By Sonia Vaessler, DVT
The ‘next big thing’ in industries such as retail, banking and telecoms is finding new communication channels to engage with customers. When it comes to software and mobile apps, messaging as a growth channel is young and fresh – and I expect it will herald the start of a new gold rush very, very soon.
Services like Slack and Facebook Messenger are following the lead set by the Asian chat successes such as “Line” and “WeChat” in turning chat into a platform that allows access to services layered over the top – services like mobile payments, shopping, games and more. For example, you can now order an Uber by typing a command in Slack, or you can order a pizza within the WeChat app in China.
So what happens when chat becomes our interface with the world? Before the point-and-click Windows-based GUI evolved, the earliest PCs running DOS or similar operating systems had a ‘chat-style’ interface – the command line.
In the same way, messaging can be the next operating system, and the starting point could be, once again, the command line. The only difference is that this time the abstraction level is much, much higher. Instead of a command like ‘cd /Uber’ which would change your working directory to the one called ‘Uber’, now a command like ‘/Uber ride’ can literally order you an Uber. What’s old is new again.
There is a big possibility that chat will be part of – or even supplant –the next user interface. Chat, voice-activated personal assistants (like Siri), or more likely a combination of both, could even replace the apps grid as the next major UI paradigm.
In this scenario, the chat window is always open. You use it to talk to your colleagues or friends, replacing email, and it will piece-by-piece replace everything else around it. It’s so much easier to order an Uber by typing ‘/Uber ride’ into the chat window that’s already open, than pulling your phone out, unlocking it, opening an app, etc.
The rise of omni-channels
The multi-channel experience is what most businesses invest in today. They have a website, blog, Facebook, and Twitter. They use each of these platforms to engage and connect with customers. However, in most cases, the customer still lacks a seamless experience and consistent messaging across each of these channels.
An omni-channel approach, on the other hand, accounts for each platform and device a customer uses to interact with a company. That knowledge is then used to deliver an integrated experience. Companies using this technique align their messaging, goals, objectives, and design across each channel and device.
There are many real-world examples. The Bank of America takes their omni-channel development seriously. As one of the biggest brands in their industry, they’re setting the standard for a dynamic experience, which, as of today, allows for everything from check depositing to appointment scheduling to be handled by the company’s mobile and desktop apps.
Here’s another: a quick look at the Starbucks reward app reveals why many consider it one of the top omni-channel experiences out there. First, you get a free rewards card that you can use whenever you make a purchase. But unlike traditional customer loyalty programs, Starbucks has made it possible to check and reload your card via phone, website, in-store, or on the app. Any change to the card or your profile gets updated across all channels, in real-time. Standing in line to get a coffee and realise your don’t have enough on your balance? Reload it and the cashier will know it’s been updated by the time you swipe your card.
Stop thinking that full-service and self-service are separate models for separate channels. Give the customer control and help them cycle back and forth between channels.
Web and mobile channels have been designed from the ground up for self-service. Initially, this evolved as a way to reduce the expensive interactions with staff, either in-store or through call centres. As customers became more comfortable with these channels, they got hooked on the control, immediacy, and rich information available at their fingertips. Web-first retail competitors started winning with better experiences online, and mobile brought that same customer-centred power into banking.
From a developer’s perspective, a web-based, omni-channel integrated world is made possible to a large extent by modern companies exposing their feature sets as consumable services, often times microservices or an aggregation of that, made available as a public API (usually REST at this point).
So, integration at a messaging level isn’t so much what you as the user see, but rather integration through composition and API as a service (software as a service). Web architects should sit up and pay attention to this, as it fundamentally changes the way they need to think about software architecture and addressing the challenges we face today and in the near future. Again, no one is doing this better right now than Uber. Their entire value proposition is built around taking control from the cab driver and putting it into the rider’s hands. With on-demand reservations, cabs work on your schedule. Your Uber will show up whenever, and wherever, you need it. Once in the vehicle, the service is no longer digital, and you can start interacting with a real person. But the power remains in your hands. You can let the driver direct the route, or track it on your phone and recommend alternatives if you know the area. And the payment interaction, long the biggest hassle of taking a taxi, goes invisible – the ultimate flip of control.
There is certainly a bright future for omni-channel experiences in South Africa especially considering the lead already taken by certain retailers and financial institutions. So, if you’re trying to figure out how technology can work with your current environment to empower your customers and give them more cohesive and intimate experiences, maybe it’s time to hit the road. Dial up Uber on your mobile, take a ride to the airport or Gautrain. You’ll be amazed by what you see. Take notes and let’s have a discussion on how you can achieve service excellence in your business through omni-channel solutions with DVT.