Your Customers Are Messaging, Your Bot Answers

Will your members rely on messaging, chat bots and artificial intelligence as an interface with your association in the not-too-distant future?

That’s what Robert Stephens, now co-founder of Assist and the storied founder of the Geek Squad, forecast as the next big thing in his gamechanger speech to association executives at the ASAE Annual Conference Aug. 15. By 2020, he forecasts that 80% of business communication will be through messaging. Assist is one of many companies trying to develop messaging-based customer interfaces.

If your members still insist on talking to a person over an automated answering service, you might find this forecast far-fetched. But you’ve already seen this future; it’s Siri and Cortana working as our digital assistants. Someday bots will be good enough we will outsource a lot of tasks to them.

Stephens describes this as the next tool to empower consumers. Artificial intelligence is getting smart enough to answer frequently asked questions and anticipate what consumers want based on past requests and behavior patterns. The immediate priority is to simplify the steps in any transaction and reduce the “drop rate” that occurs when customers run into trouble.  The bots will handle routine tasks and be smart enough to send customers to live support when necessary.

As this Verge article explains in greater detail, people like Stephens who are declaring messaging the next big thing are anticipating AI-assisted messaging will displace search and apps. They could be correct since Facebook and Google make 8 of the 10 most used apps and they are both investing in messaging.

Some claims are questionable, like how quickly AI can get smart enough to be really effective digital assistants, or how willing customers will be to have businesses intrude into their personal social media environment. Consumers might accept appointment, shipping and delivery notifications as a convenience, but they could grow as weary of persistent advertising as they did the popup ad.

Consumers are likely to welcome more conversational user interfaces. If the bot can get them to the solution they need quickly and efficiently and with a little dash of humor and warmth, they just might opt in. To test that premise, I just let a major retailer bot sort through too many printer options on a website to find the best fit for me. I like the recommendation and will likely buy it, although I want to check whether this site offers the best price. There are bots for that too.

For associations, this next big thing will probably enter our world the same way most technology developments do. Some members will have this first and they will push their associations to adopt a similar level of customization, speed and service efficiency.

Stephens offers as proof-of-concept the recent partnership between Facebook and 1-800-Flowers. Facebook knows when those important birthdays and anniversaries occur and can seamlessly connect notifications to its internal purchase and delivery arrangement with 1-800-Flowers.

In the future associations could enjoy a similar privileged relationship to customize and expedite member transactions. Associations could use bots to better anticipate member needs and intentions and deliver a seamless customer experience.  Whether messaging is the next big thing as Stephens forecast or not, associations need to be on alert and ready to move as fast followers if it takes off.