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We all know it’s coming—the day when bots assume a majority of customer service operations. In fact, Gartner has predicted that by 2020, 85% of all customer interactions with a company will be handled without human involvement. Forrester reports that 86 percent of consumers already regularly engage with bots, while 65 percent of service providers are investing in chatbot infrastructures and artificial intelligence (AI) to create and deliver better customer experiences. A future with bots may be inevitable, but it cannot be without conscientious design.
The advent of bot-driven digital customer service is driven not just by the efficiency and cost cutting that bots promise, but by consumer demands for faster, more personalized, responsive service. I’ve been in tech innovation for more than 25 years now, and I know the balancing act between deeply listening to what consumers tell us they want and delivering what they don’t know they want until they get it. It’s a fine line to walk and bot-led digital customer service is no exception. We’re in the early days of this evolution where we need to fail fast, learn, and iterate faster. And do so in an environment where 71% of consumers will stop using a brand after just one bad experience. We’re caught between trying to invent the next generation of customer care while navigating technology so new that early deployments come with a high risk of failure.
But it’s not just about overhauling customer service. It’s about shaping how humans will relate to the brands that impact their lives in very real ways. Keyword: relate.
As a CEO, I sense the pressure to keep pace with customer experience-driven differentiation and still design a future that represents core human values of empathy, connection, and trust. How do we walk that line? How do we call time-out long enough to come up with a winning strategy, while staying in the game? Designing the future of digital customer service has to be a team sport. We may be competitors, but if we don’t design the playing field for the best interests of business AND people, we’re going to have a problem.
Consumers drive us, but they can’t lead
Everything you read these days affirms that customer experience is the last competitive playing field. And it is. As C-suite executives, we care deeply about what consumers want and need and how we can meet those desires better than our competitors. Consumers are in control and own tremendous power via their social voices. They drive the demands for innovative digital customer experiences. First it was email, then Twitter and Facebook. Now one of the new frontiers appears to be in direct messaging apps. In fact, Gartner predicts that by 2019, requests for customer support through consumer messaging apps will exceed requests for customer support through social media. And this will no doubt change again when a new preferred channel emerges. Is constantly following our customers around via changing social channels the best way to deliver great customer service or is there a time and place to decide that certain channels are where we can truly deliver exceptional customer service experiences? We go where our customers are, but when and where should we lead them?
We must meet consumer expectations, but we can’t defer our responsibility to lead. Leadership demands wisdom, judgment, discernment, foresight, humility, and courage. Consumers may clamor for faster, more responsive service and bots may seem like the perfect way to satiate that desire, but as leaders we have the responsibility to craft and shape the future of customer experience with care and forethought. It isn’t just about meeting the desires of today on the channels our customers prefer, we are creating the type of world our kids and grandkids will relate to. And I believe, regardless of the channel, we must keep the human at the forefront of this equation.
Bots serve, human relate
As we collectively design the future of digital customer service, let us discern and decide the true value of bots. What are bots good at? Recognizing keywords and delivering up formulated responses. Directing customer service traffic. Automating functions of customer service to free up human agents to focus on delivering value-added personal service. Helping customer service agents quickly find answers to customer issues – giving them more time to really listen to the customer and talk with them to better understand the issue and find the best solution. Bots can also empower peer-to-peer support communities to drill down to the most relevant forum responses. All of these things bots can become very good at. But bots are not yet good at reading human emotion, understanding subtext, or intuitively applying empathy. Simply, bots can serve; only humans can relate. Bots need to be designed to do what offers the most value – not replace humans, but to serve them.
We must not underestimate the value of retaining our ability to relate to customers as humans. Customer experience is determined by emotional judgments. Good customer experiences make people feel good; bad experiences make them feel bad. Emotion and feelings are at the heart of our ability to compete on customer experience. Ultimately, it comes down to a customer feeling cared for and valued – and often to feeling more cared for than they expected to be. Nowhere does making a customer feel cared for carry more weight than in a customer service interaction because in a lot of those interactions, your brand has already failed in some way. Or simply put, we must harness the power of bots without losing the power of humans.
Agile, creative digital customer service solutions
Even as bot technology develops and matures, technological innovation guarantees to disrupt the best-laid digital customer service strategy. This is a fast-paced game we’re in and we must be agile in the channels, technology, and infrastructure we deploy for customer service. We need to design and deploy digital customer service infrastructure that will support existing and emerging channels, allow for a seamless CX across channels, and give customers options to relate to us in ways that will best serve them. We need to empower agents with bot support to ensure they have a complete view of the customer, easy access to helpful answers, and are able to hand off cases to other agents without customers ever having to repeat themselves. Agents need to have advanced training in human relations and personal service and be hired for empathy and kindness, as well as hard skills.
