AI for Small Business: An Engine for New Growth and Amazing Customer Experience

In the service and hospitality industries one thing that’s keeping small business owners awake at night is customer experience (CX).

CX is critical because it holds the key to a customer’s willingness to spend money with you now and in the future. According to a Walker study, by 2020, customer experience will be the most important thing that differentiates your brand, outgunning both price and product.

And a customer’s experience with your brand starts way before they hand over payment for a take-out or receive a beauty treatment. It starts with the impression they get from trying to make a booking via an app or your website, or the ease with which they get information when calling your store, or how quickly they get a response to an enquiry.

Customers are becoming ever more demanding. They expect the same – if not better – experience from a small business as they would from a well-resourced multinational. But they want it ‘their way’; mobile app consumption has hit a plateau as customers adopt chat as their new browser. By 2019, requests for customer support through mobile messaging apps will exceed requests coming through traditional social media. And data shows that by 2018, “buy” buttons will contribute 2% of brands’ digital sales. This may sound like a small amount, but it represents billions of dollars worth of business.

And that’s the conundrum: for a small business, providing an amazing omni-channel experience for customers could be a differentiator for your brand but getting it right could take time and money. You might need to invest more in your digital channels to respond quickly to customer requests. And what small business owner can afford to do that if it risks taking resources away from delivering a service to customers?

Here’s where technology can play a part. Small service-driven businesses like restaurants, take-away outlets or beauty salons could benefit hugely from the development of artificial intelligence.

Let me give you an example of what I mean by that and how it might work:

Imagine you own a beauty clinic in Texas with an ambition to grow. But investing in digital capabilities, promotions and hiring people to handle bookings and customer enquiries is expensive. If people are not dedicated to these tasks, you’ll miss out on bookings altogether.

So what if you implemented an artificial intelligence agent to take bookings and handle customer responses to specific promotions?

This may sound like science fiction, but it’s a scenario that we’re making real with Voicy.ai today.

That Texan beauty clinic I was talking about is actually one of our clients. We implemented an SMS promotion which went out to 7000 customers on their database, offering them a reduced-rate beauty treatment. An automated ‘bot’ or virtual agent handled customer responses and we programmed it to answer the top 20 expected questions either on the phone or via digital channels like Facebook Messenger. Because the technology is integrated with the customer’s booking and point of sale system, the virtual agent can automatically take appointment requests and book them in. And working with the client, we’re able to continually grow the intelligence of the service by adding answers to new questions we hear from customers. This means the system gets even smarter over time, so the amount of merchant-to-customer interaction required continually decreases.

So by implementing a virtual agent, this business has been able to focus resources on the customer experience in their clinic. They’ve also implemented manageable promotions to drive repeat business at a higher margin than previous promotions have delivered, in a way that allows them to comfortably manage the ebbs and flows of demand. And this is critical because repeat business, referrals and recommendations deliver more profitable, long term value than something like a Groupon promotion could ever achieve.

AI agents cost less to implement than people and of course this raises a few questions. Firstly, some clients fear that customers may not like dealing with a bot and would prefer to speak to a real person when making a booking. Whilst that could be true in some demographics, it’s definitely changing as customers get used to using automated services even in mission critical activities like personal banking. Gartner predicts that by 2020 customers will experience 85% of all service interactions without communicating with a person because bots can help you 24/7.

Secondly people fear that AI will take jobs away. Gartner research states that by 2025, up to one third of all jobs could be replaced by smart machines. But whilst AI will reduce the number of repetitive tasks done by people, it will enable business growth and investment into other roles. AI has the power to democratize customer experience, so that even SMBs can afford dedicated support which pays for itself by delivering business growth.

The benefits to customers are clear: using Voicy.ai, SMB customers are increasing their revenues by at least 15%, whilst also reducing customer engagement costs by up to 70% and improving overall customer satisfaction. Those are huge wins. And in the case of our client in Texas, this means they can invest in additional beauty technicians to handle their business growth.

Getting CX right is critical, and mobile is becoming the most important part of an omni-channel strategy. Customers expect to be able to search for information, receive promotions, chat with agents and make bookings, all from their smart phones. Our voicy.ai platform provides multi-channel customer engagement over phone, SMS, messaging platforms like Facebook Messenger, voice assistants like Amazon Alexa, and multi-modal apps that enable voice and text interactions.

