Launching a new startup is always exciting. The upward potential in front of you is practically limitless. When you have the right idea at the right time, a startup that begins life as two people in a garage can eventually become a multi-billion-dollar enterprise.
But before you get to the beginning level — you’ll need to go through some difficult growing pains. Early in your startup’s development, you’ll likely be low on capital. Even if you have an angel investor or a venture capital (VC) firm backing you, you’ll have an abundance of expenses, limited income, and a finite amount of time before the money completely runs out.
Accordingly, you’ll need to be frugal. You’ll need to find creative ways to save money.
So what are the best ways to stay on the lean-side of things?
When to Save and When to Spend
First, you need to know that there are good ways and bad ways to save money. Saving money effectively isn’t just about reducing your expenses to the bare minimum; it’s about knowing what’s worth splurging on, what’s worth eliminating, and everything in between.
When to cut expenses is best understood with an example. Oftentimes, new startups are inclined to cut costs that seem superfluous or unnecessary for the core business model to function. For example, they may avoid digital marketing altogether, saving thousands of dollars in the process.
Cut or Keep?
But when you cut something that is essential in business — it is problematic; digital marketing is the best way for a startup to increase brand awareness and attract new paying customers.
In many cases, digital marketing offers a return on investment (ROI) of many times your initial capital, meaning $1,000 per month in spending could turn into $3,000 per month in revenue. Cutting this expense is often a terrible long-term move.
Knowing your costs and what that cost expendure will do for you — is the best ways to save money without compromising the integrity or long-term growth potential of your business.
One of your best options is to go fully remote. These days, remote work is not only possible, and in some cases practically necessary, it’s downright fashionable. Buying or leasing an office can be an enormous expense that impacts your bottom line, and it’s not something you truly need. If you go fully remote, you can instantly save thousands of dollars each month.
Saving money isn’t the only advantage of going fully remote, either.
Adopting a fully remote model means you’ll be able to hire people all over the world, greatly increasing your potential talent pool. It also means your employees will (in many cases) benefit form higher morale and higher productivity. Team management, collaboration, and communication can be more challenging, but these are becoming easier as our work norms shift.
Minimize the Team
Too many startup entrepreneurs get excited about the prospect of growing the business as quickly as possible, so they move to hire a full team of people immediately. They imagine the team they might need in a year or two and try to build it out immediately.
Employees are Your Largest Investment
Employees are going to be one of your biggest expenses, so this is a financially unsound move. Instead, it’s better to hire only the people who are absolutely necessary to get the job done. Only hire new people when you truly need them.
Additionally, it’s a good idea to hire people based on their talent and their passion, and not necessarily their experience. Someone with 20 years of experience in the industry may seem like a great fit for growing your organization, but they’re also going to demand a high salary.
By contrast, someone fresh out of college will be much less expensive — and they may still have the skills and energy necessary to bring life to your organization. I’ve found the best way to cut through what is best in a startup — is to ask your business friends some questions and talk this move through with someone. Sometimes your excitement can make you overcome good sense.
Keep Your Day Job (If You Can)
It’s an attractive idea to quit your day job and pivot to working full-time on your startup idea. And in many cases, this works out fine. But if you can manage to continue working your current job while moonlighting as a startup entrepreneur, try to do it.
You’ll have a reliable stream of income on which you can depend, helping you fund other aspects of your business.
Your employees probably don’t need the absolute latest models in computers, smartphones, and other technology. Buying used can immediately save you a significant sum of money on your equipment purchases — oftentimes with no significant drop in quality or performance.
Just be sure to review the condition of these products carefully to verify that you’re getting a good deal.
Barter With Other Entrepreneurs
Entrepreneurs tend to admire and support other entrepreneurs. Starting a business is hard work, and it takes a special type of person to go through this effort. Accordingly, if you ask another entrepreneur for help or a special deal, they may be willing to help you out.
