A few weeks ago, I called my broadband provider about intermittent outages. The helpful customer support rep looked at my account and cheerfully told me that I could save money by switching to a different plan. A few minutes later, I had changed my plan to one that cost half as much and delivered comparable speeds. At first, I was happy. Then I was annoyed. Because I realized, in reality, no customer service team is proactively looking out for my well-being before I raise a problem.
AI and the New Age of Customer Advocacy
AI and the new age of customer advocacy are when AI can treat every customer like royalty just as they expected. But, unfortunately, proactively advocating on behalf of customers until now has been expensive and not easy to scale due to the reliance on humans.
In addition, it was easier to triage problems because, frankly, in the short turn companies earned higher revenues from ignorant customers. Now the customers know everything, and they expect to be treated like royalty. Therefore, companies must change their core approach to customer experience and support. Modern artificial intelligence will drive that change.
Customers already have AI-powered options with adversarial bill challenging solutions.
Arguing with your customers is bad business — let alone arguing with their external AI advocates.
Delighting customers by demonstrating you really put them first with proactive actions and personalized care is the best way to build long-term customer value. The only way to do this effectively and at scale is to leverage AI to make customer advocacy a core internal value and competency. In the past, businesses made the excuse that proactively communicating business policies with customers was not scalable.
AI removes that fig leaf by making personalized customer advocacy economical, inevitable and desirable at zero marginal cost. This tectonic shift will open up many new business models and put many older business models in the graveyard. Here’s what this new reality might look like.
AI Makes Cognitive Tasks Free — That Changes Everything.
The radical change that AI brings to business transactions is making a previously expensive resource – cognitive function – nearly free.
As outlined in the book “Prediction Machines” by three brilliant economists from the University of Toronto, the superpower of AI is making predictions free.
An AI today can do a fine job selecting clothing to suit your tastes, based on past purchases and anonymized purchases of others who share your likes and dislikes. In addition, there are a growing number of AI-driven personal shopping assistants such as “The Yes” and Beyond, which pairs stylists with customer opinions and applies AI to create ever-better recommendations.
Conversational AI powers retail chatbots that guide customers to more intelligent choices. In addition, the cost of serving one customer or 1 million customers is nearly identical, so the marginal cost of each new interaction is zero.
When what was formerly expensive becomes free, this forces major economic disruptions and realigns market power in surprising ways.
Think of what happened when the smartphone absorbed the GPS, the camera and the radio — or when detailed maps and traffic data became freely available at zero cost with Google Maps. These shifts to free or near-free disrupted legacy businesses and created new opportunities, like ridesharing companies Uber and Lyft and crowdsource traffic mapping company Waze.
Smart AI Will Perform Sophisticated Advocacy
A smart AI today could easily book a flight based on your ranked preferences of stops, airport choice, distance from destination, price and time of departure or arrival.
Your AI travel agent knows.
In the very near future, an AI travel agent would know that you like to go to Hawaii and preferred Maui departing on Thursday and returning Sunday evening. Your AI travel agent would alert you when flights meet your financial criteria of dropping below $500 RT and pre-book a room at a hotel near your favorite beach. (If this sounds like your old human travel agent, that’s because it basically is.)
Your AI personal concierge
An AI could serve as a personal concierge, alerting you to concerts you might like in your area or to books due to be published that suit your tastes.
Think about this:
Taking the scenario one step further, an AI might save you from a bad decision. For example, after checking past prices of flights to Hawaii and booking trends at nearby hotels, then negotiating with a hotel AI on a special room rate, the AI might say, “Wait, don’t book that flight. There is likely to be another flight sale this month, and your favorite hotel is booked for the weekend you are thinking about, so why not wait for the next sale? I already have a triple-upgrade to your favorite room.”
Foundations of AI as Consumer Advocate and Partner are Already Taking Shape
In the case of my Internet provider, an AI can be tasked with periodically reviewing what you are paying, what you are consuming, and going out to seek the best offers, negotiating on your behalf.
Human-powered analogies of this are already taking shape. Trim, BillShark, and TrueBill all offer bill negotiation services for cable, phone, and many other types of bills that rely on a smarter data backend to assist human experts. These negotiation services are starting to build a repository of data for training AI systems.
