A customer messaging platform will make the user experience second-to-none. What to know about online conversation solutions? | Layer


Messaging Series: Managing History Access Properly

How to think about allowing users to manage their conversation history

No matter what changes in the world of digital customer experiences, one thing will always stay the same—the need for speed.

We’ve traditionally seen the need for in website development. Every second of loading time delay can result in lost revenue. In fact, 40% of web shoppers will abandon a website if it doesn’t load within 3 seconds.

You have to expect the need for speed to carry over into your branded messaging experience, too. One piece of a fast messaging experience is access to conversation history—manage it carefully.

The Two Approaches to Managing Messaging History Access

Just because you’ve organized your conversation list conveniently doesn’t mean users will never have to sort through past messages.

Think of all the times you’ve sat scrolling back through old text messages trying to find that address for an upcoming event. You fly past a collection of recent messages, the app pauses to load more, and you continue until you’ve discovered what you’re looking for.

You may take historical access to your messages for granted, but there’s actually a right and wrong way to offer this service for your own users. Consider how these two approaches impact speed (and overall messaging customer experience):

  • Load on Request—The Wrong Way to Offer Messaging History: Some messaging experiences only focus on the here-and-now. They wait for users to open a conversation and start scrolling back before loading historical messages. Fetching historical messages on demand may sound harmless, but it can add seconds of delay that degrade the customer experience and lead users to switch to your competitors.
  • Pre-Fetch Old Messages—The Best Way to Eliminate History Load Time: If you want to virtually eliminate the perceived time to load historical messages, you have to take advantage of local device storage. Storing a portion of messaging history on the user’s device lets you display those messages quickly rather than forcing users to stare at endless loading indicators. Local storage also gives users access to some conversation history when their devices are offline. We live in an always-connected world, but that doesn’t mean we don’t hit dead zones from time to time. Don’t let service dead zones hurt the customer experience.

Don’t Go Overboard with Local Messaging History Storage

The phrase “if some is good, more is better” doesn’t necessarily apply to conversation history access. You have to be careful how many messages you store locally as you strive to reduce friction in the messaging experience.

Store too few messages locally and you leave customers to wait for history to load. Store too many messages locally and you might start impacting app performance. Find the happy medium to make conversation viewing as seamless as possible.

However, finding the balance that ensures smooth historical access to messages is just a small part of making your messaging experience engaging for users. Taking the best approach to offer historical access won’t do much good if the messaging experience as a whole is flawed.

If you want to learn more about what goes into a high-quality, branded messaging experience, check out our full Messaging Best Practices Guide.

An Open Letter to Retail

Yes, retail can be saved

Retail, You Have a Problem. I’m worried about you, retail.

One of the first jobs I ever had was at Best Buy. I was just 16 years old and a much quieter individual at the time. Having to educate customers about new technologies really taught me how to have meaningful and empathetic conversations with people. It’s a valuable lesson I’ve never forgotten as my career has shifted toward tech startups and that human connection is one of the reasons why I love retail so much.

You used to be the ones in charge, but now a $350 billion bully is taking your lunch money.

Traditional big box retailers have watched their revenues decline slowly over the past 10 years—holidays are bringing less and less foot traffic, cost per good sold is increasing, and margins are wasting away.

Now, you’re facing a do-or-die moment. It’s sad to say, but you have to change. Don’t worry, though. Change can be difficult, but it also brings an opportunity—the chance to monumentally alter the way people purchase goods (for the better).

Every retailer has two options. Are you going to be the company with the Circuit City five-year plan? Or are you going to be the retailer that embraces digital and thrives in a 20+ year future?

Amazon—The Ever-Growing Giant

Let’s talk about the 800-pound gorilla that is Amazon. Ever since the introduction of Amazon Prime in 2005, the looming giant has been chipping away at retail market share and converting it to e-Commerce. It’s been more than a decade of dominance that can’t be denied.

Hindsight is 20/20, but what if retail started taking action against Amazon early on? You certainly would have if you had lost 50% of your market share in just one year (instead of 10). But for more than 10 years, Amazon has slowly beaten retail at its own game.