For example, if you need to find a benefits provider for your employees, you may find a local entrepreneur who owns an employee benefits business. Rather than paying them directly for their services, you may help them out by giving them a beta version of your startup’s technology for free. It’s a win-win scenario that saves you money and helps you flesh out your professional network at the same time.
Additionally, don’t be afraid to negotiate. Sometimes, simply asking for a better deal is enough to help you get one.
Rely on Open Source Software
Enterprise software companies tend to charge a lot for their platforms – mostly because they can. But you don’t need to pay for a $5,000-per-month solution if you can find one for free that works just as well.
Open source software has a lot of advantages, the most notable being the fact that it’s typically free to use, even for commercial purposes. You’ll also get to tap into an extended community of supporters if you ever need help managing it or fixing a specific problem with the platform. Before committing to any software purchase, see if there’s an open source alternative that fits the bill.
Pay Attention to Discretionary Expenses
As a startup, you’ll have a lot of discretionary expenses — things that aren’t absolutely vital to the operation and growth of your company but are still worth considering purchasing. Review these expenses carefully. Do you really need this? Is there any viable alternative you could get for free, or for less money?
Outsourcing is one of your best options for long-term development. Rather than hiring someone new, you can pay for an agency or a freelancer to handle the work for you. This move is often less expensive than making a full-time hire, yet it still provides you with adequate support.
Outsourcing is also conducive to scaling; you can hire people for as much or as little as you need, which is perfect if your startup is in the midst of growth.
Tightly Manage Cash Flow
Cash flow is one of the most important financial considerations in a startup, dictating how much money you have coming in and how much money you have going out. Simple tactics, like delaying your outgoing payments as long as possible and following up on unpaid invoices, can help you ensure you have access to enough capital to keep your business growing.
Control Your Growth
Speaking of growth, keep a tight leash on your startup’s growth. Your long-term goal may be to scale enough to serve billions of people all around the world, but you’re not in a race to get there.
Many startups end up failing prematurely because they try to grow too quickly; they invest too much in new areas of the business that are underdeveloped or spend too much money on new hires and new equipment before they’re ready to manage them. It’s better to take your time and scale gradually, making confident and well-informed moves along the way.
These are some of the most effective and most important ways to save money as a young startup, but they aren’t the only ways. Think carefully about the cost-to-value ratio of every decision you make, and try to keep your expenses under control as you try to establish a firm foothold in your industry.
Image Credit: karolina grabowska; pexels
How Is Data Privacy Going to Change in the Next 10 Years? – ReadWrite
How much of your daily activities are currently being tracked? Even if you’re the paranoid type, suspecting every device and app you use of tracking your movements and online activities, you might still be underestimating how much of your data is being gathered and analyzed.
Every app on every device is probably tracking at least some information about you, whether you realize it or not. You might know that Google is keeping track of your search history and the websites you visit from search engine results pages (SERPs), but did you also know that it’s probably tracking your location at all times?
It’s a good time to be a data scientist. But the abundance and utility of consumer data has raised questions and concerns about how those data should be managed. Already, we’re seeing major changes to laws, regulations, and consumer attitudes to accommodate the modern landscape of data privacy.
So what does the future hold for data privacy? How could our expectations and legal requirements shift in the next decade?
Push Factors for Increased Data Privacy
Generally speaking, we’re seeing an increased push for greater data privacy in nearly all sectors.
There are several factors responsible for this push, including:
- Established industry. Data analytics are becoming a new norm. Most companies in the tech sector are collecting as much data as possible, whether it’s a core part of their products and services (as in Google collecting search data for advertisements) or whether it’s simply a way to make the product better (as in Netflix gathering data on video consumption habits).Businesses in all industries are leveraging data to put themselves at a competitive advantage. For example, even the smallest businesses are studying data patterns to optimize landing pages and increase conversion rates. Because data is rising in importance, abundance, and consumer awareness, it’s getting more attention.