The data will be not just on pricing but on how to negotiate. Trim, for example, also uses smart AI and crowdsourcing to proactively request a bill credit for when a subscriber’s Internet goes down, even if they don’t notice it or request a refund themselves.
Entrepreneurs are applying basic AI to allow people to tackle more complicated tasks quickly and easily.
Several startups can advocate for consumers by disputing parking tickets or filing small court claims across many states. These, however, are adversarial relationships that can do real damage to the relation.
Why Customer Advocacy AI is Inevitable
Because the consumer’s AI will be talking to the merchant’s AI, then there is no need for standardized products or pricing.
In this era, we finally realize mass personalization of retail and consumer services, powered preferences illuminated through the smart use of AI. At the same time, this consumer advocate AI could supplant many of the more cumbersome, adversarial unpleasant interactions between customers and brands they use.
At the highest level, like my friendly cable company customer service rep, the AI will act internally as the advocate and voice of the customer at the individualized level.
By making customer-centricity truly programmatic and creating algorithms specifically for this task, companies will elevate customer advocacy from a second-tier program to one that informs business strategy. As a result, the business strategy will drive product development and design with constantly updated feedback based on real behaviors and interactions.
At the same time, the companies must optimize their products and support to allow customers to choose the external AI (should they so desire). Companies can empower that form of interaction via APIs and other ways of conversations between customer AI and internal support AI.
How to Survive and Thrive in the Era of AI Customer Advocacy
Envisioning a future where AI talks to AI allows our personal advocates to constantly scan the horizon to look out for our well-being. This type of AI customer advocacy will be negotiating on our behalf with superior knowledge and lead to some wholesale changes in business models and customer engagement mechanisms.
The first part of the old world to go will be tedious, time-intensive and unpleasant tasks.
Some of the tasks we will not miss will be running through lengthy sign-up processes or haggling on prices or promotional plans. Next, we will offload cognitively intensive but narrowly focused tasks that are heavily dependent on past tastes or indicated preferences. These tasks include such things as shopping for clothes, planning a trip, or finding the best doctor or dentist in our area. This AI capability can either come as a service paid for by the customer or as one provided for the customer by the company.
For businesses, dealing with this fully empowered consumer AI will be challenging.
For the first time, the consumer may have significantly better information than the business selling the service or product. Adding AI to this mix, as well, gives the consumer cognitive superpowers.
An AI can easily check across millions of travel permutations on any number of parameters. The AI travel helps will include flights, hotels, ticket availability for sporting events, special restaurant dinners, camping permits to national parks.
Your personal, desired conditions found and coordinated by AI
Your AI will be able to find the right mixture of desirable conditions that fits with stated or implicit preferences while fitting into work and family schedules. This has not been possible yet because the AIs were not advanced enough and could not readily talk to each other, let alone negotiate complex transactions.
All situations can change as the cost of AI drops further and the capabilities improve — just as our smartphones consumed multiple industry categories, including cameras, recorders, radios, newspapers and GPS systems.
Tremendous business advantages wait in AI for those who dare to dream
Just as Amazon and Netflix saw over the horizon to futures that were not yet real, businesses that can imagine a world where their inventory systems, CRM, and pricing systems can collaborate with customers’ AI will enjoy a tremendous advantage.
Monetize your future with AI
How to monetize that future remains unclear, but we can make some educated guesses based on the directions we see AI systems heading in retail, travel and media.
Delivering customer-centric goods and services that are truly personalized will command a premium. This is already true today in the bespoke world. In the future, it will be true for every consumer that has an AI on their side.
Image Credit: kampus production; pexels; thank you!
How to Choose the Right Business Continuity Test for You – ReadWrite
Today’s businesses need to be prepared for unforeseen impacts on their work. A Business Continuity Plan is an excellent way to do this; it consolidates everything you need to do when an outside event disrupts your business. But, of course, any Business Continuity Plan also needs regular testing to ensure it’s fit for purpose.
We’ll be taking a look at an explanation of what a Business Continuity Plan is, what testing looks like, and how often you should be testing it.
What is a Business Continuity Plan?
