bigdog News

Apps, AI and Actual Conversations

June 2019

Written by Tom Street, Associate Digital Creative Director at bigdog 

How making the most of technological advancements can help improve your customer purchasing journeys

Ever since the introduction of GDPR in 2018, we’ve been focused on when and how we can legally talk to our customers. But now more than ever, providing a rich user experience should be our priority to drive customer loyalty and encourage conversion rates. As well as using the recent advancements of everyday technologies to our advantage.

 A new era of customer behaviour

“Consumers now expect all the experiences and all of the interaction they have with a company to be available within their mobiles.”

Oisin Lunny, Professor for UX Driven Business, Barcelona Technology School

We’ve lived in a mobile-first world for the last 15 years, but brands and customers have only just started embracing the ecommerce possibilities. For example, my parents used to only trust their computers to handle large and important transactions, but now these have been abandoned and their online existence is solely on their mobile devices. The previously held idea that these transactions would be better done on a laptop or desktop seems to be fading away, and the preference for convenient, easy and secure purchasing seems to be taking hold. 

It’s safe to say that we’re now in The Age of the Customer, where “Phono sapiens” demand everything to be seamless, from the user experience right down to purchasing and after-sales services. And the initial release of 5g last month only further amplifies the opportunity for us to aid in delivering a unified experience. 

No one seems to be 100% sure what 5g will do for us, but it’s guaranteed to shake up the way we communicate. I think, in time, our improved networks will evolve to be so much more than just the glaringly obvious, the speed. Yes, we will be able to communicate with our audiences quicker than ever but more importantly how do we then get cut through in what could soon become an even more crowded digital environment? For me the real value lies within the richer omni-channel flow of customer experience. I believe its not just about how consumers shop online but how consumers expect to feel when shopping online.

What UX feels like

“Customers don’t buy products, they buy outcomes.”

Darren Guarnaccia, Chief Product Officer, Crownpeak

Customers know what good UX looks like and how it should make them feel. When it’s right, it’s business as usual, but by God when it’s wrong, the whole world needs to know. 

Brands on social media across the world are in a constant state of turmoil, battling to improve their customer reach while mitigating customer complaints. It’s already hard to manage the customer expectations of a physical product as well as their expectations of the brand service, but customers now demand more, and brands must deliver. 

Think of it like this; a customer buys a product or subscription for a specific outcome, and they now expect brands to help them achieve that outcome as well. For example; it’s more than simply buying a suit, it’s buying a suit on your mobile and the brand assuring you over live chat that it’s the right size and that it’ll arrive on time with no shipping issues. Its product and service as one. Similarly, with products like Fitbit, Strava and Spotify, customers may be paying to watch or play music, but they’re also paying for access to cloud-based information and data services on the go, and the customer service that comes along with that as standard.

It’s all about the experience, and that’s the greatest success of ‘the app’. In a good one, you can find all parts of the customer journey in one place – no fragmentation, no broken journey, no frustration – just the whole omni-channel experience that the customers want. 

However, there are exceptions as I recently found when purchasing some flooring. It was UX fragmentation at its worst. From the store app I was directed to call them, then email them about the stock levels, then pay through my bank instead of the app…It was mayhem. This example is extreme, but any one of these blips in the UX will instantly affect customer loyalty. If it’s easier for the the customer to shop somewhere else, then they will! Cost is proving to be less of a driving factor in people's purchasing decisions. And this bad UX isn’t as rare as you think. According to Forbes, 80% of companies think they deliver a superior UX, but only 8% of customers agree. So, how do we ensure a good UX for our customers? One way is to pre-emptively identify the pain points and solve them before they hit the “live” customer. Start small, iron out the creases and encourage trust and loyalty. It’s something we at bigdog are actively working on, by creating customer journey blueprints for a lot of our clients at early project stages. This is proving to help us deliver the best UX possible.

 Next generation communication

“RCS provides the best experience possible. Not one that’s broken or takes you out into another platform, we are rolling out a global platform…”

Tim Atkinson, Business Development Manager, Google

The next level ‘digital tool’ for best practice UX is one that potentially sits outside of the app and website world. Something that doesn’t require storage on a device and doesn’t suffer any of the limitations of an app, but still takes advantage of the 5g innovations. Google thinks it has the solution in RCS business messaging.