We also need to get creative and think about digital customer service not just in terms of the brand helping customers, but in the simple terms of problem solving. In other words, it doesn’t matter who helps solve the problem as long as the problem gets solved satisfactorily. There are some innovative brands who are taking unique approaches to do this. Giffgaff, for example, has no call centers, they run all their customer support digitally and all customer service is run by their customers in an online community. Constant Contact has saved millions of dollars and reports a 98% retention rate by customers who use their digital support community. And then there is Flybe, who uses an innovative social-first support model and now resolves issues within 15 minutes.
In conclusion, as executives it’s our responsibility to be sure we steer the design of digital customer service in a mindful, intentional manner that retains and exemplifies the deep value of human interaction, empathy, connection, and trust while leveraging the potential and value of AI and bots to deliver exceptional digital customer experiences. Now is the time to take the time to do so, and do it right.
This article was originally published on ITProPortal on April 6, 2018 and is written by Pete Hess, CEO of Lithium Technologies.
Image Credit: Montri Nipitvittaya / Shutterstock
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You may have just blinked. In that brief moment of time, there were likely a dozen changes that hit the world of social media, causing you to change – in big ways or small – how you go about your day-to-day. And because you wade in the social media waters every day, you know just how quickly the rules of engagement can change. It can be really hard to stay afloat. After all, the only constant in the world of social media is constant change.
Let’s think back a few years – you know, when social media was the bright, new, shiny object in the room. It was a time when people felt encouraged, even somewhat empowered by the sheer connectivity of social media. All we had were telephone numbers, email addresses, and instant messenger screen names to stay in touch with each other. Within a matter of a few short years, the entire world became part of one, big social media Rolodex.
Not only would this soon fundamentally change the way people stayed in touch with each other, but it would also open people’s minds to new kinds of sharing. In fact, in the earliest years of social media, because it was such a novelty, people felt quite compelled to share every minute detail of their daily lives – from their most random of thoughts to the painfully simple and mundane (like checking in everywhere). The world of social media rapidly became everyone’s proverbial oyster. There were no rules, per se. Everyone was experimenting at the same time. And the most unique thing that happened out of all of this was the rise of “public communities” – a mix of friends, family, and colleagues you already knew in real life, acquaintances you’d lost touch with over the years, as well as new people who you only really “knew” in the digital world, but ultimately rallied around your similar ideas and interests – which now, based on today’s social media lexicon, are simply our “friends.”
Why am I even bothering walking down memory lane? It’s actually not for the sake of conjuring up any memories (good or bad). It’s a simple reminder of just how much social media has evolved in such a short amount of time. For those of you who have ridden this wave from the very beginning, you know there are no truer words. The truth is, social media has evolved in ways that many of us couldn’t have ever imagined or even predicted as little as one to two years ago. What was once all about sharing fleeting moments in our personal lives, has quickly turned into a non-stop, mediatized experience that, more often than not, feels like a deluge of content and promotions. What was once a “safe haven” of mindless sharing has now, like all things related to the media we love most, become overwhelmingly commoditized.
This has obviously been a great thing for brands. For consumers, though, the jury is still out. The rapid rise of digital, which now touches practically every part of our day-to-day lives, has made information immediate – and immediately accessible. News travels fast. The world as we once knew it is no longer big and mysterious; it’s small and scarily interconnected. Nothing is secret anymore. It’s all out in the open. Anyone can take part in virtually any conversation.
For any social media practitioners, this means you are essentially on the front lines every single day. You have nowhere to hide, either. Consumers, now trained to expect instant gratification from brands, are flocking first to social media in growing numbers – roughly one-third – as a first line of defense to do research, find information, or get help. And they’ll do this before ever picking up the phone. Why? As the digital ecosystem around us has evolved and matured, both brands and consumers have matured alongside.
The Path To Happy Customers
The Path To Happy Customers
On one hand, brands have harnessed the power of digital to create more cohesive and immersive brand experiences across multiple media – as well as offline – channels. Part of this includes making more essential information accessible on those channels for consumers to find on their own. On the other hand, in seeing brands continually step up their game in digital, consumers have now grown to expect nothing less than simple, streamlined, and stellar digital customer experiences. When they need information or are looking to get help, they expect brands to make it all easily accessible via digital.
Digital customer experience is the new playing field. The brands that make the necessary investments to compete on the digital customer experience front only stand to win. In fact, those that do – by investing in the right people, platforms, processes, and organizational structures – have been shown to outperform those that don’t. This is being driven by the fact that 68 percent of C-suite executives expect to place a greater focus on digital customer experience over product development in the coming years. In fact, 86 percent of business leaders (beyond the C-suite) agree that customer experience is vital and will be vital for a brand’s future success. So, what this basically means for people who live and breathe social media every day is that your jobs are going to get exponentially more challenging with each passing day.