Image Credit: Unsplash; Thank you!
A Business Continuity Plan explores how a business works after a disastrous event. It offers procedures in the face of fires, natural disasters, mass disease outbreaks, or data breaches.
A key concern of today’s plans is data backups. Since many industries (like content marketing for saas) require extensive planning, we need to know our protected data. Other critical components of the plan include comprehensive contact details for staff and maintaining productivity on a short-term or long-term basis.
If you employ a manual QA tester, you can understand a business continuity plan isn’t static. They require regular testing to ensure that they do what they’re supposed to. Testing also helps to spot any blind spots or areas for improvement.
Do I Need a Business Continuity Plan?
If the last few years have proved anything, it’s that nobody can really predict the future. As a result, unexpected events can completely upend our daily lives, and businesses can be severely compromised or go out of business altogether.
Invenio IT reported that in 2020, 51% of businesses worldwide didn’t have a business continuity plan. Given how dramatically the world of work has changed, that’s an oversight we literally can’t afford to make. As a result, 90% of businesses fail within a year if they can’t recover quickly from a disastrous event.
A business’s inability to keep working in the face of adversity is a threat to customer acquisition. Even if you have a detailed customer onboarding template, customers will likely reject you if your business isn’t reliable.
Business Continuity Plans demand significant investments of both time and resources. But they can be the difference between a business’s survival and its collapse.
How Do I Test My Plan?
Image Credit: Unsplash; Thank you!
Today’s businesses can approach business continuity plan testing in several different ways. It’s important to understand that different test types share the same fundamental tasks—understanding your plan, putting it into practice, and identifying potential improvements. The difference lies in how closely you look at your plan and the resources you can commit.
You might want to take some inspiration from the quality assurance process of software testing. First, have a clear idea of what you want to look at or improve. Then, involve everyone who needs to be involved, and has a dedicated team of people assigned to the task.
Business Continuity Plan Review
A Business Continuity Plan review is the most straightforward approach to plan testing. It acts as a basic audit of your plan with key personnel—the main BCP (Business Continuity Plan) team, department heads, and some management staff. During the review, participants simply read through the plan and see if there are any obvious flaws.
The rise of cloud services means it’s relatively easy to preserve modern-day business data. For example, if we’re calculating CSAT, we might use a cloud-based graph to track our progress. Although, don’t treat these as a silver bullet; make backups and keep a record of what cloud services you use.
This kind of test is easy to arrange and helps introduce your plan to new BCP team members. However, this test is also very lightweight. As a result, it lacks an in-depth assessment of a plan’s effectiveness and doesn’t communicate procedures (or benefits) to the broader workforce.
Also known as a structured walkthrough, tabletop testing is a simple roleplay scenario. A business’s key stakeholders come together to simulate a risk to the business, and see if they understand how to respond. A continuity plan needs human eyes on it; the more hands-on you can be, the better.
Tabletop testing usually looks at a few different scenarios; participants review response procedures, outline responsibilities more clearly and see if they can improve the overall plan. If you’re just starting out, begin with something relatively simple like hacker attacks; these are both commonplace and relatively easy to thwart.
Image Credit: smallbiztrendsdotcom; Thank you!
This testing type is a great way to bring employees up to speed on what’s required of them. It takes an in-depth approach to the plan and usually brings together multiple departments. This makes understanding and amending the project much more straightforward.
At the same time, tabletop testing has significant requirements. It takes a long time to do properly, and it needs thorough documentation for it to be of any use at all. It’s also not as hands-on as other testing types; in many cases, you’re more talking about the plan rather than putting it into practice.
This is the most ambitious form of continuity plan testing. Participants in a walkthrough carry out recovery actions (such as restoring backups and testing redundant systems), and anything else a business thinks is relevant. This involves the plan’s critical personnel and any relevant employees.
It might also require traveling out of the office (for example, external data storage locations). Just as localization testing examines an app or website in different places, a walkthrough ensures all the components of your plan function wherever they’re located.
This hands-on approach to testing gives you the most precise idea of how effective your recovery plan is. That said, it’s also the most resource-intensive. For example, carrying out a walkthrough demands a lot of investment from a business. It can also be quite challenging to arrange if you need several different colleagues to participate.
