Editor’s Note: This article was first published in Inc. Magazine here.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: The balance of power has shifted.
Today, customers have all the control. But unfortunately, a lot of executives still haven’t gotten the memo. While they’re busy worrying about raising capital and pleasing shareholders, their customers — the real lifeblood of their business — are being left high and dry.
As we uncovered in the 2019 State of Conversational Marketing report, the experiences that many businesses are providing no longer align with customer expectations.
Over the past several years, companies like Netflix and Amazon have conditioned buyers to expect real-time, on-demand services. And yet, according to our research, more than a third of buyers are still struggling to get answers to their questions online.
If you’re building a business, you need to be better than this.
You need to create customer experiences that are convenient, authentic and personal.
It’s a common gripe I hear from fellow entrepreneurs, CEOs, and other members of the C-suite: Once your company reaches a certain size, providing a great customer experience becomes impossible.
Time for a reality check. If you’ve already defied the odds by building a successful startup, you already know how to provide a great experience at scale: You need to have one-to-one conversations with your leads and customers.
Think about it: Back when you were just starting out, all you had were conversations. Being close to your customers wasn’t something you aspired to, it was something that happened out of necessity. You hopped on the phone at a moment’s notice. You met with people in-person as often as you could — anything to make a sale or to keep your customers happy.
But then you decided that having these one-to-one interactions couldn’t scale. So you turned to lead capture forms. You automated everything. You started making things as easy as possible for the company, and as a result, things got harder for your leads and customers.
The good news:
You can scale one-to-one interactions, regardless of how big you’ve grown. You just need to use the right technology.
For example, chatbots are revolutionizing the way people communicate with businesses. They are able to solve the biggest frustrations customers are facing — getting answers to questions — and they provide fast, round-the-clock service.
In fact, outside of talking to someone in person, people are more likely to expect immediate responses from chatbots than from any other communication channel. Meanwhile, just 11 percent of people expect to get immediate responses from forms.
Of course, no single channel can solve every customer frustration. It’s important to also be available across a broad spectrum of channels and to make sure you’re communicating the way people prefer to communicate.
Chatbots are the best channel for providing one-to-one experiences outside of normal business hours and when sales reps are away on vacation. That being said, our research tells us that 50 percent of people still prefer the convenience they get from talking to an actual human via online chat.
Use that technology to build authentic, human relationships.
If you’re outsourcing every conversation to a chatbot, you’re doing it wrong.
Ultimately, every single interaction a person has with your business is a reflection of your brand, and that all of those tiny interactions come together to determine whether or not someone remains loyal to that brand.
In some cases, using a chatbot, email or video messaging will allow you to serve your customers the best. In other cases, you need that human touch and convenience that online chat can provide.
The goal of conversational marketing isn’t to force people to adopt a specific channel — it’s to provide the best experience possible.
For years, people have been proclaiming that email is dead, or on the decline. But it’s clear that this just isn’t the case.
In fact, 33 percent of people said they used email more frequently in the past year. So your marketing and sales teams should continue to use them when it makes sense to do so.
But at the same time, it’s crucial that you also stay up-to-date with emerging channels — like video.
According to the data, younger people are more invested in video as a communication channel than their older counterparts. And, as those younger people grow older, they’re going to make up a larger and larger proportion of your customer base.
The takeaway: If you want to future-proof your business, you need to future-proof your customer experience, and that means implementing newer communication channels in addition to maintaining the older channels you’re already using.