It has long been a marketer’s nightmare that social media can amplify a single bad customer experience into collective outrage at a brand. But social media isn’t going anywhere, and brands do well to meet their customers where they are. On this premise, Joshua March founded Conversocial in 2011. With offices in London and New York, the company provides social-media driven customer care solutions in high-pressure industries for brands like Alaska Airlines and Con Edison.
According to a Conversocial study March draws from in his book from last year, Message Me, customers use social media not only to vent but to problem solve. March found that 54 percent of customers prefer these channels over phone and email. The innovation that fuels this trend is the rise of private messaging services by major social platforms.
“The rise of messaging presents a disruptive opportunity,” March explained. “It enables one-on-one interaction with customers. Brands can engage with every single consumer through messaging, making it convenient for those people and much more personal, so that they can have much more dialogue.”
As far back as 2016, users considered Facebook Messenger or Twitter to be preferred channels – 45 percent of a representative sample cited “ease of use” as “the most important aspect of social customer service,” the book reported. A quoted study by Aspect Research rated social customer care as easier than phone service, by a 4:1 ratio. As March surmises in his book: “This ease and convenience for customers is one of the biggest drivers of the growth of social and message for service, and the resulting impact on customer loyalty is a major benefit to companies who promote it.”
Not only can customer service teams reach consumers more effectively in the context of their specific issue, but the back-and-forth through messaging also allows customers to multitask while the issue gets resolved. This raises expectations on the part of consumers, and there’s no looking back for brands. In the digital space, however, the opportunity opens up to develop a new relationship with customers.
“One of the challenges with the rise of the digital consumer is being personal with customers,” March said. “Brands lost a real one-on-one relationship with consumers. In the old days, brands built strong relationships through in-store experiences. Now that everything has gone on digital, people have lost that connection. Online retail goes to the lowest common denominator, and the only people who win that war is basically Amazon.”
This is where AI, or some kind of automation, becomes essential to the customer experience. Brands have been wary, though, especially at the senior level. A new future-facing AI study released this week from Genpact shows growing acceptance by consumers and executives, but not everybody is on board yet. According to the study, one quarter of senior executives say that by 2021 they plan to “fundamentally reimagine” their businesses with AI, up from 14 percent in 2017. Fifty-four percent say they will use AI to “transform processes” in their business.
On the branding side, in recent years, automation has suffered a bad rap due to the image of chat bots bleating out canned responses, further inflaming angry customers. The AI proposition in this case is that customers’ situations can be put in context and prioritized, assisting human service operators.
“Bots can’t really build relationships,” March said. “Social messaging allows the opportunity to combine AI with humans, in the same conversation with consumers. This is an exciting opportunity for brands to shift their strategy.”
But March doesn’t cast aside bots completely. “What we’ve seen is that AI today plays a great supporting role,” he stated. “On the bot side, brands can build simple bots really easily that, for example, look up your flight status, or book hotel room, or order flowers. These are straightforward interactions and not terribly specific. Bots are good at those things.”
Using bots intelligently, in tandem with human manpower, would go far in changing the current perception. The Genpact survey cautions of a perception gap between companies and consumers on this matter. While 86 percent of senior executives think that by 2021 customers will prefer being served by a bot, as opposed to by a call center agent, only 15 percent of customers say they think they will prefer this over the next three years. It comes down to how well customers think that tech space is improving.
“AI isn’t good today at unstructured conversations,” said March. “If it receives more than a small number of commands, it will get confused. Right now, that’s the situation. It’s important that brands avoid trying to build a chat bot to do anything.”
Messaging allows for algorithms in the platform to determine what is best for human or bots.
“Messaging is more like texting a friend,” March adds. “That means that every message you send, it’s possible to ask can the bot help, or a human agent? This enables you to combine automation with human interaction, and it’s really game-changing.”