How Often Should I Test My Plan?
Image Credit: Unsplash; Thank you!
Testing frequency depends on your business’ needs and the resources you have to work with. As you can see, detailed plan testing isn’t something you can do every day. Even at a basic level, it requires several people from several departments to be genuinely effective.
You also need to consider what you are testing for. Today’s businesses face multiple threats, but some are likelier than others. For example, if you work in an area susceptible to flooding, you may want to focus on your business’s flood response. That said, remember to consider commonplace threats, such as data breaches, to which a security assessment is a good response.
At a minimum, it’s best to conduct one tabletop test per year for each key area of concern. This includes recovering from likely disasters, business continuity, incident response, to name but a few key areas of potential agitation. You should also aim to carry out an in-depth walkthrough every two years. Time-intensive tests like tabletop testing might need to be carried out on weekends to ensure you don’t compromise your work schedule.
What Else Should I Consider?
The essential part of any testing is documentation. Record your testing, with particular emphasis on anything actionable. You also need to follow up on these actions for the testing to be worth doing at all.
If you’ve made any significant changes to your business (like moving premises or changing the size of your workforce), make sure you increase the frequency of your testing—at least in the short term. These major shifts can have a dramatic impact on what your continuity plan looks like.
Make sure you tell your wider workforce about your plan and encourage people to take part where necessary. This could shed light on new, valuable ideas, such as wiping sensitive files from your hard drives.
By treating your Business Continuity Plan as an organic element (such as one that is open to revision and evolution), you’ll do an excellent job of keeping your business safe in the future.
Inner Article Image Credit: Provided by the author; Thank you!
Top Image Credit: Ron Lach; Pexels; Thank you!
10 Strategies to Retain Employees in a Workplace – ReadWrite
A top performer just resigned out of nowhere, and you are now at a loss. What might be the reason for it? And how will this impact the rest of the employees?
With that happening, you will have to lean on your other employees, making them take on more responsibility. In the meantime, you will look for a replacement for the employee that left. It’s a big ask, specifically if they are already stretched thin. Such actions will stoke stress and uncertainty in your employees.
Given the likelihood of cascading fallout, it’s natural to think that the departure of one employee could be the tipping point of other employees feeling to leave as well. At the very least, it can affect the morale of the employees, which can undermine their work performance.
So, this is the time to make sure that your business is taking the proper steps to drive job satisfaction and retain employees.
What Prompts Employees to Leave?
To find out the reason behind your top performer’s sudden departure, do an exit interview. Exit interviews will tell you whether your employee retention tactics need improvement or not. And what needs to be done to retain employees and employee productivity.
You most likely will hear one or more of the following reasons from the departing employee:
- Inadequate benefits and salary
- Feeling overburdened with work or lack of support from the team
- Limited career advancement opportunities
- Need to maintain a balance between work and life
- Lack of appreciation and recognition
- Unhappy with the management team
- Concerned about the company’s financial health and direction
- Dissatisfied with the company culture
- The desire to make changes
Strategies that will help you Retain Employees
If you feel that your company is at risk of losing talented employees, you need to develop strategies to retain employees. Here is how you can boost employees’ job satisfaction and increase your chances of holding on to top talent in your company.
1. Orientation and Onboarding
You need to help each new hire to settle in so they can find success from the beginning of their job. Your onboarding session should include what the job entails and inform your employees about the company culture. And how they can contribute and thrive in the new atmosphere, office and culture. Don’t skim through this initial step.
The support and training you give from Day 1, whether virtually or in-person, can set the tone of their entire tenure at your company.
For instance, you are a cellphone repair shop. Your onboarding session should not only include giving training on your cellphone repair store software. Instead, it should consist of a session on your repair store’s culture and how normally the day goes about while repairing devices.
2. Mentoring Programs
Pairing a new employee with a work buddy is an essential component of the onboarding process and helps retain employees. In addition, these work buddies can welcome new employees into the company and guide them.
New employees learn the ropes from experienced employees. In return, they give the experienced ones fresh viewpoints.