Lawmakers have lagged behind, as this has been a novel industry for many years, but it’s time for the legal landscape to catch up.
- Low rates of consumer trust. General levels of consumer trust are about as low as they’ve ever been. Average people are inherently distrustful of the institutions and organizations that surround them. They don’t trust the media to deliver accurate reporting.They don’t trust politicians to tell them the truth. And they certainly don’t trust corporations to responsibly handle their personal data. Whether these trust issues are warranted is immaterial; the lack of trust is driving people to push for stricter regulations and better data privacy protections at every level.
- Data privacy violations and PR incidents. It doesn’t help that there have been some significant scandals and PR incidents related to consumer data over the past several years.It’s been revealed that some tech companies are gathering far more consumer data than they’re letting on – and that loopholes in some data privacy policies have allowed consumer data to be used in unexpected ways (such as the Cambridge Analytica scandal).
This adds to the distrust factor, but also pushes politicians to act; high-visibility incidents always spark a public outcry, which in turn puts pressure on lawmakers to respond.
- A new administration. In the United States, we’re entering a new era under the guidance of a new Presidential administration.President Biden has historically been in favor of stricter regulations related to data privacy, and Vice President Harris was very active in the privacy world during her time as Attorney General.
Of course, this administration won’t last the entire decade, so it remains to be seen what is in store for us in the next administration.
- International data privacy laws. All over the world, we’re seeing an influx of new laws designed to protect consumer data privacy, and especially in the European Union. Regulators are attempting to limit the kinds of data that companies can collect, force companies to disclose what types of information they collect, and give consumers the power to opt-out of certain types of data collection.These policies tend to have a kind of contagiousness about them; when one developed country passes a law, other developed countries consider passing a similar law in their own nations.
- General consumer demand. Overall, consumers are showcasing higher demand for products, services, and companies that respect consumer privacy. While most mainstream social media platforms are still growing in terms of sheer numbers, more people are turning to privacy-focused alternatives.Savvy entrepreneurs are starting to take note, giving consumers more of what they want by offering more transparency, specific products that favor data privacy, and other resources and services in line with this demand.
Most of these factors are primed to continue for many years, even a decade or longer, effectively building momentum for the data privacy movement.
Foundational Legislation in the United States
California recently passed a piece of legislation called Proposition 24, or Prop 24, which is designed to expand consumer privacy protections. Beginning in 2023, this law will afford residents of California a number of rights, including the right to:
- Understand who is collecting information, how the information will be used, and who will have access to this information.
- Control how personal information is used (to an extent).
- Have access to personal information, as well as the ability to modify, correct, delete, or transfer this information.
- Understand and exercise privacy rights through self-service.
- Understand and exercise privacy rights without retaliation or penalty.
- Keep companies accountable for failing to take adequate security measures.
- Personally benefit from businesses that use their personal information.
- Retain privacy interests as employees and independent contractors.
This state law will only apply to California residents. There is not currently a federal piece of legislation that affords people similar rights. However, many companies in the United States, hoping to serve all U.S. residents equally, will change their operations and provide these rights to everyone in the United States, regardless of where they reside.
This law could also inspire other states to take action, or spur the development of a federal-level law to formally provide data privacy protections to all U.S. consumers.
In line with this new wave of data privacy, and out of acknowledgment of consumer trust issues, we’ll also likely see greater transparency demonstrated by CEOs, marketing officers, and other high-visibility individuals within organizations.
Companies themselves will issue simpler, cleaner, and more obvious privacy policies, and will be practically forced to disclose more about their intentions – including secondary types of data they’re collecting.
Of course, complying with new laws and maintaining a transparent reputation can be too much for a single leader to handle. That’s why we’ll likely see the introduction of new corporate leadership.
For example, corporations may be interested in appointing a Data Privacy Officer, or a similar role, in charge of overseeing data privacy strategy.