Amazon offers the same products at the same (or better) prices as big box retailers—all with better accessibility and free two-day shipping. Consumers are like lightning. They’ll always find the path of least resistance and Amazon has provided just that.

You could try to go head-to-head against Amazon with the same game you’ve always played—the one Amazon has stolen from your hands. To some extent, this is what Best Buy is doing with its “New Blue” strategy for digital transformation. However, incremental differences are exactly what will keep Amazon in control.

Instead, you have to focus on creating monumental differentiation. This means playing a new game that capitalizes on Amazon’s weakness.

The Problem with Reviews and the Chink in Amazon’s Armor

We all know that when the options are fast, good, and cheap, you can only choose two. And while Amazon may seem like the exception to so many rules, this one reveals a weakness that you can exploit to change the retail game.

One thing missing from Amazon’s business is a support staff that can advise customers on informed purchase decisions. No one is going to spend $2,000 on a new television without doing some research. However, Amazon can’t possibly staff product experts for every item it sells. Instead, Amazon has relied solely on customer reviews.

If you’ve ever sifted through thousands of Amazon reviews for a product you’re interested in, you’ve probably noticed that the system is far from perfect. First of all, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to ignore the growing volume of fake (or paid) product reviews.

More importantly, there’s a fundamental flaw in consumer product reviews—they’re based on someone else’s specific needs, not yours. One person’s five-star review might be a one-star review for you. Everyone thinks they want a 75-inch television and the one you choose on Amazon might have five stars—but who’s going to tell you that a television that big will be a waste of money if you’re putting it in an eight-foot by eight-foot room?

In the wake of less-than-trustworthy Amazon reviews, we’ve seen the rise of the professional reviewer. Someone like Marques Brownlee can give you high-quality, professional reviews of popular products. The production quality is great and the information is valuable when you’re researching certain products.

However, there’s still something missing with professional reviewers—a focus on the specific products you’re considering. This leaves us with a service gap between professional reviewers who have limited portfolios and the millions of consumer reviewers who don’t have your needs in mind.

Here’s your opportunity to change the retail game. For years, retail hasn’t valued human connection as much as it should. Your employees can fill the reviewer gap and act as product experts for customers.

Digital Transformation Should Start with the Employee Experience

In most industries, digital transformation starts with a focus on the customer experience. But when Amazon is your competition, you can’t just maintain the status quo. Instead of starting with the customer experience, enabling your employees to have valuable conversations with consumers is the key to executing digital transformation in retail.

Even after I stopped working at Best Buy, I used to go to the brick-and-mortar locations for my tech needs. I realized one day that every time I go into the store, I end up spending a lot of time talking to an employee about anything from home theater systems to computers and beyond.

The people working at Best Buy aren’t just knowledgeable about products (when the company brings manufacturers in to train and educate the staff, this isn’t surprising), they’re enthusiastic about them. At a time when availability of goods is commoditized by Amazon, your core product isn’t what’s on the shelves—it’s the employees you’ve trained to make empathetic connections with customers.

Right now, the conversation in retail is all about how you can increase foot traffic at brick-and-mortar stores as Amazon continues to grow. Instead, you should be asking yourself how you empower employees with the tools and processes necessary to connect with customers—both in-store and online.

Returning Retail to Its Former Glory

When I reflect on my retail roots, I realize that the human connection has always been the foundation of my passion for the industry. How can big box retailers like Best Buy, Babies”R”Us, and others take advantage of technology to get back to that former glory?

Saving retail is all about making mobile and customer connectivity part of employee DNA. You already have the infrastructure in place to match Amazon’s distribution (you have more storefronts and product experts out there than Amazon could ever match in the next five years). Now, you need to start facilitating meaningful conversations between your product experts and the consumers who are always researching potential purchases.

I believe messaging technology is the best way to maximize the potential of human connections in retail. Mobile chat has become the universal experience, giving retail employees a chance to have simple, rich, and dynamic conversations with customers.

The combination of chatbots for simple question/answer situations and human interaction for more complicated inquiries can help you design a high-quality customer experience. When product experts can guide consumers through the buying process and make sure their specific needs are met, you’ll start to build trust with customers—the one thing that will help you thrive in a retail world overtaken by Amazon.

