The Customer Is The Channel

The customer-centric blog of Linc Global

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2019 Omni-Channel Tech Journey

“Hey Google, how do I perfect an omnichannel journey?”

“Sorry, I don’t know how to help with that yet.”

Ok, so it’s not that easy . . . not yet, anyway. But it’s worth the effort. According to Invesp, companies that design their customer journeys with omnichannel customer engagement strategies retain, on average, 89% of their customers. Brands that operate with weak omnichannel customer engagement only retain 33%.

The consumer journey has gone from a straight shot to a Choose Your Own Adventure maze that happens any time, anywhere, on one of the countless devices, channels, and social networks. It’s up to you to find the customer where they are and build a connection there.

To get consumers to fall in love with your brand today requires a new approach and the tech stack to support it. Consumers expect you to be where they are, when they are and with the appropriate tools for engagement. As Marc Benioff, Chairman and CEO, Salesforce said, “AI will become a defining technology of the 21st century, just as the microprocessor was in the 20th century.”

Conversational commerce is the animating principle behind successful omni-channel engagement. It helps your brand nurture a rich relationship with each customer, at every service touchpoint, by using real-time logistics, big data, machine learning and AI to give your customers what they want, when they want it, on the channel of their choosing, on every step of their journey with your brand. As a result, customers feel known and valued by you, the company that anticipates their wants and needs.

Channeling Your Customers

The last few years have seen a paradigm shift involving a whole new class of retail channels. Customers are looking for an intelligent, personalized experience at every touchpoint, perhaps the most important shift in digital commerce.

Though it’s clear the landscape is changing, it’s hard to tell which road consumers will take. What’s most important is to be aware of today’s channels, the ones coming tomorrow and the technology that can help you scale to both and to reflect that in your customer experience strategy.

Laggard companies might be sticking their heads in the sand, clinging to their email lists, and hoping it all blows over. Average companies might know conversational commerce is important, but suffer paralysis by analysis with how to move forward. Innovative brands like Facebook, Amazon, Slack, Google, and Apple are leading the way to show the rest of them how it’s done.

Current conversational channels fall into two main categories: Messaging Apps and Voice Channels.

Messaging Apps

Mobile-native consumers are becoming more and more accustomed to communicating through messaging on channels such as Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Kik, and, in Asia, Wechat and Line. They’re not only using them to catch up with friends, but also to stay in touch with brands, shop, and watch content. These once-simple programs for sending text, image, clips, and GIFs are now fullblown interfaces with their own APIs, developers, and apps.

Lamps Plus

The four top chat apps now have a combined user base that dwarfs the combined user base of the top four social networks. Plus, users are likely to use them more often and for longer than most mobile apps.

Since April 2016, when Facebook opened up Facebook Messenger to allow brands to build bots to operate in the channel, over 33,000 bots have already been launched. Today, they can help with product info, order processing, delivery statuses and exchanges and returns. Tomorrow, they may be doling out fashion advice, reminding you to buy a gift for your brother-in-law’s birthday and carrying on complex conversations worthy of a fellow human.

Voice Channels

As Donald Norman said in 1990, “The real problem with the interface is that it is an interface. Interfaces get in the way. I don’t want to focus my energies on an interface. I want to focus on the job . . . I don’t want to think of myself as using a computer, I want to think of myself as doing my job.”

Getting the job done, whether it’s finding out the weather, checking the news, or learning about whales for school, can now be done with voice channels like Amazon’s Alexa, Google Home, and Siri, whose voice can be conjured from iPhones, Macs, and Apple TV. Even if we were lying on the couch with our eyes closed, we could order pizza, turn on lights, or purchase a plane ticket using these virtual assistants.

Voice AssistantAccording to Tractica, these bot-powered assistants will soon be in our smartwatches, fitness trackers, PCs, smart home systems, and automobiles. The active consumer virtual assistant users will balloon from 390M today to 1.8B worldwide by the end of 2021.

“The consumer and enterprise use cases for virtual digital assistants are proliferating rapidly thanks to accelerated innovation and scalability of underlying technologies, such as natural language processing and artificial intelligence,” says principal analyst Mark Beccue. “Meanwhile, most of the world’s technology giants believe VDAs will be vital to their businesses in the future, and they are investing significant resources to capture market share at this early stage.”