Third-Party Evaluations and Insights
Finally, we could see the development of more robust third-party evaluations and insights. It’s not enough to trust that a corporation is respecting and maintaining your privacy; a third-party, neutral organization can verify it.
Organizations themselves will also rely on third parties not just for data analysis, but also for audits and internal investigations, leading to the rise of an entirely new industry.
It seems we’re positioned for a significant increase in the number and intensity of data privacy laws all over the world. This will likely be complemented by a shift in consumer attitudes and more responsible data privacy efforts on behalf of corporations everywhere.
There is an increase in businesses depending on third-party data to survive.
Complicating matters, we’ll also see an increase in the number of businesses depending on data to thrive and the amount of data collected by those businesses and third parties serving them.
Entrepreneurs may need to make major accommodations for these new rules to survive, and consumers will need to be mindful of the changing political, corporate, and economic landscapes as they make decisions and attempt to keep their data private and secure.
Image Credit: keira burton; pexels
10+ Social Media Ideas that Startups Must Follow in 2021 – ReadWrite
Social media is a weapon of mass marketing. Brands like Nike, GoPro, Starbucks, have been dominating the social media space and encashing on the social media addiction of humans. Leading marketing aficionados agree that social media is a powerful tool that every brand must utilize to rule the digital world. But all these super successful bands have such unique social media feeds. How do you come up with such amazing social media ideas?
If the same question has been bugging you, we have got it covered for you.
In this write-up, we have mentioned some simple yet interesting social media ideas to keep your brand’s feed fresh.
1. Channelize the Power Of Micro-Influencers
Reaching out to industry influencers is an effective way to promote your products among a target audience. However, most influencers with a blue tick charge a hefty amount for a single Instagram post or tweet. Startups don’t have such an amount reserved for their marketing campaign. This is where micro-influencers can come to their rescue.
These are people who have a following between 10k and 100k. However, their following is much more loyal. Their conversion rate is much higher as they have a greater engagement with their following. These micro-influencers connect with their fans on a much more personal level.
Out of so many social media ideas, another great one is to get the micro-influencers to use your products and promote them in front of their fans. You can always share their posts using your product on your page to give a fresh look to your brand page and fill it with real-life people using your product.
2. Personalize the Feed With Selfies or Videos
While most brands like to keep their social media pages like Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter professional, it is a great way to add a personal touch to personally connect with your fans on a personal level. In addition to having product images or ad copies and other things, you can add your pictures of videos.
Don’t go all out and put your personal life on display on your business social media page. One in every 10-15 posts is fine for social media. Even if you are creating videos, make sure your videos don’t go overboard. They should be well-balanced with your business profile yet give a breath of fresh air to your business’s social media presence.
3. Generate Curiosity With BTS Video Stories
With 92% of the marketers rooting for videos in their marketing strategy, it is important to have some kind of video on your page. BTS videos or Behind The Scene videos are a great way to keep your followers engaged and curious about your next campaign.
Whether you are shooting for an upcoming advertisement, planning for your next video, packing products, work-in-progress, or simply a BTS of people working in your office, such videos always generate curiosity. Give them a sneak peek into the creative process, the set-up, and the people to make them come back for more updates.
4. Regram, Retweet, And Share What Inspires You
Your brand’s social media page might become too overwhelmed with your product images and video. Give your audience some breathing space by posting content created by others once in a while. It would not just be something different for the followers but lessen your efforts too.
All you need to do is find some good quotes and share them on your page. Anything that inspires you, news about your industry, meaningful post, or anything else can be reshared on your social media. Not just that, you can also find people who have tagged you on social media and share their posts on your feed.
You don’t have to be all in-depth with each of your posts. It can be anything light, entertaining, or interactive.
Don’t shy away from regramming (reprogramming), retweeting, repinning, or resharing other’s content. And make sure you have given due credit to the original creator. By taking the “re” spin — it breaks the flow of your posts and gives you some time to create something more creative.