In Summary:

It will soon be commonplace for businesses of all sizes to use friendly robots equipped with natural language processing to interact with customers in a way that’s efficient and easy. There are huge benefits to be had by small businesses embracing what AI can offer today with a service like Voicy.ai:

  • It can grow your revenues by 15%+
  • It can reduce your customer engagement costs by up to 70%, making you more competitive
  • It can improve your overall customer experience and satisfaction rates, driving up loyalty and repeat business
  • It can increase response rates to promotions
  • It can reduce your customer churn and telephone abandon rates

So what are you waiting for? It’s time to implement AI today.

Voicemonk Enterprise Q&A Bot

In a fast paced world as ours, customers are proving to be increasingly demanding. The need for speed has become a basic expectation — Faster Internet, Faster Food Delivery, Faster Time-to-market and Faster Help. A failure in meeting the customer’s needs can bring down even a mammoth like business to the brink of extinction. Especially, in the area of customer service, many companies are losing even their most loyal customers due to their snail paced approach. With customer representatives lacking a deep understanding of product/ service and the context, the customers end up getting frustrated. The first test for their patience is to hear the IVR options carefully, lest they get directed to the wrong department. Then comes the ultimate challenge of getting connected to someone who puts you on hold for an eternity and at the end, rewards your patience with a ticket number for future help.

After a thorough research on call center woes, VoiceMonk came up with a Natural Dialog platform that can automate customer conversations across various communication channels like Telephone, SMS, FaceBook Messenger, Slack etc. VoiceMonk’s Virtual Agents or “Bots” can assist your customers in finding the right solutions to their questions. It can drastically cut down your expenses and efforts in maintaining a full-fledged customer servicing team.

One of our prospective customers, a cloud-based CCI provider enables 24X7 call center support to any business. It provides a virtual receptionist that can direct a customer to the concerned department. The biggest challenge our customer faced was with providing the right technical assistance to its customers. It has a support page on the website, which is a plethora of question and answers. For customers who wanted quick help without having to the flip the pages, it was a daunting task. However, VoiceMonk makes it really simple. Customers could directly chat with a Virtual Agent and ask their questions in a natural language. The agent instantly replies them with relevant answers, providing relief to both customers and companies.

How Exactly Does VoiceMonk answer your questions?

When a customer asks the agent to help him with a question, the agent’s action begins. Let’s say a customer asked the agent a question- “I would like to know what are the features of the product A?” The agent starts making a search from various knowledge bases like ZenDesk, SalesForce Desk etc. All the question and answers are converted into natural conversations. Elaborate answers are broken down into simple steps and pre-requisites. The customer can choose to continue the answer by clicking a button or can skip a step. Multiple questions can be asked until the customer is satisfied with the response. However, a bot has its own limitations. If it fails to handle a query, it backs out and redirects to a human representative.

Just imagine the volume of customer queries that can be handled by our bot and the improvement in customer satisfaction. With the most difficult job done, it’s time to focus on the most important area — your business!

Wish to see a demo of our agent live in action?

Check this out — http://rebrand.ly/vmfaq

Demo for a virtual agent to handle marketing and customer service for businesses

Please see a demo our virtual agent for customer engagement (marketing, transacting and customer service) on Facebook Messenger (We also support SMS and Telephone communication channels) for offline commerce in action at http://rebrand.ly/vmconvcom

Using our platform, businesses can not only send marketing messages on SMS but also accept orders from customers.

Please let us know, if you need help engaging your customers on Facebook Messenger/Slack for your businesses.

A transaction needs to be a conversation

What is the right user interface for a commerce transaction?

On one side when you walk to a physical store in countries such as India, a personal shopper greets you, asks you what you are looking for, shows you items, gets your feedback from your facial, speech reactions and comes up with more items. Your personal shopper will make sure you complete the transaction by engaging you in an active conversation. Let us call this experience conversational experience.

On the other side we have sites such as Amazon, eBay (Disclosure: I worked at eBay and Amazon. They are great companies with really smart people. I have learnt a lot from everyone I worked with.), which have rich information about the inventory. To purchase an item, you first figure out a search term, look at the search results, refine your search query, look at more items, select an item, read the description, browse more merchandizing and then finally purchase an item. The onus is on the customer to figure out that special merchandize he would love from millions of items. Let us call this experience the status quo.

The status quo experience was invented in 1990’s, when the internet browser was the biggest distribution vehicle and the pioneers in the space had to figure out a way to constrain their ideas into what was possible in HTML. This experience worked for 25 years and made the ecommerce possible.

Can we simplify a transaction and make it easy for the shopper? Has the technology improved to revisit the experience of the status quo? My answer is yes. With the advancements in Deep Learning, Speech recognition and growth of Mobile commerce, Messaging Apps, I feel that it is the time to move from the status quo to the conversational experience.

In the next sequence of posts, I will write articles about the technologies involved for helping businesses with the transition.