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Conversational Commerce: Knocking Down the Walls of the Digital Fortress

AI & messaging modernize and personalize customer engagement.


As the web and digital took off, marketers armed with huge budgets worked out how to automatically acquire customers online through programmatic ads on the web and Facebook, and regimented websites that funnel visitors to a purchase without human intervention.

Meanwhile, the customer care teams charged with servicing those customers struggled to keep up. While sales has a small number of mostly automated processes, after-sales support is the opposite: a wide array of messy exceptions with a lot of manual work.

To stave off ballooning costs, companies put up what renowned digital customer experience innovator Robert Gary has called a “digital fortress”. The idea was to stop their garrison of support staff from being overwhelmed by an influx of customer needs and requests.


A moat and walls

While one could argue this fortress was needed to deflect consumers to automated support (in the shape of interactive voice response systems or FAQ pages) without inflating staffing budgets, it was not a happy compromise because consumers hated it.

No matter how important a customer feels their call is, talking to an interactive voice response system feels like a giant “talk to the hand.”

Some brands have doubled down by hiding their 800 numbers — talk to the hand, but first you have to find the hand! This tactic even sparked a small group of companies that uncover hard to find 800 numbers and necessary prompts to bypass the walls of the fortress to quickly connect to a human.

It is also common for brands to reward contact center staff for blowing through high volumes of incoming calls within short periods, meaning agents often hurry customers off the phone without always fully resolving their issues.


Locked outside the gate

This has led to tremendously pent-up rage from consumers blocked by these fortress walls. Consumers left with limited options are forced to choose between shaming brands into compliance by trashing them on social media, leaving brands completely, or worse, both.

Twitter attacks are far more public and damaging to brands than private rants, and every major brand now has a social media response team to de-escalate public displays of anger. Their job is mostly to hurry consumers off a public forum and into a private messaging conversation instead.

But what if social media was no longer an outlet for enraged consumers, and instead became the first port of call, with rapid responses and the potential to solve all problems then and there? The good news is that this is already happening.


America follows Asia

Years after WeChat and WhatsApp became ubiquitous among Asian businesses for providing business-to-consumer messaging, America is catching up. Apple, Facebook (Messenger and WhatsApp) and Google now offer B2C messaging solutions. The experience is like this: message a brand with your question or concern, and put your phone away. Sometime soon, a rep messages back. You go back and forth, the speed determined by the issue’s urgency, and soon your issue is resolved.

Sounds fairly simple, right? Yes, but it was not possible until recently because a few things were lacking: contact center readiness (remember: tens of thousands of staff!), secure messaging channels where you could discuss private account or order details, but most of all, the technology wasn’t there.

Recent breakthroughs have allowed for technology that can scale AI from small projects, powered by a machine learning team, up to large-scale deployments that react to input from many humans. Think thousands of sales or customer care staff training and improving a bot hands-on, without needing to take it offline to send back to the AI crew.


The end of 800 number

With all major messaging platforms now open to businesses, teams at large companies are readying for the end of the 800 call. And the faster consumers realize this, the quicker it will happen — a snowball effect. Ask yourself if you’d rather sit on hold to ask a brand a question, or message them and go about your day?

What we’ll see in 2019 is most large brands offering a messaging solution via at least one of  the Apple, Facebook or Google channels, and, in many cases, inside their own apps as well. In industries like consumer banking, where customers frequently have their bank’s mobile app, an in-app option to message questions will become standard.

Instead of being an escape valve for furious customers, public Twitter and Facebook posts will give way to private messaging channels that put any brand at your fingertips, anytime. And the teams that managed those social customer service channels will happily move into the much larger customer care teams, no longer stressed by being on the front lines of customer discontent.

So instead of giving customers no recourse besides using social media to express discontent, empower them to use it to solve their problems more constructively, providing solutions for them to use their favorite messaging platforms to get the answers and assistance they need.

Interested in using AI to solve your brand’s customer service needs? LivePerson provides an AI-powered conversational platform that makes it easy for consumers to buy products and get answers to questions in messaging channels they already use every day.


By Robert LoCascio, Founder & CEO, LivePerson