Also, it’s a great way to show your followers that you are a part of a conversation, and tagging you would get them featured on your page.
5. Make Use Of Reels & Short Stories
We all know that video content will reign in the coming years. And social media platforms are not shying away from encashing on this user behavior. Instagram and Facebook have come up with a short video concept in the form of reels and short stories respectively.
The human attention span needs a little excitement. People are no longer interested in spending minutes on a single video. Such short video content can be great for catching their attention.
You can use these reels or short stories to showcase more about your product or services. These can also be used for showing the testimonials of your clients. There are several filters, stickers, audios, and other things. There are different challenges as well on social media. You can always use the trending ones in a creative way to gain popularity for your brand.
6. Co-Marketing Goes a Long Way
A great way to amp up your business’s social media profile is by teaming up with another popular brand. There are different brands around you that are also looking to add versatility to their social media page. Co-marketing saves your efforts and helps you reach out to a newer audience base.
For example, a fitness brand can collaborate with a fashion designer to launch its own line of fitness wear. This way, you can have your name promoted on their social media and vice versa.
You can always team up with another brand that targets the same niche. This way, you’ll be able to reach out to their audience with synced efforts.
7. Tag-A-Friend Always Enhances Visibility
People love sharing pictures with their friends and tagging them on awesome posts. An amazing post idea is to get more engagement with ‘tag-a-friend’ posts. These posts could be all about some habits of people, memes, quotes, incidents, places, gifting options, or anything based on the industry you are in.
All you need to do is ask people to ‘tag-a-friend’ who comes to their mind first on seeing the post.
Such posts get conversations started in the comments and can boost your social media engagement. They gain much more visibility and your brand easily reaches out to more people that might become loyal followers really quick. Create posts that compel to be shared and ensure
8. Get Your Followers to Generate Content
Zomato, a leading food delivery app in India, recently announced a campaign. It asked its followers to create video ads for the brand and the best ad would win Rs 25 lakhs. This initiative got the brand a huge increase in following and gave it a whole new feed to showcase the followers. People loved the videos it kept sharing from the creators and it gave the feed a fresh look.
As a startup, you need not announce such a big-scale campaign. You can simply give away some freebies, a monthly membership, or similar things to your followers to create content. Encourage your followers to generate content for you and showcase that on your feed. This would not just create a new look for your feed but also help build trust that people are actually using your product.
9. Data-Rich Posts Get Maximum Shares
Have you recently conducted a survey or research? Do you have some numbers that can help others in the industry? Go ahead and create some interesting infographics or simple pictures with some interesting findings. These are sure to get a lot of shares among the industry peeps.
There are many tools in the market like Canva that can help you go innovative with the post. Make sure to use your brand colors to personalize the picture. Take inspiration from Hubspot’s Instagram page. They’ve brilliantly used their brand colors in creating info-rich pictures. Industry peeps love sharing them and get a lot of engagement online.
You can even have important numbers from your blogs or similar stuff and convert them into pictures to share on your social media pages.
10. Previews and Teasers are Great for Curiosity
Before launching any product, creating excitement for the same is imperative. This can be a great way to break the monotony of your social media feed and ignite excitement. Whatever new you are planning to announce, share a glimpse of it on your social media. It could be a simple BTS video, launch teaser, event preparation, or anything.
With the new feature of short videos like Reels, Short Videos, and Fleet, it is easier to create a video on the spot and share it with your followers. Create a buzz with it. Create FOMO or countdown for any new event, sale, launch, etc., to get maximum presence. Posts like launching soon, stay tuned, half pictures, etc., also look great when used smartly on social media to generate curiosity.
11. Maintain Consistency Around Brand Image
While it is great to experiment with your social media feed, a little bit of consistency would be great to create a lasting impression. Whether you use the brand colors, logos, fonts, images, or anything else, make sure that it has some element to reflect your brand.