Study Finds Investments In Customer Experience Are Paying Off
Whether you curate and manage social media channels or are a “first responder” as part of a brand’s social media customer care efforts, you are on the front lines – and will be responsible for setting the tone of your brand’s digital customer experience.
Not to put the pressure on, but you play a pretty important role in the overall success of your brand. That’s why it’s so important to have a few essential pieces in place to ensure that your entire team can deliver a cohesive digital customer experience at all times.
“Listen” to Customer Needs
As I mentioned before, today’s consumers want – no, they expect – instant gratification. If your role is to simply “respond” to inquiries and issues as they arise, you’re already a few steps behind. Your customers expect you to always be a few steps ahead. They come to you for help. Their expectation is that you will go above and beyond to ensure their happiness. But you can’t do that (effectively) if you’re always in reactionary mode. It’s time to shift gears and really anticipate customer needs like never before. Fortunately, there are some pretty powerful social listening tools available that provide real-time insight into what your customers need you for most. This is especially helpful in times of crisis. Just because a potential social media meltdown is brewing doesn’t mean you can just put other customer queries on the back burner until everything simmers down. You have to juggle both. Keeping tabs on what people say about your brand can give you a major leg up, helping to deliver a better experience for customers from the very start.
Build a Customer-Centric Social Care Team
This goes hand-in-hand with the above. As your brands grow, you’ll have more customers; and as you acquire new customers, you’ll need more people on-hand to help them. Your social customer care efforts need to scale as your brand grows. This could be in the form of more employees and/or better technologies and platforms to help your team be more efficient. At the heart of all of this are customers: their wants, their needs, and their expectations. Your social customer care team needs to deliver on all of that – and be able to go one step further, of course, all in real-time. Long gone are the days when consumers accept waiting hours to receive a response. The brands that win at digital customer engagement are those that can respond to customers in a matter of minutes across all channels (i.e. whichever channels your specific customers use most to contact you). This is underscored even further knowing that 30 percent of consumers won’t think twice about giving your nearest competitor a go if you fail to respond.
Stay Relentlessly Consistent
This might seem obvious, but it’s a part of the digital customer experience equation that surprisingly gets overlooked more than you’d expect. Doesn’t matter who the agent is, any response to a customer inquiry is a response from the brand you represent. You need to make sure that both branding and messaging is consistent in all responses with all Period. One superstar agent does not a stellar customer experience make. (Although we love our superstar agents!) Whenever a customer reaches out, they should have the same brand experience every time. Not only does this help manage expectations over time, but it also is a great way to build customer advocacy for your brand. When customers need information or help, they don’t want unexpected surprises. They want answers. Give it to them consistently.
Create Self-Service Communities
Remember what I said earlier about information now being immediate and immediately accessible? Brands play a big part in addressing this, too. The biggest reason why customers flock to social media or, as a last resort, pick up the phone for help is because they can’t find the answers they need anywhere else. Creating an online, peer-to-peer community, curated in part by your super users, is a great way to help customers troubleshoot on their own. Not only is this another great brand experience touch point for customers to tap into – in other words, a logical extension of your digital customer engagement efforts – but it’s also a perfect way to enable and empower customers to take the reigns of customer service on their own terms. Because, again, why go back and forth with customer service when you can find the information you need on your own? It’s really a no-brainer. That’s why online communities are such a valuable resource for brands. They help divert traffic from customer care teams while creating a new opportunity for customers to engage with brands and their biggest advocates.
Social media has changed a lot over the years. It’s going to keep on changing – and all of us who touch it are going to have to keep on adapting to those changes as they come. But doing so will make it a lot easier for you to consistently deliver stellar digital customer experiences at every step along the customer journey. At the end of the day, it’s all about convenience and care. Be there when your customers need you most, and they’ll stick around with you for a lifetime!
Senior Director of Marketing & Communications, Lithium
Eddie McGraw is the senior director of marketing & communications at Lithium. In this role, he oversees media relations, analyst/influencer relations, executive communications, customer marketing, social media, and generally spends his time figuring out what Lithium’s story is for various audiences.
This post originally appeared on the Social Media Stategies Summit Blog on April 3, 2018.
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Pi Day is celebrated annually on March 14 th (3.14). π is mathematically equal 3.14159.. and is equivalent to the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter. This year marks the 30 th observation of Pi Day, all the more reason for brands to PIck 2018 to get in on the fun!
Take a look at how some of our customers found the “PI”cture-perfect way to commemorate this day!
Funko found a mini pie to snack on…
Cisco is hoping you’ll crack it’s “pi“-nary code…
Google found a way to incorporate the tasty pastry into mathematical terms…
…And Zulily “PI”cked today to highlight some educational games to purchase!
How did you celebrate Pi Day this year? Comment below or Tweet us with a photo of your favorite type of pie!
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