"We are living in a conversation-first world”. Increasingly, I hear statements like this throughout New Zealand and Australia’s boardrooms. The rationale underpinning these statements is solid: humans like conversations. We do! It’s in our nature. This is how we have handled business and personal affairs for hundreds of years.
In 2018, Gartner predicted that 25% of customer service operations will use Virtual Customer Assistants (VCAs) by 2020. It's 2020 now and conversational solutions like chatbots predominantly under-perform against such expectations. We're nowhere close to a 25% adoption in Customer Service - and have barely seen any VCAs in other areas. So why is that? Why – if the desire for conversations is literally in our DNA – have conversational solutions not been more widely adopted yet?
For me, the biggest reason lies in how we approach conversational solutions in our industries. Doing the same - just in a different way - isn't going to create a lot of excitement. Look at the two most common applications of chatbots for example:
- Building an FAQ chatbot to surface information is adding another channel - but it doesn’t create a new experience. Instead, it’s providing static information, just like a search engine on your website.
- Recreating a form-based data entry through a series of questions and answers equally isn’t a game changer. In many cases it takes a wizard onto an inferior communication channel: text-only, and without the ability of guiding a user through visual cues. It’s basically Microsoft Clippy, and we all know how much people loved that.
"Doing the same in a different way won't create excitement!"
However, we only have to look back over the past 12 years to see how mobile has gone from a cute little nice-to-have to the dominant digital interface. In the early days it was just about bringing email and web to a mobile device. And while there was a certain convenience to it, when given a choice users would always use a bigger screen with a mouse and keyboard to do these tasks.
Only when we started doing things that weren’t possible with a laptop or a computer – or at least hard to achieve – mobile really took off. You only need to think about the dwindling number of people who take pictures with DSLR camera, connect it to a computer, download the photos and then upload them to a social network. Also, I don’t think anybody has ever called an Uber or activated a Lime scooter from a desktop. And I’m pretty sure nobody takes the laptop with them for a run to track their fitness stats.
It was doing something new with mobile that made it the preferred interaction for most people these days.
So what are the things that will have Conversation-first overtake Mobile-first? Here are some ideas:
Moving from interrogations to conversations
In other words, moving from a series of very specific questions in a strict sequence to open-ended questions with a user-controlled conversation flow. Think of consultation or advice scenarios, from finance to health to product recommendations.
In a fictional example about recommending the right superannuation fund, today's form-based information requests like "How old are you? What's your relationship status? Do you rent or own your home?", will be replaced by a more conversational "Tell me a bit about yourself".
Bridging the lexicon gap
By allowing users to say what they want in their own words, any interaction becomes more natural and less intimidating. This is particularly true in industries with low frequency touch points, where there is simply no opportunity to "educate" users on industry lingo and processes (not that they would care).
Listening to feedback
Yes, with conversations we suddenly have built-in feedback mechanisms, going well beyond a simple NPS rating at the end of a transaction. Interactions in natural language intrinsically contain rich semantic information that tell you in much greater detail how a customer feels about your service - and what they care about in general. The “voice of the customer” is now included in each and every interaction, and mining that insight will be the difference between winning in this new world - or getting left behind.
A decade ago organisations around the world were suddenly forced to jump onto the mobile bandwagon. Is history going to repeat itself, or will companies embrace another major shift in time to prepare?
Read more on how you can get your conversation-first approach started here.