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In the past 150 years of telephone technology, there are three landmark dates: 1876, when A. G. Bell first shouted, ‘Mr. Watson, come here’ into a mouthpiece; 1984, when Motorola introduced the first mobile phone; and 2007, when smartphones went mainstream.

Smartphones had been available prior to 2007, but they were generally considered the instruments for those working in business. Functionality and the user interface were poor, but users put up with it because there wasn’t an alternative, and they needed to check their email on the move. Then Apple released the iPhone, and everything changed.

The iPhone wasn’t just a cool new toy that had removed cumbersome functionality like the trackball and physical keyboard. Yes, it was slick looking and shiny, but, more importantly, it had a wide range of capabilities, and it worked better than anything else. People could chat with friends, watch movies, play games, check and send email, get directions, and access the web on one handy little device that fit in their pocket.

At first, smartphones were phones that could do some computing. Now, they’re powerful computers that can also make calls.

The rise of the smartphone has led us to today’s on-demand world of instant gratification. The new norm is accessing anything and everything from a mobile device, and mobility has completely transformed the way we interact with people and organisations. This is a game changer for customer service. As consumers are increasingly connected, small businesses now have the opportunity to connect with them around the clock.

In recent years, AI and an army of automated chatbots have been enlisted to help service customers online. They are economical for businesses of all sizes and can scale at almost no cost, and brands are eager to harness this enormous, new potential. However, 81% of Australians report they want to interact with a human being when they have an issue.[1] Furthermore, even as operations become more automated, a human is still needed to deal with issues more complex than an account balance inquiry or change in password.

Finding the perfect balance between this emerging technology and traditional human elements of customer service is a growing challenge for small businesses. The magic behind this balance stems from digital messaging platforms that merge the abilities of chatbots and humans to create a “hybrid bot”. Whilst the chatbot can process figures and administrative tasks, the human can respond to more complex issues and problems. In effect, the chatbot alleviates the stress on the human and allows them to place their focus on the more important issues at hand. For a small business, this super-agent streamlines both time constraints and problem solving, as the chatbot’s ability to save time and provide assistance to the customer service agent becomes a lifesaver. While it alleviates business pressures, it also creates goodwill amongst customers as it opens more opportunities to communicate on their terms.

While some argue bots are the cost-cutting future of customer engagement, others contend that a human is the most effective way to solve problems. As with so many things, the solution lies somewhere in the middle. The one thing both sides agree on? A business can’t force customers to call it. Those that do send their customers a message loud and clear: They don’t respect consumers’ time, and the consumer will be put on hold.

Consumers have become accustomed to chat and messaging — via apps on their phones and tablets or on their computers. For a small business, it provides an efficient alternative to voice-based communication that limits consumer frustration and opens the door to cost-effective features like AI and bots. Shaping the customer experience is about finding that balance between traditional interaction models and emerging technology to create a seamless experience benefiting both consumer and business.

About the author

Steve Fitzjohn is the Regional Director for Asia Pacific at LivePerson, a cloud-based platform enabling real-time connections between businesses and customers via chat, voice, and content delivery through different channels. Fitzjohn has over 15 years of experience and has held a series of senior management positions at a number of telecommunications, energy and eCommerce companies in Australia.

[1] https://www.accenture.com/us-en/insight-digital-disconnect-customer-engagement?c=strat_stratsmctwt_10000230&n=smc_0316

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Steve Fitzjohn

Steve Fitzjohn

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