So here we are at a fork in the road, retail. You can remain romantic about your past successes and go the way of Circuit City, Kmart, and others. Or you can play a new retail game and return to glory.

We’re trending back toward commerce done at the distance of a handshake and it’s time to get on board.

How dubizzle Drives Mobile Transactions with Messaging

What Is dubizzle?

Founded in 2005 by J.C. Butler and Sim Whatley, dubizzle is a classifieds platform focused on the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

As part of the OLX classifieds company, dubizzle has grown to include over 200 employees. These employees have been tasked with supporting the majority of users on mobile – 70% of the user base.

With the rise of mobile, dubizzle started looking for ways to boost engagement with digital classifieds. To improve the user experience and increase mobile transactions, dubizzle turned to messaging to connect its users.

The Problem: Not All Digital Experiences Are Created Equal

Unlike the United States, the emerging market dubizzle serves essentially skipped the PC era. Rather than moving from desktop browsing to laptops and slowly shifting toward mobile, emerging markets now dominate mobile browsing.  

Despite the differences between developed and emerging markets, OLX co-founder Alec Oxenford once said, “It’s rational to believe you know local markets, but people are always the same in each country. They think the same way. They have different priorities, but they all want to progress in life and that’s what drives internet behavior.”

dubizzle and other OLX classifieds platforms want to facilitate this progress, but they must remove friction from the user experience to do so. At first, this meant using phone calls, SMS messages, and emails to connect dubizzle users with each other. However, there were a few flaws in this approach:

  • Buyers sent emails to sellers but failed to continue the conversation, as the sellers won’t respond
  • Phone numbers proved hard for sellers to keep track of (especially when receiving multiple calls from many buyers).
  • Leaving the dubizzle platform to interact with buyers/sellers led to a limited usage of the platform

Moving to a chat-based platform was the answer to dubizzle’s need to keep interactions within the app.

However, after spending 2 years developing code to make a chat platform vendor’s APIs and SDKs work for their messaging needs, maintenance became overwhelming. After a referral from friends at Shedd, the dubizzle team moved their messaging infrastructure to Layer to simplify their implementation and free up their engineering team.

The Solution: Eliminating User Experience Friction with Layer Messaging

The challenges dubizzle faced with infrastructure maintenance started to hurt the user experience. Solving this problem with Layer meant rethinking the interactions between users.

While the majority of user conversations start with item availability, it’s equally important for dubizzle to move transactions through price negotiation and item pickup. Contrary from the e-commerce platforms, dubizzle transactions happen offline, therefore being able to share location was critical for the overall experience. This requirement added complexity with the original chat platform, but Layer made the backend infrastructure far easier to manage.

“Layer was quick to implement, is easy to maintain, and provides a great conversation experience for our users,” said Mireia Mujika, Senior Product Manager at dubizzle.

The dubizzle mobile app went live in January 2017 with mobile web and desktop support following in April. And within a month, all user- experience complaints stopped and mobile transactions on dubizzle witnessed an increase.

The key takeaway in dubizzle’s story is that creating a messaging-based user conversation can’t improve digital experiences if you spend all your time trying to maintain the backend infrastructure.

If you want to learn how you can implement messaging without backend headaches, contact us today for a free demo of the Layer user conversation platform.  

How Messaging Helps Move e-Commerce Beyond the Shopping Cart

 The Outdated e-Commerce Shopping Cart

Shopping cart experiences have always formed the bedrock of e-commerce. Customers spend time finding products on the merchant’s website or app, add those products to a digital shopping cart, and then follow the payment flow to check out.

As the newcomer in retail in the 1990s, e-commerce needed to use the shopping cart and checkout metaphors from traditional brick-and-mortar commerce to help consumers understand the transaction process. This skeuomorphism has defined e-Commerce ever since.

For more than 20 years, product teams have obsessed over nuances such as button placement, field behavior, and credit card entry in an effort to make the purchasing process as painless as possible.

But times have changed.

With the advent of mobile, the ever-rising expectations of customers, and the complete lack of patience for e-commerce friction, the shopping cart metaphor is losing its effectiveness. Just as retailers were starting to get the hang of traditional e-commerce checkout processes, the market seems ready to move beyond the shopping cart.