Your brand voice needs to be consistent. There are many followers that might recognize your brand through visual means only – by the way your posts look, your style, etc. Make sure to retain such visual elements to ensure these followers can tell your brand out.
Other Social Media Strategies for Startups
While those are some awesome social media ideas for your feed, there are other social media strategies that can help strengthen your brand image. Be it Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter, LinkedIn, or any other platform, here are some simple and cool social media strategies for startups.
Just the mention of the word ‘FREE’ grasps instant attention. And as a startup, you need not offer something extravagant in such giveaways. You can keep it small, even a discount coupon, trial membership, demo, or something similar. Announce it on social media and get more tags, mentions, and likes through such giveaways.
Video content is going to grow exponentially in 2021 and live videos will be a large part of it. The Covid times have made live videos even more popular. Almost every industry is pivoting its way of interacting with its customers and live videos are one of the most effective means. You can also make your followers participate in your events or simply have sessions with them talking about your brand answering their questions, etc.
AMAs Are Great For Engagement
A new trend that set out on social media was about AMA or Ask Me Anything. Whether we take Twitter, Instagram, or any other social media, many brands and celebrities are hosting such sessions to increase their engagement. This way you can engage with them and answer their questions about your brand.
Takeovers Are Effortlessly Raging
Another thing that many of the social media pages are doing currently is takeovers. That is, you give your social media page to be handled by someone else. They bring a fresh perspective to your brand and give it a new look to your feed. This takeover could be for a day or a week. And the best part is, you have to put in zero effort. The person taking over would handle your social media feed for the time period.
Ask For Followers’ Opinions With Polls
People love it when their opinions are valued. Get polls before starting with a new product. You can have polls for different things and get to know their interests, likes, dislikes, and much more. This would help you get a closer insight into what’s going on in your followers’ mind about your brand,
Organize Highlights For Professional Look
Another cool way to make your social media brand page look even more professional is to organize the entire page. Don’t make it look cluttered and unkept. A quick way to do the same is by organizing the highlights that are present on your profile.
Ephemeral Content Never Dies
As ironic as it is, ephemeral content has been increasing in popularity since Snapchat came up with the idea. And this concept of short-lived, disappearing content is going to be here for a long time. Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, all have the concept of disappearing content. Make use of this amazing social media idea to infuse the fear of missing out in your audience.
On an Ending Note
Social media is a double-edged sword. It can help build massive loyalty for your brand in a short time. But at the same time, a small error in messaging can instantly hurt their sentiments, leading to PR nightmares.
Follow the 80:20 rule on social media to keep churning out new content without putting too much on the shoulders of the content creators. It is important that your brand’s feed remains versatile yet consistent to offer new content but remind them that it’s your brand in the end.
Make sure that you are regular with posting. Plan ahead and have a social media calendar in place. Make sure your feed never dies and is consistently offering some content to keep your brand alive in their memory.
Do People Prefer Chatbots or Humans? It Depends. – ReadWrite
Chatbots are seemingly taking over the internet and mobile applications. First-time visitors to a site or app now are often greeted by a cheery chatbot seeking to answer questions or guide them through an onboarding process.
When site or app users have problems, retailers, banks, and other businesses are asking users if they want to chat rather than call. More often than not, this routes the users into an initial conversation with a chatbot.
Is sending a customer or user to a chatbot something they actually want?
A debate continues to rage about whether chatbots are viewed as annoying or helpful by customers. In fact, both views are true. And the determining factor for whether a user likes interacting with a chatbot — or even prefers it to a human interaction — depends entirely on the context.
Two Paths Diverged in the AI Chatbot Road: T-Mobile’s “No Robots” vs. BofA’s Erica Personal AI
On August 15, 2018, upstart mobile voice and data provider T-Mobile announced it would ban all robots and automated systems from direct interactions with customers on support calls and chats.
“There are no robots or automated phone menus. No getting bounced around from department to department. No shouting “representative,” crowed T-Mobile in a press release.
