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Customer Engagement

Conversational UI: Rethinking How to Speak with Customers

By Chris Cummings, Senior Product Manager, Pitney Bowes

Customer engagement is nothing without being able to actually talk to the customer. Opening the channels of communication, directing customers where to go for questions or concerns and facilitating an easy archival and retrieval system for storing their information are all important tools in maintaining healthy customer relationships. But, these tools don’t amount to anything if, when the time comes, you don’t have the proper tools or skills to speak with your customers in a way that’s relevant and compelling.

That’s an oversight with some customer engagement solutions, but one of the most promising approaches that helps overcome this obstacle is conversational UI, a user interface that mimics communicating with another human being. Behind the scenes, a complex, interlocking system of business logic, APIs and artificial intelligence work together to power conversational UI, enabling customers to engage with a company’s digital experience in their own words. One example of conversational UI are chatbots, which, by their very nature, are conversational – they leverage everyday language to complete tasks and achieve goals.

Good user interfaces typically simplify decision-making for the user, and conversational UI is no exception. Rather than navigating complex menus, using a mouse, or swiping and scrolling, you pose a question, as if you’re talking to a friend, and the software does the heavy lifting for you. With a cross-platform compatibility that allows it to function on smartphones, desktops, laptops, smartwatches and even screen-less devices like Google Home and Amazon Echo, conversational UI scratches the omnichannel itch that today’s customers have and successful businesses need to address.

A Study in Starbucks

At first glance, conversational UI sounds like exactly the kind of initiative that’s more hype than substance. And, in its early days, that wasn’t far off the mark. But, more and more, we’re seeing practical, successful uses and applications of conversational UI in action.

Starbucks is one of the clearest examples of this. Since releasing their mobile app, which lets customers order and pay for drinks from their phones, mobile transactions have accounted for eight per cent of the coffee giant’s sales in the U.S. The downside is that Starbucks’ mobile app has also resulted in long lines at its brick-and-mortar locations as baristas struggle to keep pace with both mobile and in-store orders simultaneously.

To smooth out those growing pains, Starbucks is training staff members to focus exclusively on mobile orders and is introducing a conversational UI addition to its mobile app: My Starbucks Barista, an AI-fuelled interface that takes customer orders “via voice command or messaging interface” and notifies customers by text when their order is ready – ensuring they’re not unnecessarily standing in line, waiting for their order to be filled. This will also be complemented by a new Amazon Alexa skill that gives customers the ability to reorder with voice commands through their Alexa-compatible devices. While the new Starbucks Barista is only available in limited beta early this year, it’s a promising next step that solves operational, in-store customer engagement issues using conversational UI.

Conversational UI Brings Something New to the Engagement Table

Of course, not every digital experience needs to be complemented with conversational UI, but the technology can help businesses simplify overly long or cumbersome onboarding workflows. For instance, in the event of a needlessly complex form or series of forms, or a customer support portal that is not intuitive enough for users to figure out what they need to do, a chatbot could offer a more user-friendly, approachable experience, ultimately leading to overall positive business outcomes.

At first blush, a conversational interface might seem like something that could be dismissed as a fad, or something more pertinent to online retailers than to other businesses. But, any organisation with a customer engagement component owes it to themselves and their customers not to overlook the benefits that conversational voice and text UIs can bring to existing business processes and customer engagement ROI.

Pitney Bowes is on the cutting edge of customer engagement marketing solutions designed to deliver relevant and engaging interactions across the customer life cycle, build brand loyalty, gain valuable insight and deliver the exceptional customer experience needed to secure a customer for life.

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