Mobile Giants Are Moving Beyond the Shopping Cart

Amazon has perfected the shopping cart. The design might not be flashy, but after years of testing, feedback and improvement, it’s an elegant and reliable workhorse. However, Amazon is doing more than just making iterative changes to the shopping cart.

In dutifully managing and leveraging all of the information at its fingertips, such as shipping addresses and cards on file, Amazon has not only perfected the cart, but moved beyond it.

To understand how Amazon is ending the shopping cart era, we have to go way back to 1999.  Right before the turn of the century, Amazon patented its “one click to buy” concept. In many ways, Amazon didn’t need to patent this technology—nobody has built a logistics infrastructure strong enough to match the e-commerce giant’s ability to deliver goods in a reasonable amount of time and at a reasonable (read: free) price the way Amazon Prime can.

So, for many household items or impulse purchases, Amazon lets you skip the shopping cart entirely and buy with the help of all the context it already has about you. Amazon has even taken the one-click concept a step further by turning the digital “buy” button into the physical Amazon Dash button.

The one-click patent was always meant to streamline the checkout experience. However, this frictionless experience becomes even more important on mobile as you have less screen real estate and ever-impatient customers has better things to do and better places to be than navigating a complex checkout process on their phones.

Now, the one-click patent is coming to an end and Amazon’s cart-less efforts are evolving yet again with Alexa. With Alexa, customers can have an ongoing conversation with a virtual assistant who never forgets and knows all of the relevant details for your shopping needs—not just your credit card and shipping info, but your past preferences and purchase history.

The voice-enabled shopping experience further shrinks the purchase funnel into an immediate fulfillment of customer intent. And as the shopping cart metaphor disappears from e-commerce, Amazon is even experimenting with this concept in its physical Amazon Go grocery stores. Once customers are authenticated at the door, they can just walk out with merchandise and be billed accordingly without standing in line or waiting for checkout.

It’s important to note that Amazon isn’t the only company moving away from the traditional shopping cart. Uber is another example of the magical cart-less experience. You don’t think about paying for your Uber. You order it, you take the ride, and you just get out of the car. The card on file removes all friction from the process.

There’s even been stories of people getting so accustomed to this experience that they’ll accidentally get out of standard cabs without paying. We can’t dismiss these instances as anomalies—they’re indicative of shifting consumer preferences and e-commerce companies have a chance to get ahead.

Trunk Club Redefines the e-Commerce Shopping Cart with Messaging

One of our customers, Trunk Club, has innovated away the shopping cart both in terms of its business model and in terms of the interface that forms the basis of its customer experience—rich messaging.

After signing up for Trunk Club, you’re matched with a stylist who proposes a personalized “trunk” of clothing that meets your stated tastes and needs. After you collaborate with the stylist—removing things that you don’t want, requesting recommendations for other things that didn’t show up the first time—you verbally OK the trunk to be sent out to you.

Once the trunk has been shipped to you, you’re able to try the clothes on, see how they feel, and send back anything you don’t want. Your card is only billed after you decide to keep items from the trunk.

After you enter your card and delivery info the first time, you never have to think about the shopping cart or checkout process again. You don’t even have to think about whether you’ll want to keep everything in a trunk—just say “yes,” “yup,” “good to go!” or whatever chat confirmation you prefer to say you’re ready for a trunk and the personal stylist will ship it to you. This is a frictionless experience that gets beyond your typical e-commerce shopping cart and creates higher-value customer interactions.

The key here is that rather than focusing on conversion rate optimization for an outdated shopping cart metaphor, Trunk Club is basing its business model and interface on conversation. And in a mobile-first world, that means messaging.

Your e-commerce business isn’t just a series of transactions hindered by cart abandonment. Today, e-commerce is a relationship—a personal service that you provide to customers by talking to them and understanding their needs. From this relationship, purchases will flow naturally.

If you’re ready to step away from the aging shopping cart metaphor and buy into a more conversational e-commerce experience, contact us today to find out how the Layer customer conversation platform can help.

