Top Stories of the Week: Chatbot Revolution to Transform the Customer Experience and more

 Let's take a look at some of the best customer service news and articles of the week:

Facebook to Expand Use of Chatbots.

There’s an interesting article on Inc. about Facebook’s plans to expand their current San Francisco-only experiment of having A.I.-controlled bots answering “basic questions” via Messenger.

As Inc. says, “2016 is the year of the chatbots, a turning point when the A.I. that drives these machines can imitate human speech, respond to queries, help you find the right product online, and troubleshoot problems.”

In fact, chances are good you’ve already interacted with one and didn’t know it. Or maybe you did and preferred it: “You can now order a pizza from Domino's by talking to an Amazon Echo, by text, or even by sending an emoji on Twitter.”

The article rather disingenuously claims that “this is not about replacing humans or sending them to the unemployment line,” and maybe that’s not the intent, but with the $15 minimum wage soon to be a national reality, it appears, chatbots will take the place of as many customer service workers as possible.

Medical Clinic Takes Telehealth Mainstream.

According to Fast Company, the day is coming soon when a visit to the doctor’s office could mean “a virtual consultation from the comfort of our living rooms.”

Telehealth,  which includes such services as using “phone or video to consult with a physician from a distance,” is expected to be worth “$34.27 billion by the end of 2020,” the magazine writes.

The Cleveland Clinic, described by Fast Company as “one of the most prestigious brands in health care,” is providing customers of a CVS MinuteClinic in Ohio “access to its experts for both online and mobile doctor visits. Patients can walk into a nearby MinuteClinic and get a vaccine or test, or consult a nurse practitioner about a minor skin abrasion or illness.”

If further consultation or follow-up is needed from a primary care practitioner a referral is offered.

Along with the obvious advantages of convenience and affordability, telehealth does have some drawbacks. Frequently it’s necessary for a patient to actually see a doctor in person, of course. And many doctors already have full schedules.

Still, expect to see much more telehealth in coming years, either as a standalone service, or incorporated into more traditional forms of healthcare.

Is Starbucks Losing Customer Loyalty?

TheStreet reports that Starbucks’ redesigned loyalty program is taking flack on Facebook and Twitter from disgruntled customers who liked the previous loyalty program’s point reward program, where “customers would earn one point (or "star") for every purchase made, no matter the price or quantity of items.”

The widely popular loyalty program smartly incorporated a mobile app “from which users can pay for their items within stores,” which receives millions of hits per month.

The new program significantly increases the monetary value of purchases required to receive loyalty benefits, and is “clearly designed to reward the Starbucks high-spenders who purchase fancy lattes and food items on a regular basis, not the die-hard coffee addicts,” according to The Street, “and that has ruffled more than a few feathers.”

Nobody’s saying Starbucks is going to go out of business over the issue, but it could have treated its loyal customers with bit more tact.

Customer Experience Excellence – Minus Silos.

CustomerThink’s Lynn Hunsaker offers thoughts on how to avoid CX “snafus” caused by technology intended to simplify customer experience management, but which end up creating system silos:

  • Remember that Customer Experience is #1. Conduct due diligence to determine the actual real-life impact it will have on the customer experience – “See it through your customers’ eyes.”
  • Categorize technology types. Is it mission-critical, core technology? Know what type of technology you’re buying and where it fits in your ecosystem – from the customer’s point of view.
  • Prioritize according to customer data. Your technology hierarchy starts with what the customer needs. Internal needs follow.
  • Learn change management techniques. Consider all stakeholder viewpoints for change decision-making.

Understanding Where the Customer Journey Starts.

Kiss the traditional marketing funnel goodbye – as SocialTimes writes, “with more people spending more time online, consumers are making purchasing decisions further up the funnel.”

Much of the time the customer’s experiences on social media determine their purchase decisions: “The modern customer journey begins with self-evaluation, and this customer ‘self education’ begins with social.”

The article notes that according to some estimates, “57 percent of the buying process is complete before ‘sales’ is contacted.” Increasingly customers walk into stores having done their homework online, knowing what they want and aren’t going to listen to the in-store sales pitch.

Marketers need to understand how Facebook, Snapchat – for the younger customer set – Tumblr and Instagram, among other social media destinations, are influencing their customers’ journeys.

That’s it for this week, see you next Friday!

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