Conversational Solutions to Social Distancing Problems
John Mowat

COVID-19 has shaken our personal lives and devastated the business world. But why is it such an outsized disruption to commerce everywhere on Earth?

The answer lies in the name of the very tool we’re all using to fight the spread of the virus: social distancing. Unpacking this term illuminates how the damage to business has been caused, and also a pathway out to survive and thrive again.

A Unique Threat to Business

For many, especially in retail, the immediate impact comes from the distancing part of the term. Obviously, when people aren’t able to see products and reach them off the shelf, that’s a crippling blow to the business. But beyond that, when potential customers aren’t able to move through the retail space and feel the breadth of the customer experience crafted by marketing and interior design…a brand loses so much of the personality and care which differentiates it from the competition.

In addition to this physical disruption, the social disruption is critical too, particularly in service domains. When a host greets a patron or a salesperson walks them through a range of possibilities, when a nurse or legal assistant understands a client’s needs and directs them to the right professional…there is more happening there than an impersonal online shopping cart can provide. That social interaction – the being heard, understood and cared for – is something that pretty pictures and animated text on a website can’t provide. It demands an intelligent, interactive response. Intra-business interactions also suffer, as new hires who are onboarding and existing staff in training can’t easily “ask the room” a question, and processes as routine as internal support are now overwhelmed by the flood of requests pouring in with so many employees learning how to work from home.

Conversational AI: Social Interactions

Social Interactions with Conversational AI

Businesses are understandably – hurriedly – trying to pivot to a more remote stance which still provides a superior customer experience…but even those who are committed to offering interactivity at a distance are discovering that it’s neither straightforward nor effective to rapidly staff call centers and help desks (even virtual ones) with legions of trained people answering questions all day.

A powerful tool for addressing these challenges which wouldn’t have been practical had COVID-19 struck even 10 years ago, is Conversational AI.

Repairing the Damage

Conversational AI integrates with your existing communications strategy to provide a reassuring human touch, without an actual human being involved on your side. It’s an intelligent, automated system (often called a “bot”) which greets and interacts with clients, visitors and even internal staff to guide them to a successful transaction or experience. Examples include an automated Facebook Messenger salesperson, a pop-up advisor on the company/organizational website, or an SMS text-message based “virtual assistant”. They can handle a wide array of questions and requests, such as “I’d like to book an appointment” or “show me all the shoes with blue on them” or “who can I talk to about an upgrade?”, and instantly scale to respond to as many users as needed. Never again should a user who spends their own time to reach out to a business be turned away by a day-long wait for a reply mail or an unintelligent recorded voice announcing that “we’re experiencing higher than normal call volumes and your call will be answered in rotation.”

For organizations that haven’t looked into it before, the idea of anything “A.I.” can seem intimidating. But Conversational AI is just an extension of the communications you’re already using – a plug-in to your existing website, help desk, email, or other channels.

That’s not to say that what’s going on behind the scenes isn’t complex and cutting-edge. The right provider deploys a conversational strategist to help you find the right way to build Conversational AI solutions into your offering and insulates you from the technical infrastructure and deep pool of Master coders, quality assurance and DevOps teams working behind the scenes to help you present a smooth, engaging face to the world.

A customer service chatbot

According to Chatbots Magazine

This technology is in reach, with a variety of options available to all levels of sophistication and budget. It was rapidly becoming mainstream before coronavirus hit…and that will only accelerate now as Conversational AI is uniquely suited to solving the problems the world now faces because it addresses both the social and the distancing concerns discussed above.

It’s called “conversational” AI because the system actually converses with the user, both sides typing out (or speaking!) their questions and comments in a real-time dialogue. A well-designed conversational system has a distinct personality, letting the brand’s unique voice and care for their users shine through. Such a system understands a wide variety of words, terms and phrases (even emoji!😀) which patrons might use, and responds in kind. Crafting these AI personalities which understand and adapt to the flow of a conversation – while always delivering value by guiding the user to a successful transaction or experience – can be both a fun and easy process with the right partner.

The Post-Coronavirus World

We all look forward to this era of risk and uncertainty coming to a close. But eventually, in the aftermath, consumer expectations and competitive organizations will have shifted to a greater range of high-availability, highly-effective remote interactions. Enterprises that haven’t taken steps to apply the lessons learned may find themselves fighting for survival all over again.

Conversational AI can strengthen both customer-facing and internal processes – how can your organization benefit from conversational solutions to social distancing problems?

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