Introduction to the Conversational Economy Series

Discover the Conversational Economy

The Conversational Economy series will explore the trends in business and technology that are taking us back to a relationship-based economy, where customers are treated as individuals, and where businesses no longer need to guess as to what their customers want.

Commerce Rebooted

Commerce used to be personal. We used to have close relationships with the businesses we patronized. They used to treat us like human beings. The “market” was really a function of the conversations comprising it, and as such, these “conversations of value” represented the center of the customer relationship. Without conversation, there was no market. So what happened?

With the rise of mass-marketing and mass-retail, the personal, relationship aspect of business waned. It survived almost entirely in the extremely high-end, out of reach for most consumers. What most of us got was advertising and big-box merchandising, not personal service.

Customers Are the Heart of Commerce

In this first installment of our new Conversational Economy series, I take a look at the convergence of two major trends: the rising power of the customer and the importance of the customer experience, and the preeminence of messaging as the dominant user-interface metaphor for mobile.

We explore the concept of the “one-to-one future” of marketing and customer relationship management pioneered by Don Peppers and Martha Rogers, and connect their 1993 predictions to the current reality of the mobile era.

Rich messaging, as the preferred user interface for mobile, forms the anchor for a new kind of customer relationship. One that companies like Trunk Club and Staples are leading the way with, and one that will become table stakes for businesses moving forward.

You can read the first installment on Medium here

Algorithms Are Not Enough in Financial Services

Algorithms Are Not Enough in Financial Services

For every article you see about the advantages of emerging artificial intelligence (AI) technology, it seems like there are 3 or 4 discussing how machines are going to take all our jobs.

Finance has been one industry where employees are already experiencing significant displacement. However, financial services firms shouldn’t get carried away with automation.

The most successful firms will be those that can master a hybrid approach to financial management. Computers give you algorithms—but humans facilitate the experiences customers need.

Using Computers for What They Do Best

At times, the outcry about computers displacing human workers goes too far. There’s nothing wrong with automation, but companies have to find the appropriate use cases.

The hallmark case study for computers overtaking humans in financial services is at Goldman Sachs. Back in 2000, Goldman employed about 600 cash equities traders who worked with the firm’s largest clients to buy and sell stocks. As of early 2017 automation has taken hold—only 2 of the 600 traders remain.

According to CFO (and former CIO) Martin Chavez, this is only the beginning of automation at Goldman Sachs. In a recent speech, he explained that “everything we do is underpinned by math and a lot of software.”

The business benefits of automation are clear. Rather than paying high six-figure salaries for 600 traders, the firm only has to pay the 200 computer engineers that have taken their place in that division. When the trades include pricing analysis for things that easily are determined on the market, complex trading algorithms remove the margin for human error.

And Goldman is even starting to implement algorithms for investment trading processes that have typically relied on salesmanship and relationship-building skills. It’s clear that these types of efficiency gains will only increase.

If you take Goldman Sachs as the example, you might think that they’re on a collision course with total human displacement. However, if you look at Goldman’s venture into online retail banking (GS Bank), you start to see the value of balancing computer algorithms with human experiences.

Hybrid Financial Management: Balancing Automation with Human Experience

Streamlining operations with automation has given Goldman Sachs more freedom to pursue other markets. And in early 2016, the firm set its sights on the millennial market by entering the growing online banking sector.

By avoiding the costs of brick-and-mortar retail banking locations, Goldman can keep its delivery costs down and compete with direct banks like Ally, Discover Bank, and Capital One 360 by offering attractive interest rates.

The only problem is that technology can be commoditized and other digital disruptors will always be able to rival Goldman’s product offerings. This is why financial services firms have to balance automation with human interaction—because the customer experience is your key differentiator today.

Despite its aggressive product offerings, GS Bank has seen complications in terms of customer experience. A reliance on IVR systems and the absence of branch offices have showcased the dangers of eliminating human interaction from banking.

While you embrace automation to drive your financial services business forward, you have to make sure you never lose sight of the fact that your human employees are the ones that create customer experiences. If you can create a hybrid financial management platform—one that can automate trading while giving access to humans for greater personalization and service.