Consequently, mentorship should not be limited to new employees only. You can have mentorship opportunities for existing employees as well. It will give them a sense of understanding of where they stand and what they need to improve to succeed.
3. Compensation for Employees
Companies need to give their employees competitive compensation. However, it means that the company has to evaluate and adjust salaries frequently.
Even if you are unable to increase the pay, try to provide other compensation. Such compensations can be in the form of paid time off or bonuses.
In addition to this, retirement plans and health benefits are also necessary. These valued offerings can help increase job satisfaction and ultimately will help retain employees.
Offering perks to your employees can make your work stand out to new hires and re-engage current staff. All this will also boost the morale of your employees. Remote work options, parental leave, and flexible schedules are perks that many employees value the most.
To evaluate your business and see what you offer your employees.
5. Wellness Offerings
Keeping employees healthy – physically, financially, and mentally is just good business. Even the current pandemic has urged many companies to improve and expand their wellness offerings so that their employees’ well-being feels prioritized and supported.
They have stress management programs, reimbursement for virtual fitness classes, and retirement planning services. Taking their example, start implementing these strategies to show that your employees are essential to you.
The pandemic has also enabled us to underscore the need for good workplace communication. Employees reporting to you should feel that they can come to you if they have an idea, concern, or questions at any time.
Similarly, you should promote constructive, timely, and positive communication across all departments, including remote and onsite employees. Please make sure you actively connect with every staff member daily to get a sense of their job satisfaction and workload.
7. Constant Feedback on Performance
Most company owners are abandoning annual performance reviews in support of frequent meetings with every team member. In such one-on-one sessions, discuss the short and long-term career goals of your employees.
Such activities can help them visualize their future in your company. The key takeaway here is not to make promises that you can’t keep. Instead, take them through their potential career advancement journey together. And lay down a realistic plan that can help them achieve their goals.
8. Development and Training
You can retain employees by helping them figure out their key areas for professional growth as part of your continuous feedback on performance. It can include needing to learn new skills. Getting new skills is extremely important in the current era as technology alters our work.
Substantially, when people learn new skills, they learn new tricks to keep up with the evolving business requirements. So, make sure you invest in the professional development of your employees. Make them attend virtual conferences, pay for continuing education, and provide tuition reimbursement.
In addition to this, don’t forget succession planning. It can be highly effective for advancing professional development and can help in building leadership skills.
9. Rewards and Recognition
Each employee feels the need to be appreciated for the work they do. And in the current circumstances, if you understand your employees, it’s bound to leave a considerable impact.
So, make sure you thank your employees who have gone the extra mile. And do mention how their hard work has helped the employees. Some companies even have reward systems that they use to incentivize great innovation and ideas.
Also, having a small company doesn’t mean that you can’t have an effective recognition program. You can do it even if you have a small team and a limited budget. You’ll want to arrange your recognition program in such a way that you and your employees can benefit from it.
10. Work-life balance
What kind of message is your time management giving to your employees? Do you expect your employees to be available 24/7?
You need to realize that a healthy work-life balance is essential for job satisfaction. Employees need to know that their managers understand the fact that they have lives outside of their office. Encourage your employees to set boundaries and give them vacation time. And if late sit-ins are required to end tasks, give them extra time off to compensate for that.
The ten strategies to retain employees given above are just some ways you can increase your employees’ job satisfaction. For that, you need to stay updated with market standards of benefits and salaries. And try to use the best practices to develop an attractive workplace culture.
Jotform Rebrands to Focus on the Power of its Forms – ReadWrite
When companies rebrand, they often do it with a renewed or revised focus. Sometimes the company pivots entirely, heading in a new direction to keep up with changing trends and demands from its audience.
In the case of Jotform, the company recently rebranded to better focus on what it’s done so well for 15 years: provide its audience with versatile, easy-to-create, powerful forms.
Since its launch, Jotform has undergone tremendous growth. More than 10 million users have shaped the form builder and its complementary services. The platform has grown to include payment processor integrations, state-of-the-art security measures, conditional logic, and more. It supports small businesses, large corporations, nonprofits, and everything in between.
And now, Jotform is focusing on further improving its powerful forms to continue to support its broad audience of users.