At its core, it’s essentially an update of classic SMS technology, bringing it into the OTT category. Consider the fact that 97% of smartphone users send and receive SMS messages. Giving these customers the ability to talk, gain insight, purchase, track and communicate with a brand all within an instant messaging service, is certainly an interesting concept. 

But the idea isn’t new. It’s something that’s been floating around for over a decade but only now, with the increase in mobile ecommerce, has it really gained traction. In 2018, Google announced its plans to help every major mobile network in the world adopt this RCS protocol resulting in private chats, real time text replies and silly gif exchanges. But for businesses, this is the opportunity to talk directly to their customers. As Tim puts it, “Brands that want to reach out to their customers can, and so as a benefit, we get a better experience for our users on android globally.” Google claim the ‘chat’ will be able to send live updates about upcoming trips, boarding passes, and even allow you to select your seat from within the messenger. And you won’t need to worry about your cellular connection, suggests it will rely on your data connection instead. Plus, it’ll work on multiple devices. This exciting prospect is currently being launched across a few countries in Europe and the UK, but it’s only a matter of time before we’re all using it as part of our customer journeys. Check out Google Jibe to read on some more.

The importance of ‘actual’ conversation

“It’s essential that AI experiences feel natural in order for it to succeed, no matter the person talking to it.”

Tom Street, Associate Digital Creative Director, bigdog

People like the impression of talking to a real person because it’s the micro-reactions and acknowledgements that reassure us. But Artificiall intelligence is becoming ever more common in a bid to enrich conversations that are not actually being made by humans. Back in May 2018, Google Duplex was announced as a way for users to make restaurant reservations by phone to an AI-based, human-sounding voice. It’s now live in the US, and while it is a niche AI project, it’s a valid step forward towards a fluent, conversational and natural AI. Which is the end-goal after all.

For me, the machine learning is a key aspect of AI as it enables systems to learn and improve without the need for explicit programming. But the idea that a machine can access and learn from your data is a scary one. (Remember Skynet?)

At a recent Barbican exhibition, AI: More than Human, one note in the data section specifically hit home, “Data worlds bring the reality of AI up-close, by surfacing its hidden workings and opening up a future that is often exciting”. If AI becomes advanced enough, then adopting it to read and interpret our customers' data to sort, evaluate and then present results at a human level will save time. It’ll also deliver every possible conclusion for truly rewarding results.

Staying on trend and on point

“Trend spotting is common place these days, but for us, gaining insights from running reports we realised we were always one step behind.”

Dr. Elaine Rodrigo, Chief strategy and insights officer, Danone

Solving human problems using basic AI is becoming more common to help companies stay ahead of the game. Dr. Elaine Rodrigo at Danone has noticed a real cultural shift in their audience, with products gaining prominence on social channels. In fact, around 75% of all pictures posted on Facebook today have an element of food or culture in them. It’s a goldmine of data, trends and opinions and all we need to do is figure out a way to capitalise on that customer insight.

Danone did this by creating Eva, an Enhanced Visual Analytics semiotician, to solve this problem. Eva studies social channel images and visuals, then assesses the commonalities behind why people are posting them. Before, Danone were releasing new products that they thought were ‘on trend’ but were actually 12 - 18 months behind the competition by the time it hit the shelves. Eva has given them valuable customer insight, much faster than before, that’s really helping them keep up with their competition. No human can search through 20,000 images a week and draw accurate predictions, but Eva can, and analyses the hidden image data too. The results give Danone an indication of not only what customers are saying but where and why these stories are being told.

This ‘social listening’ and AI-driven social trend prediction puts Danone miles ahead of the pack. Eva even predicted the interest in Cannabidiol, and while it’s not an ingredient they wanted to explore, it is fascinating to see what customers are considering. This is the same with any product – you need to think about more than the physical ‘thing’, you need to consider your customers' purchasing decisions as well as their social and cultural beliefs and trends that may affect them.

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