At the same time, T-Mobile expanded its live customer support hours to 24/7, going counter to trends limiting human support agent times to working hours. Since the move, T-Mobile claims it has achieved higher levels of customer satisfaction and improved customer retention/
Survey after survey has found people tolerate automated customer support through conversational AI and chatbots but don’t love it and don’t prefer it.
On the other extreme, some large enterprises have taken an alternative path of going all-in-on Conversational AI and chatbots. In June 2018, Bank of America launched Erica (a play on the last part of the word America).
The bot resides within Bank of America’s mobile banking app rolled out to all users. By December 2019, 10 million of the Bank of America’s mobile users had activated Erica within their apps and were interacting with the chatbot.
One of the more sophisticated chatbots on the market, Erica allows users to ask questions by voice by text messages, or simply to navigate through tap menus.
Surveys of users showed satisfaction with Erica of over 80%, which is a staggering figure in the often challenging world of financial services NPS scores.
So, which is the right way to deliver a superior Customer Experience in the most efficient manner? T-Mobile’s add-more-humans approach or Bank of America’s deep embrace of expensive but powerful AI?
Do customers prefer to work with bots or humans? The truth is complicated.
Surveys have indicated that customers prefer to speak with humans for support needs.
Conversely, by a variety of metrics, customers are growing more accustomed to chatbots and Conversational AI.
Over time, the reality is chatbots will handle a greater and greater portion of customer interactions and will also become an indispensable tool for human support and sales agents – virtually merging into one support continuum.
Equally important, in technology the true test of adoption is not what surveys say but what users do. Increasingly, that means talking or texting with chatbots rather than waiting to talk to a human,
Consumer Trends Driving Growth of Chatbots
More and more customers are choosing to interact with a chatbot over traditional phone support. This choice is being driven by broad technology user trends.
- Text More Popular Than Voice: We are more used to texting to communicate and even prefer it over voice calls. For large swathes of the populace, these modes are preferred over live conversations with humans. The rise of WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, which have collectively over 3 billion users and are primarily used for chatting to avoid SMS fees, has further accelerated the trend.
- More Comfortable Interacting With Machines: We are growing more and more used to interacting with machines to ask questions or make requests. Asking Alexa to turn off the lights or telling Siri to call your mother is great. Asking an airline chatbot if any flights going into Denver are delayed has human-machine interactions that are now a normal part of our lives.
- Less Patience: We are becoming less patient. Netflix brings us millions of movie titles in a search window. We use an app to tell our Roomba to clean the house before we get home from work – and get our wish.Technology brings us instant gratification. As a result, we are less likely to be willing to spend time on hold or wait for a call back if a chatbot can answer our questions or take care of our problems. Related to this point is the fact that chatbots run 24/7 every day of the year. They scale up or down to meet demand and are always available. For consumers used to instant gratification, this is a powerful draw.
- Better Algorithms: The technology behind chatbots, Natural Language Processing (NLP), has progressed in leaps and bounds. This means we impatient humans can more easily interact with chatbots without having to repeat ourselves or resort to using multiple phrasings to get our request to register.New algorithms – most notably GPT3 – have come out that can reliably and economically be trained to understand specific types of subject matter and respond in ways that are remarkably close to normal human response.
According to the 2019 AI Index Report, published by a global consortium including Stanford University and Google, NLP can now comprehend passages of text better than humans. This also has allowed more advanced chatbots to handle complex, multi-step support tasks.
Chatbots can provide proactive guidance and even anticipate needs. A flight delay question might prompt an advanced chatbot to offer to book a hotel room for the night because it knew a late flight might mean a missed connection.
Three Simple Questions to Determine Context
Clearly, chatbot usage is growing and users are voting with their texts and their voices, indicating preference. That said, the desire for a human versus a bot remains highly context-dependent.
Context dictates what the chatbot is capable of doing in any given situation. Context is also variable and can shift with the state of the user as they run through a customer or support journey.
