide a great experience. This is all possible because of technology advances. Remember when you were impressed that your name was personalized on the email that came from the company? Not impressive anymore, right?

pizzaWe now want a company to remember what we told them last time, not just on one channel, but on all channels. Don’t ask me if I’m a loyalty member—know that I am and greet me with my name. Don’t ask for my phone number, if I just entered it. Don’t ask me the model number I’m working with—know it and confirm.

The price for gathering all of this information is that customers now expect you to be able to use it not only for your benefit (customer insights) but for theirs as well. You can help personalize their journey, knowing what channels they prefer, proactively offering products, offers or even escalation options based on prior behavior. By giving this personalized service to customers, they will trust you more, which will increase loyalty and dissuade them from moving on to a competitor that doesn’t know them like you do.

There are constant advancements being made in technology and it can no doubt be hard to keep up. But, with a solid customer experience strategy and a smart technology platform to help support it, you can create an environment that allows you to tackle the trends of today and set yourself up to embrace those that are coming tomorrow.

It’s important to remember you don’t have to design the ultimate customer experience in one take. Even if you did, the definition of the ultimate customer experience will have changed by the time you build it. What is important: Start building the foundation and ensure that it allows you to be consistent across channels and platforms and flexible enough to grow and change along with your company and your customers.

Shellie VornhagenShellie Vornhagen is VP of marketing for Astute Solutions, a leading provider of smart consumer engagement solutions. A veteran in the software industry, she is passionate about using technology to improve people’s day-to-day lives.