This new on-demand world

Earlier this month Adobe released research showing how augmented reality (AR) and bots are starting to show positive results with consumers. The consistency, personalisation and convenience provided by the technology showed an increase in loyalty, engagement and satisfaction. The survey, by Goldsmiths University of 5,000 consumers across Europe, goes some way to prove the ability for digital innovation to increase customer appreciation.

The highlights from the research show over half (59 per cent) of respondents think convenience is important and 61 per cent prefer a personalised experience.

Technology is moving fast, and consumers are adapting rapidly. Arguably, businesses are struggling to keep up.

Historically, communication between businesses and consumers has been around features and benefits, value and cost. Modern consumers care about these things, but, values, ethics, sustainability and personalised, on-demand service is just as important. People now want and expect, immediate answers to their questions. Any time of the day via any channel.

This affinity for technology is reshaping the consumer space; they know businesses have the technology needed to deliver a personalised service. They are turning to companies that offer maximum convenience. After all, your competitors are only an internet search or email away. Modern consumers expect speed and convenience, but also want to know details about your company and your products. The bottom line is they communicate differently and are evolving at a faster rate than companies.

The big question is, how does your business keep up?

In 2015, messaging app usage (FB Messenger, WhatsApp and the like) overtook all of social media, and they are growing at a faster rate. The top five messaging apps have over 4.5 billion monthly active users. That is more than half of humanity.

Seemingly, consumer behaviour has shifted from social broadcasting to more private and personal social messaging. When people contact a company, they do not want an automated email reply saying “We aim to respond to all enquiries within two days”.... how 1990's. Modern consumers have adapted to a world where they can order something from an online shop, and it arrives at their door within hours. Why do they have to wait days for a response from a business?

Earlier this year we carried out some primary research to understand the consumer attitude towards rising growth in on-demand. We wanted to find out if consumers were ready to talk to a machine.

Diverse services

The headline stats are that 68 per cent of respondents just want an answer from a business, and they want it easily and quickly. Interestingly, over half (51 per cent) of people also said companies should be available 24/7, and 46 per cent would prefer to contact a business via messaging app over email. And we are only at the start of this new trend.

Gone are the days of non-contextual or impersonal email and advertising. Gone are the days of a consumer clicking a link and purchasing without comparing or asking questions. The new world is all about conversations. It is about a user talking directly to your business in a private, personal and on-demand way.

Imagine I am a modern consumer and I want to find a coffee shop in London. I don’t want to have to open an internet browser, Google some keywords, browse through the results, open lots of coffee shop websites, try to figure out how to use the website, find a contact page and then finally work out what their address is. Why can’t I just open something like Facebook Messenger (an app I already use all day, every day) and send them a message “Hi, what’s your address?”

Why can’t they instantly reply, sending me a map to their coffee shop (from my current location), let me order the coffee I want, so it is ready when I get there and tell me about some delicious warm muffins fresh out of the oven (a cheeky upsell)?

Well, now they can.

The technology exists for companies of all sizes and industry to cater this new world consumer. The buzzword is “chatbot”, or if you are posh, a conversational interface. It is basically a computer program that you talk to.

It is a layer on top of, or a gateway to, a service or information. Sometimes powered by machine learning and natural language processing (the chatbot "understands" and gets smarter the more people interact with it). Alternatively, it is driven using intelligent rules (i.e. if the person says this, respond with that). Or, it may be some combination of both.

The services a chatbot can deliver are diverse. From vital life-saving health messages to checking the weather forecast or purchasing a new pair of shoes, and anything else in between. If all goes wrong, the chatbot can seamlessly handover to a human. The term chatbot has become synonymous to text conversations but is proliferating through voice communication. I wonder how many people reading have already had a conversation with a machine in their own home?

Talking to machines

“Alexa, what time is it?”

Amazon has already sold over 35 million Alexa's in the USA alone, and over 350 million people use Siri every month.

Don’t get me wrong. Despite thousands of geeks working in AI and natural language processing for decades, we are still very much in the early stages of this technology. That being said, things move quickly, and you would be surprised at just how smart these 'dumb bots' already are.

Surveys like these show that a perfect storm has arrived. Humans are willing to talk to businesses via new channels, and technology can match consumers’ expectations. Business Insider predicts that, by 2020, 80 per cent of business will have some form of AI frontend. Our research shows that 35 per cent of consumers are already waiting for more companies to adopt chatbots

For the first time, businesses can have personalised, two-way conversations in real time, at scale. As more people become accustomed to talking to computers, there will be an increase in the level of service they expect from all brands. Consumers no longer want to look for an answer; they want the information to come to them hassle-free, on their terms.

Soon we will be looking back and wondering how we ever got stuff done without just talking to a machine.

Dean Withey, CEO and co-founder, ubisend
Image source: Shutterstock/polkadot_photo