It is not possible to not communicate – everything we do (or better said everything we are not doing) is a message to another person. Especially in B2B, communication is a vital aspect to a long lasting and successful customer relationship. We are living in an age where communication is instant – let it be via phone or messaging. Additionally, competitive companies do not only strive for a USP that offers a product’s superior quality or it’s competitive price offering. Look at Amazon, Apple or Tesla. They put a lot of effort into making you an enthusiastic customer. Their USP is the superior customer service that fosters loyalty. This means that customer communication is urgent and simultaneously important, thus a topic that should be stressed and talked about!
Firstly, we know that direct customer communication is inevitable to satisfy your customers. So looking into the tech world, where do we stand and where are we heading? Actually, there is a lot going on in that kind of field. You may already have heard of “bots” – short for robot. Fundamentally, they are software responding to an action. Siri for instance is a bot for the iPhone and Cortana for Windows 10. Both cases are serving as personal assistant.
Bots exist for a while now (the first bot ELIZA was built in the 1960s) but they have gotten increased attention since the Facebook Conference F8 past spring. They announced that they are introducing chat bots to their messaging service. Those “chatbots” react to what you write to them. They are already pretty usable, you can ask them when your flight leaves, what restaurant is located near you (Mica, the hipster cat bot), or help you with decisions (Swelly from swell.wtf). But this is only the beginning. For now, most chatbots only react to certain keywords but they soon will work based on machine learning. This will then introduce the era of artificial intelligence (AI) where bots understand language and not only react to specific commands. Plus, they learn from previous conversations thus getting smarter over time (just like a human being 😉 ). And this is where it gets interesting: those chat bots will be a game changer in customer communication. They could easily handle customer support requests. They would be the first instance a customer connects to: let them change their order from Amazon, make money transfers or book a flight.
But then we have to step back for a moment and realize what customer support is all about – customer retention! And you will not be competitive with only having bots that communicate with your customers. So what are we missing here?
We now know that the first interaction with a customer will be via bots. So general requests are easily processed without the need of a human. AI will enhance this kind of “automated” communication but at one point a customer wants to speak with a real person. Maybe the customer wants to get personal advice or they need a human being understanding the problem the customer is facing. Or let’s face it, explaining something with our voice is just easier than writing everything you want to say.
Taking note of what I’ve said in the beginning, namely that you need to be available for your customer 24/7, we need to find a solution apart from bots or AI. Your team needs to directly communicate with customers at one point. And I’m not speaking of (impersonal) emails. Voice communication is the most direct and honest channel. Yet answering the phone concludes to often being stressful, disruptive and presumptuous. Let this sink in for a while: Millennials (also known as Generation Y) are now ubiquitous in modern businesses. And they do not like answering the phone. So what to do? Apart from bots, there are various businesses investing in innovative digital communication solutions. The Cisco’s and Microsoft’s are working on this, but especially startups are focusing on this market potential. YodelTalk for instance is rethinking the predominant way of voice communication: the startup changes the character of a call. Their digital assistant gives insight on the caller, analyzes what to do with the call and routes it to a person or business application, thus structuring and managing the voice communication workflow.
Taking into consideration that we are a fast changing and adapting society we know where organizational structures are heading to: remote teams that are connected all over the world. You can stretch the word “remote” intensively: This does not mean that everyone works from home sitting on their couch. Managers are fundamentally working remotely. They are constantly traveling or getting to the next meeting. And how often are field sales people in the office? You already know the answer. Also, 9-to-5 jobs are dying. And who can nowadays truly say that they are not checking mails while being on vacation? Trends are showing that “workation” (merging your vacation time with work time) is getting more and more popular.
So what do I want to say with this? We need to rethink how people within an organization work together. This is an essential aspect to be more efficient and productive – otherwise your organization will not be competitive! The aspect of working remotely and simultaneously ensuring high quality of customer communication is difficult to solve. But there are already several solutions on the market. Slack, HipChat as well as the Austrian startup Grape are chat messaging services that solve the communication problem for distributed teams. Those platforms are rapidly growing in numbers but also in (intelligent) functionalities (Grape for instance is already working on integrating business intelligence) indicating that they will be the foundation of business communication – let it be internal or external!
In conclusion I want to stress the fact that business communication will indeed change. And this is something that affects all of us – managers, founders, investors, teams of all sorts and the customer support industry. The big corporates are heavily investing into R&D for communication solutions so this alone tells us that there is still a lot to come! And I’m sure we will see the first big results in no time!
Nina Hödlmayr is part of the founding team of YodelTalk and responsible for Marketing and Customer Success activities. Her special focus is on communication trends including VoIP and chatbots. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in International Business with focus on International Marketing and Communications from the Vienna University of Economics and Business. Before joining YodelTalk she lived and worked all over the world including the USA, Turkey, Spain and Indonesia.
Disclaimer: Venionaire Capital CEO Berthold Baurek-Karlic is in the Advisory Board of YodelTalk.