Understanding where a user is on the journey and their context can inform expectations of and proper usage of chatbots. Here are some simple questions to determine whether to use a chatbot or to what the limitations of a chatbot might be in a given situation.
Does the user want to talk to (or likely prefer to talk to) a representative?
This is a no-brainer. If they don’t want to chat, don’t make them chat. Ironically, many companies still push hard to drive users into chat support queues under the thesis that users will learn how to chat and adopt it (and save the company money).
Usually the act of saying “representative” is intentional enough that a company is far better off complying with their wishes. Here, too, AI can provide a guide.
Over time, companies can gather data about customer preferences and use that to better understand which conversational mode is best for what type of users based on any descriptive characteristics.
Can a chatbot recognize the user?
If a chatbot can recognize the identity of a user, then it can tap profile and historical data about the user to generate more bespoke solutions and conversation. Identifying the user is far easier when the user is on a mobile app or logged into a website or calling from a known phone number.
This question does limit advanced support to existing users rather than new users for which there is little history. But when it is possible to recognize the user and match them to a profile? If you can get a profile, then the canvas for chatbot to operate with is much more broad and interactions can be much more detailed rather than limited to simple keyword and menu-driven interactions.
Is the user asking a complicated or simple question?
Chatbots can quickly and easily dispatch more personalized answers to many simple questions. “When is my reservation?” or “What is my order status?” are easy to answer when the identity of a user is known and they are operating inside of a controlled environment.
In a similar manner, when the company is using a chatbot to replace a form or other structured information gathering exercise, then chatbots or Conversational AI can operate very effectively.
For more complex questions that involve multiple variables and may not be as easy to understand based on pure keyword analysis, more advanced chatbots that leverage NLP and conversational AI can increasingly provide back-and-forth support that is on par or better than human agents.
This is riding the curve of rapid improvements in AI, as demonstrated through the steady increase in the ability of AI systems to understanding complete even more complex natural language tasks as well or better than humans.
Conclusion: The Future of Customer Conversations Is A Hybrid Between Chatbots and Humans
T-Mobile may claim that it does not force anyone to talk to robots but in reality, its system can recognize automatically whether you are calling from your own device.
Behind the scenes, T-Mobile uses analytics and automation to help customer service agents do their jobs more quickly and efficiently. In this case, the chatbots may not be visible on the front but their output and enablement are visible on the back. Agents happen to act as the intermediary between the two.
This is the true future of chatbots – a technology that acts as a fluid interface somewhere in the customer journey to provide assistance. The recipient may be a customer talking to a chatbot or a support agent that has a chatbot automatically populating conversational snippets.
In this scenario, a company like T-Mobile can help agents work faster, answer questions more quickly, and breeze through the simplest queries. They can then save more time for the harder customers and questions that internal systems cannot automatically address.
BofA’s Erica can serve as a more forward presence, intercepting and deflecting simple inquiries. When a query grows too complex — and out of context for Erica — then the AI chatbot can easily route the request to a human support agent spending most of their time on tougher cases.
So which is right? Do customers prefer to talk to human agents rather than chatbots as the surveys indicate? Or do customers prefer to use chatbots to waiting to talk to humans, as the usage trends clearly indicate?
The answer is both. If customers are voting with their time spent and their immediate menu choices, they clearly do like intelligent chatbots more than waiting for a human. Meaning, they prefer chatbots and AI, given the right context and the right situation.
On the other hand, humans still and probably always will prefer live support agents when they have complex, nested and conditional questions to resolve.
These types of questions require the most advanced sort of conversational intelligence — one that even agents do better fulfilling when assisted by technology and AI behind the scene. The irony is that either way, customers are talking to chatbots — directly or indirectly.
The technology to improve both the experiences of T-Mobile and Bank of America customers is invariably the same under the covers. The sooner businesses realize that this is never an either-or-equation, the sooner they can determine where AI should sit in their Customer Experience stack.