Here’s what you can expect from the newly rebranded Jotform.
A new logo and tagline
Jotform boasts a streamlined, simplified logo that honors the original. The “f” in “Jotform” is now lowercase for easier readability, and the logo features a new and refreshing color scheme.
The logo’s pencil has been updated with multiple colors to represent the multiple products and features the business has created. The colors represent form fields, table cells, graph bars, and even the lines on a document.
Similarly, Jotform’s new tagline honors the company’s vision: “Powerful forms get it done.” This tagline demonstrates that, even as the company has grown and evolved, it has always remained true to the powerful forms at the core of its business.
A revised website
The Jotform website has some aesthetic updates, but it remains easy to use and navigate. The homepage reflects the new tagline, color scheme, and logo, and the My Forms dashboard has been rebranded with a cleaner, clearer look.
The form builder navigation has also undergone a color change. The revised colors are high contrast, and the page was designed to keep your attention on what really matters — the form.
The same pricing
Jotform may have been rebranded, but its pricing plans have remained the same. Jotform offers five plan tiers, and those tiers make it a suitable option for nonprofits as well as the largest corporations.
The Starter tier is available for free, and it includes many essential features. It supports up to five forms and 100 monthly submissions. This plan also generously includes 100 MB of space and 1,000 form views.
The Bronze plan is just $24 per month when billed annually, while the Silver plan is $29 per month and includes up to 100 forms. For $79 per month, the Gold plan includes unlimited forms to support operations with significant form creation and management demands.
The Enterprise plan is for the largest organizations, and it supports multiple users, SSO login integrations, and more.
Jotform may be changing, but its pricing hasn’t budged.
Easy online form builder
Jotform’s form builder is clean, concise, and user-friendly. It’s easy to build a form from scratch with the drag-and-drop interface or edit an existing form template. The builder features a wide variety of form field types, including signature, date picker, address, and fill-in-the-blank fields. In addition, you can make any form your own.
Jotform also offers more than 10,000 professional form templates to help you get started and save time. Choose from registration, feedback, request, membership, application, event registration forms, and more. These forms cover a wide variety of industries and needs.
When using the online form builder, you can create a form in just minutes. You can then share a link to that form, embed it on your website, include it in an email, and more.
As Jotform has evolved, the company has continued to add form integrations for enhanced performance and convenience. Jotform has established integrations with some of the most essential and popular apps:
- Google Sheets
- Adobe Sign
- Google Calendar
These integrations enhance your form’s performance and save you and your respondents time.
An array of features for even more powerful forms
As the demand for powerful, versatile forms has increased, Jotform has developed new features that give you more control and flexibility:
- HIPAA-compliant forms meet the healthcare industry’s need for forms that protect patient data.
- Smart PDF Forms can convert a PDF into a fillable online form.
- Jotform protects your privacy and security with encrypted forms, 256-bit SSL, and more.
- You can collect payments and donations, and set up recurring subscriptions with your choice of more than 30 trusted payment gateway integrations.
Jotform may have started out as a form builder, but the company expanded to encompass Jotform Tables, which allows users to collect, organize, and manage the data that’s generated by its forms. It’s also possible to import CSV or Excel files into Jotform Tables, so you can use your existing data.
These tables require no coding and work as a centralized database. There are more than 300 table templates available to help you get started. As with its other products, Jotform has kept Jotform Tables accessible and affordable, making it a practical choice for all Jotform users.
Jotform: Powerful forms for the future
Jotform’s rebranding reflects the company’s evolution but also its dedication to its root cause: to provide users with quality, powerful forms. Jotform may have changed its logo and branding, but this is evidence of the company’s growth and success.
Rather than pivoting, Jotform continues to focus on the features and developments that will take its forms to the next level. From payment processing to enhanced security, its services and features are evidence of what business owners, nonprofits, entrepreneurs, teachers, bloggers, and more need as technology evolves and those users find new and unique ways to put forms to use.
In 15 years of growth, Jotform has stayed true to its roots but continues to make its forms even more powerful. Whatever your form and data needs, powerful forms get it done.
Image Credit: Photo by Mikhail Nilov; Pexels; Thank you!