Conversations, not chat bots

The technology enabling brands to automate customer conversations is out there, but successful implementation will require an entirely new way of thinking.

As voice activated technology and behaviours move from the emerging to ubiquitous, conversations will be everywhere.

These conversations will be seamless, connected, and most importantly, expected by customers. Just as we baulk when we lose mobile reception or 4G today, so we’ll curse when we can’t just ‘talk’ to a brand tomorrow. We’ll just expect to have asynchronous conversations with businesses on our terms, in real time. We’ll need to pick up at exactly the point where we left off and to feel the benefit with immediate effect.

We believe the convergence of conversational commerce, zero user interface and connected devices will give customers more fluid and intuitive access to brands than ever before. Conversation-first experiences will deliver far more personal and connected moments and will only lead to better business results.

It would be untrue to suggest that technology itself has not caught up with customers’ changing habits. Commerce now lives in the air around us, thanks to developments in the likes of Amazon Echo, Microsoft Bot Framework, LiveEngage and Jacada.

Brands are starting to enter this brave new world but it’s still in the form of a rudimentary chat bot. This technology hems in a conversation to a single channel or a pre-programmed, rules-based dialogue. Future dialogues will need to flow organically without any boundaries.

It’s these conversational moments that will drive differentiated and valued brand experiences. Progressive marketers must be thinking conversation first, technology second.

Why? Because tomorrow, your conversation is your brand. Verbal identities will be just as important as your social or visual identity.

The brands that will succeed will perfect and sensitively automate conversations across new channels when, and if, the context demands. They will create a human/hybrid intelligence. In fact, conversational strategy will only serve to enable staff in call centres to act more human, as they will not have to do the leg work. Considered properly, machine learning and AI can have a less robotic conversation than an untrained human using a script.

The technology is out there to create these conversations, but they have not been sparked ubiquitously. This is primarily because brands have not yet begun the process of changing their customers’ behaviour through education. Countless conversational technologies sit unused because if a customer has always phoned a call centre to place a query, it’s unlikely they’ll use an app without being told why they should.

The siloed nature of businesses is another barrier to conversational proliferation. Conversations will not take place effectively if customers cannot flow between making a complaint, to purchasing a product, to submitting a piece of feedback. Brands will have to move away from segmenting customers by social demographic. Instead they’ll segment them by the sorts of conversations they’ll want to have, in order to achieve a natural and successful dialogue.

There are companies that have cleared these hurdles and have already designed conversations across employee and customer channels. IPSoft’s Amelia is currently being deployed in several sectors including banking, pharma and telecoms, reducing friction in customer journeys and creating business efficiencies.

Another example is Avianca, a Spanish airline that worked with us to create an API-powered travel assistant named Carla. As a first outing into conversational commerce, Carla is initiated through social media and takes the stress out of travel by answering any queries though the most relevant channels.

A new conversation is already coming over the horizon. Take care to blend human and bot appropriately to create the right customer experience and cost benefits. Basically, don’t build a chat bot, build a conversational strategy.

Mark Sherwin is managing director at Accenture Interactive

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