2016 was a transformative year in many ways. For us here at Pypestream, the world customer experience was at the forefront of our business as technology once again redefined what it meant for businesses to communicate with their customers. Most notable was the rise of chatbots. We published multiple articles on our blog highlighting the potential and promise of such technology, and we’ll continue to do so in 2017 as we (and the technology) continue to evolve.
In addition to chatbots, 2016 provided some other truly valuable lessons that we’ll carry into 2017, below are the top five:
1. The chatbot and automation space is still in its infancy
Chatbots thrust themselves into the mainstream this year on the back of major announcements from Facebook Messenger and other messaging platforms. The industry was abuzz as bots represented the potential to revolutionize everything we know about communication and user interactivity. But as 2016 draws to a close, we can see that the industry is still far too young to make any concrete predictions.
Yes, chatbots are here and they’re here to stay. Boundaries will be pushed, the technology will evolve and consumers will be blessed with smarter bots, more intuitive processes and better conversational experiences. But it will take time. Consider the early days of mobile apps. The apps back then were clunky and difficult to navigate. Developers had to coach users on how to use apps. Then, as consumer adoption increased, they got better. More intuitive and homogenized. It took some time for apps to mature but once they did, they exploded. The same will be true for bots – the early stages of adoption are bound to be wrought with obstacles but the mass adoption will come. And when it does – the user experience will be seamless.
Thankfully, this adoption process is expected to be faster for bots than apps due to the fact that the user-experience comes naturally – we already know how to message with each other. So don’t be surprised if in 2017 the bot space explodes into a frenzy with mass consumer adoption.
2. There’s an inherent disconnect between businesses and consumers
Customer service has always been a boon for big business. Delivering the service that customers love in a timely and scalable fashion is tough work. In 2016, there was greater emphasis on improving the customer experience to meet the needs of an ever-demanding consumer. More companies are shifting into a customer-centric mindset and re engineering their businesses to value the customer more favorably. Despite this, there’s still a disconnect between businesses and consumers in how they communicate. And the divide is growing as competition becomes increasingly fierce.
For large enterprises the challenge is real. There has never been a more hungry base of customer-first focused startups ready to disrupt the old way of thinking. Legacy companies in age-old industries like insurance, healthcare, financial services, utility services and telecommunications are on notice. The smaller, nimbler, technology firms emerging with a customer-first mindset are shaking things up with a new approach to the business-consumer relationship. They’re doubling down on customer communication and priding themselves on the open and direct communication they have with their customers.
In 2017, maybe we’ll start to see these larger firms take some action to future-proof their businesses against a rapidly changing landscape and implement customer communication strategies that better reflect the trends of today.
3. Customer engagement requires a fresh approach
Consumers have a plum role in the B2C relationship these days. They have more choice, more channels, and more say than ever before. Simply put – they’re empowered. This means how companies engage with them matters. Relying on old methods of communication, or old channels, that don’t reflect the trends of today isn’t going to cut it. That’s become more apparent in 2016 as messaging apps surpassed social networks in popularity.
Businesses need to adopt a new approach to engagement – one that supports the conversational interactions that consumers crave – or else they risk becoming obsolete. If 2016 has taught us anything, it’s that consumers are flocking to two channels: messaging and chat. The faster businesses can adopt the same mindset and integrate messaging into their channel strategy, the more customer share they’ll enjoy. Which takes us to the next point….
4. Conversational experiences are in high-demand
The problem with apps and websites is they require users learn a set of rules to navigate the interface. For eg. users don’t automatically know where to go to access a menu in an app. Nor do they know what part of a website to visit to get the information they’re after. That behavior has been learned over years of use. But with chat, the process of navigating a website is replaced with the more natural exchange of words and language. Instead of searching through an app or website for something, users can simply text exactly what they want. This makes the adoption rate of chat-based technology (such as bots) faster. Users can easily engage in conversation with a bot because they’re merely chatting to it like they would with their friends. This rapid adoption rate is why many people predict bots will explode a lot faster than apps.
In 2016, the premise of businesses ‘chatting’ to customers like they chat with their friends became more than an idea. It became the goal. Businesses big and small want to develop strong, conversational relationships with customers. We’re likely to see this trend continue in 2017 with an even greater emphasis on developing conversational interfaces that connect brands to consumers intuitively via text.
5. On-demand is here to stay
Whether it’s TV, food, transport, or customer service, on-demand services are the crux of today’s consumer. They’re attached to their phone, always on the move, and don’t have time to wait. It’s no surprise then that in on-demand services thrived – from Netflix to Uber. What does this mean for the world of customer experience? Businesses must learn the value of being accessible when it suits the consumer, not necessarily when it suits the business. On-demand customer service will be key in 2017 and beyond.
2016 has taught us many things, and 2017 will be a year that the customer experience industry collectively grows. The good news is the technology that allows businesses to effectively meet consumer demand is maturing and will be more readily available for businesses. So maybe 2017 will be the year consumers aren’t groaning about their experiences with brands, and instead they’re celebrating them… We can only hope!