1. What do you believe are the key ingredients for a brand to engage successfully with their customers online today?
In an attention economy, the first thing is to be where your customers are and then let them engage in the way that is most comfortable and effortless to them. Today that increasingly means messaging. From web and in-app messengers, to Facebook Messenger, Apple Business Chat and WhatsApp, and even SMS, there is really no excuse not be on all the channels today. Second, know your customer. Don’t ask customers questions you should already know about them. It tells a customer you don’t care enough to remember what they told you last or even what you last purchased. Finally, don’t be afraid to be personal and show some humanity. We all crave emotionally positive connections, and it is these connections that build loyalty 😍.
2. Smooch calls itself an omnichannel conversation platform, but It seems like the word “omnichannel” gets thrown around a lot these days in different contexts. What do you mean when you talk about omnichannel CX?
Many businesses boast about providing omnichannel experiences when what they actually deliver is “multichannel” support. Beyond being where your customers are, omnichannel means providing a consistent customer experience, regardless of which channels they choose to use, and where the conversation history and context follows them from channel to channel. This means putting the customer at the center of the conversation.
3. Can you share your thoughts around how customer support via messaging differs from today’s dominant digital channels like email and live chat?
Messaging is a conversation. Like a relationship, these conversations are persistent, evolve over time and have no defined end. When the customer has a follow-up request or an entirely new question, they can effortlessly pick-up the conversation from where they left off. Doesn’t this sound exactly like the type of relationship brands are desperate to have with their customers? Compare this to ticket-based emails. The customer is no longer the central object in the engagement — the case or issue is. These exchanges tend to quickly become highly impersonal, and the sole goal of the exchange can be reduced to resolving the case and having the customer go away.
Live, session-based chat is really the same story, except for the double-edged sword of being synchronous. Some issues are definitely better solved through a live, synchronous conversation, but these are the most expensive types of interactions as they dramatically reduce agent utilization — and when they don’t, it’s likely because the customer was forced to first wait in a digital queue and then forced to bear through prolonged delays between agent replies as they service two to three customers at the same time. The asynchronous nature of messaging and the ability for a customer to easily be notified when a new message arrives solves these issues beautifully.
4. What was the most frustrating interaction you’ve had with a brand online recently? What was the most rewarding?
Last summer I had an exasperating experience with a peer-to-peer home rental app. I got to the address to no key, dirty sheets and broken elevator. I was tired and frustrated but after some back-and-forth through the app, the host apologized authentically and profusely and helped to rectify the situation.
Not everything is perfect all of the time, I get that. I was happy to move on. It was the message received on my way home that was, for me, the exasperating part. The canned, automated departure message:
“Hi Warren, I trust you had a great stay and look forward to welcoming you back on your next trip!”
This message was an attempt to be personal (they called me Warren!) yet it was a clear example of what happens when customers tell businesses how they feel— and they aren’t listening, either because their various business systems aren’t talking to each other or their automation workflows have failed. If only there was AI that could access and process the conversation history, it would easily know it was not a great stay and instead could have left me with a more genuine and empathetic departure message, and perhaps an offer to discount my stay given the problems I faced, which could have in fact had me leave even more loyal than if the stay had been flawless.
On the flipside, I recently wanted to cancel a secondary American Express card I hadn’t used in over 6 months. I headed over to Amex’s website, logged in, briefly searched around the site for a way to cancel my card, and then decided to try their web messenger. A bot emerged, I said what I wanted to do, it presented me with my two cards and asked to confirm which card I wanted to cancel.
I made my choice after which it asked if I wanted to transfer the credit facility to my other card, to which I said yes. It then asked me to confirm the cancellation and the transfer of credit. I clicked on yes and I was done. The experience took roughly 45 seconds.
5. What are some predictions for 2019? What are you most excited about?
2019 will be the year companies embrace messaging as a key customer service channel. We’ll see the continued growth of proprietary web and in-app messengers at the expense of live session-based chat and email. In the growing business messaging space, WhatsApp will be the story of 2019 outside of North America and Asia, while Apple Business Chat should take a dominant position in western markets among iOS users once it becomes generally available. But, look out for a sneak attack from Facebook with Instagram business messaging which can quickly become the #1 eCommerce channel for Millennials, and maybe Google will pull a rabbit out of their hat with either Google My Business Messaging or RCS.
Messaging is simply more convenient, personal and efficient for both businesses and customers, and brands will realize that in today’s attention economy they will need to be on all the channels to best serve their customers.
Warren Levitan is cofounder and CEO of Smooch, the omni-channel conversation platform for enterprise software makers. Since 2015, Smooch has connected leading software companies like Oracle, Zendesk and Sparkcentral to all the world’s messaging channels for a more human customer experience. Warren previously served as CEO of Radialpoint, which was acquired by AppDirect.