You can learn more about conversational commerce by exploring Linc’s platform and solutions pages. Or take a look at how leading brands like Lamps Plus, and others are using automated conversational commerce strategies in their businesses today, in our resources page.


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Turning Touchpoints into a Journey

Every interaction with your customer is important, and maximizing the effectiveness of touchpoints has been a valid business concern for some time. Research from McKinsey, however, highlights the blind spot in this kind of thinking -- true leading brands have moved from a touchpoints-focus to a focus on the holistic customer journey.

Designing a Customer Experience Strategy for Conversational Commerce

When you master conversational commerce, you’ll deliver experiences that make your customers feel as if you hired a personal assistant to help each of them.  There are several key strategies, smart brands need to think about as they go about creating their conversational commerce strategy. Don’t Forget The Data If conversational commerce is the new paradigm of customer experience, data is the engine that drives all those delightful interactions across touchpoints. Your customers are creating data every time they click, swipe, and like --it’s up to you to find it, analyze it and use it to inform customer engagement. Nordstrom, for example, uses sensors and Wi-Fi to track who comes to the store, wherein the store they shop, and how long they stay. They also incentivize their Nordstrom’s credit card and rewards program to gather data about their clients. Target is also known for its data-collecting. The mega-retailer assigns every customer a Guest ID number, which is linked to their credit card, name, or email address. This Guest ID number becomes a repository of info on a shopper’s past Target purchases and any demographic information the company has collected about them and/or bought from a third-party source. Target’s data is so accurate and fine-grained that they were even able to determine a teenage shopper was pregnant (and send her the appropriate mailer filled with baby items) long before her father ever knew. Collecting relevant data, analyzing it and using your learnings to inform which conversational channels make sense for your brand and what types of experiences your particular customers seek to have on them is the foundation of your conversational commerce efforts. Focus On The Highest-Value Activities Put your energy toward meaningful services that customers already care about. Look at service-oriented features, such as notification capability and on-demand service and support capabilities, to guide the customer journey. Don’t just focus on the “Checkout.” The main benefit of service-oriented conversational channel offerings is the ability to organically drive usage into new channels. For example, a customer might place an order on your website and learn that she can subscribe to order status updates through Facebook Messenger. What she sees as taking advantage of a perk will benefit you by encouraging her toward a channel where your chatbot can take over. ChatBots are best for organic conversations with common use cases, but also provide a sense of personalization and convenience for the shopper. Customer service should be your core use for this technology to start. Be Prepared For Bot-to-Human Handoffs The great thing about a conversation handled over text or Messenger is that the customer doesn’t have to know when they might be switching from a bot to a human. Bot design in the future will focus on what they can do, knowing what they can’t do, and designing a bridge to employee assistance that feels seamless to the customer. It’s not just the customer that will be helped by the bot, but the employee. It will provide faster information and better analytics in real time, perhaps then parsing information to pass on to the consumer. The most important aspect of innovation is convenience for the shopper. They should never have to explain their request twice. Start Simple and Grow to Brand Management You can start with bots as a single voice in the chorus of messages from your brand. The long term will have bots as representatives of your entire brand, managing relationships with your customers. You can start conversational commerce, however, with just a single entry point. You can get your customers used to interacting with you on the same channels they use to chat with their friends. You can piggyback on the culture of quick and informal communication, but be ready to meet their expectations for highly personal and meaningful results. If your bot can’t meet that expectation, your customer could walk away disappointed or annoyed. As the technology improves, and it is, even as we write this, you’ll be able to put more and more of your brand management in the hands of the bots. Authentication Giving your bot a way to confirm the customer’s identity is key to a truly intelligent communication that can leverage data from across your other channels. If this isn’t done right, your bot will see each customer as a stranger, negating the opportunity to provide personalized service. Focus On Concepts Rather Than Solutions Your customers might be on Kik today but head over to Facebook Messenger tomorrow. Focusing on the concepts of conversational commerce rather than today’s hottest medium will help you keep your sanity and provide an agile approach that can be applied to meet your customers wherever they migrate. Try not to get bogged down with the details of how to build for one particular channel, and look instead to use-cases. You can learn more about conversational commerce and engaging your customers at every touchpoint by exploring Linc’s platform and solutions pages. Or take a look at how leading brands like Lamps Plus, and others are using automated conversational commerce strategies in their businesses today, in our resources page.