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This article was published on April 14, 2019

Conversations with customers are an untapped data goldmine for businesses

Conversations with customers are an untapped data goldmine for businesses
Warren Levitan
Story by

Warren Levitan

Co-Founder & CEO, Smooch

Warren Levitan is co-founder and CEO of Smooch, the omnichannel conversation platform that helps brands build more meaningful relationships Warren Levitan is co-founder and CEO of Smooch, the omnichannel conversation platform that helps brands build more meaningful relationships with customers. Smooch powers award-winning conversational experiences for CX leaders like Four Seasons, Uber, Betterment and Zendesk.

The rapid rise of the customer data platform suggests brands understand more than ever that customer experience is the new battleground for business. According to Walker, a CX consulting firm, 2020 will be the year customer experience surpasses price and even product as the key competitive differentiator.

If businesses are going to deliver a truly exceptional experience to customers, the first thing they need to do is understand who they’re talking to. In The Experience Economy — as Ben Thompson dubs our CX-driven era — achieving the elusive “360 degree view of the customer” has become the holy grail for brands.

In this pursuit to ‘know your customer,’ there are numerous data points brands are becoming used to working from — demographics, location, past behaviors, and transactions. It could be argued however, that there are none as useful, as seemingly obvious, and as untapped as what a customer is actually saying.

The conversational revolution

The recent rise of conversational interfaces and AI have made customer words more abundant and accessible than ever. From live chat to messaging apps to chatbots and voice assistants, these new digital channels allow customers to communicate with brands in the same personal and immediate way they interact with friends and family. And they’re doing it in huge numbers.

Last year, people and businesses around the world exchanged over 10 billion messages each month — on Facebook Messenger alone. Meanwhile, the emergence of conversational marketing tools like Drift and Intercom has brought modern messaging to hundreds of thousands of corporate websites.  

An ability to collect, store, aggregate, analyze, and ultimately act upon the actual words customers are saying to them, would surely enable brands to deliver the type of intelligent and seamless experiences their customers pine for.

So what’s holding them back?

The customer data dilemma

According to a recent Forbes Insights/Treasure Data survey, 78 percent of businesses either have, or are developing, a customer data platform. The idea is to ingest a wide variety of customer data from all of a business’ channels and systems, which can then be accessed by any authorized business system.

The goal? To develop better customer insights and offer more personalized experiences. But while these platforms are equipped to deliver all sorts of behavioral, transactional, and demographic data, the missing piece of the customer data puzzle is conversational data.

The problem with leaving conversations out of the mix is that all the information a customer is giving you directly — from their own (digital) mouths — is being disregarded in favor of increasingly broad, data-bourne assumptions. This then leaves brands in a position where they’re forced to offer customers an orange because they appear from the data to be an ‘orange type of person’ when they just told you directly they like apples.

The conversational data pool

Over the course of the past year, nearly all the major messaging providers — including Apple, Facebook/WhatsApp, and Google — have started opening their platforms to businesses. This rise of business messaging is set to produce a treasure trove of conversational data — chat history and context — that businesses can begin to use and gain a more complete and personal view of their customers. It’s the juiciest of low-hanging fruit for CX-focused brands.

The catch?

Customer conversations currently live across a multitude of disconnected channels, each with their own separate APIs and data structures, and each frequently piped into a distinct customer engagement platform, siloed off both from the other channels and from the rest of a business’ customer data.

Now imagine a business was able to access everything a customer has ever said to them. Their emails to customer service, live chats with sales, phone calls with the order help line, SMS messages, interactions with the Facebook bot, social posts with brand mentions, etc. Imagine they could all be organized in a unified conversation timeline, combined with the transactional and behavioral data and formatted in a way that was easily processed by a company’s NLP or AI assets.

The opportunities unlocked with this type of conversational data pool are endless. A few examples could include:

Informed agents

With conversational data at their fingertips customer service agents can get away from effectively dealing with a stranger every time and instantly provide informed and contextualized support to each customer. No frustrated customers having to repeat themselves over and over again. The whole experience becomes… human.

Surface customer insights

Beyond giving agents historical context to better serve individual customers in real time, businesses could also mine their conversational data in aggregate. By analyzing common support questions, product inquiries, trends, and requests, they can surface actionable insights for their marketing, sales, business operations, and product teams.

If behavioral and transactional data give businesses valuable clues about what products and services customers are interested in, conversational data confirms it right from the proverbial horse’s mouth.

Connect conversations across the enterprise

The first thing a conversational data platform needs to do is unify a business’ conversational data across channels, which includes global messaging apps like WhatsApp, Apple Business Chat, Facebook Messenger, and WeChat as well as SMS, email, web messaging (RIP live chat!), and even voice.

Next, it needs to allow a business’ various systems to access the data, from marketing to sales to customer support. A platform that connects all of a business’ systems of record and engagement on one end, and all available user channels on the other, becomes an incredibly powerful conversational data store that can power a variety of transformational experiences for both businesses and customers.

Imagine a user on WhatsApp who asks about a specific product instead of browsing your brand’s website. They might engage with a human using live chat software or a product discovery bot. Once the customer goes on their merry way, without making a purchase, wouldn’t you want your marketing software to be aware of the conversation and generate an email (or WhatsApp message!) offering additional product information or promoting a discount on that very item?

From retargeting campaigns based on customer requests to churn reduction campaigns based on sentiment analysis, conversational data combined with today’s Natural Language Understanding (NLU) allows brands to truly listen to what their customers are communicating to them at scale — through words, actions and, of course, emojis — and respond accordingly.

What have your customers told you lately? If delivering a more personal and personalized customer experience is your goal, being able to answer that question is a critical first step.

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