Basing your hybrid financial management platform on a universal messaging experience can give you the best of these two worlds. Automation and intelligence can work harmoniously to scale personal human interaction, while delivering value to customers for whom high-touch service would previously have been too expensive.

If you want to learn more about designing a customer experience that lets computers and humans each do what they do best, contact us today for a free demo of the Layer customer conversation platform.

Customers Are People, Not Just Accounts—Let’s Start Treating Them That Way

Customers Are People, Not Just Accounts

I was walking by the Ferry Building in San Francisco recently and a poster in the window of a big bank caught my eye. It said: “Customers want to be treated as people, not accounts.”

It’s a simple statement, but it’s so true no matter what industry you’re in—especially as you try to keep up with digital disruption.

After all, the popular observation continues to ring true: Facebook is the world’s largest media company without creating any content; Uber is the world’s largest taxi company without any vehicles; and Airbnb is the world’s largest accommodation provider without any real estate.

How did these digital disruptors surpass long-standing industry leaders? By creating customer-centric businesses that deliver superior digital experiences. It’s time to start treating our customers like people, not just contributors to our bottom lines.

What Does It Mean to be a Customer-Centric Business?

Building a customer-centric business means investing in the customer experience. If we’re just creating products and services that fit our internal beliefs, they won’t resonate with customers.

Today’s mobile-first consumer has more control than ever in the buying process and it’s our job as business leaders to design a narrative that puts them at the center of every process. If communicating with your business proves frustrating or inconvenient, they’ll just leave for a competitor.

This means we have to understand our customers better than ever before. You don’t just wake up one day and decide to be customer-centric. You have to design a strategic narrative based on first-hand customer needs and desires—and then that strategic narrative must become part of the company’s DNA. Every department and employee should operate with the strategic narrative in mind, pushing the company forward with a goal of serving specific customer demands.

When you view customers as accounts instead of people, you’ll inevitably make mistakes as you try to figure out how to compete against the likes of Airbnb, Uber, Amazon, and others. This is how we’ve ended up with financial services firms looking for quick digital transformation wins, retailers recognizing the rise of concierge commerce, and travel companies striving to overcome online travel agency competition.

But overhauling your entire organization to become more customer-centric sounds like a daunting task. However, it doesn’t have to be so difficult to start engaging with customers more effectively (and in a place that makes the most sense to them).

3 Keys to Designing a Customer-Centric Digital Experience

One of the best ways to picture how companies treat their customers like accounts instead of humans is the existence of IVR systems. How many times have you sat on the phone dealing with a frustrating automated system when all you wanted was to ask a service rep a simple question?

Treating customers like people means designing a digital experience that puts them first. Here are 3 keys to making that happen:

Make Communication as Convenient as Possible: The days of phone calls and emails for customer communication are coming to a close (or are already over). Using messaging to make synchronous and asynchronous communication as easy as possible can help you eliminate friction from customer conversations.

Take Advantage of a Central Hub of Customer Data: Customer-centric businesses don’t force consumers into any single channel. You have to be flexible and meet customers where they want. In the past, this has led to data silos and a fundamental misunderstanding of customer needs. If you want to get to know customers better, design a digital experience that brings all that data into one central hub.

Going Beyond Chatbots: Treating customers like people (not accounts) means understanding the value of 1:1 human engagement. Chatbots can help you scale a digital experience, but they can’t be the only means of communication. Go beyond chatbots and start engaging with customers personally.

Changing from a company that sees customers as accounts to one that sees customers as people is as much a culture shift as anything else. But the switch can make the difference between falling victim to digital disruption and overcoming your competitors.

If you want to learn how the Layer customer conversation platform can help you treat customers more like people, contact us today for a free demo.

Visual Expression: Saying it better with Tenor GIFs

This is a guest post by Frank Nawabi, co-founder and head of business development at Tenor

Getting your point across in a mobile message can be frustrating. You have a thought or feeling stuck in your head. It’s a hassle to type everything out in that small text box. An emoji just doesn’t cut it.

This is why Tenor is focused on defining a new visual language that helps people better communicate in mobile messages using GIFs.

With more than 3 billion mobile users now sending more than 300 billion messages daily, messaging is fast becoming a primary means of communication not only with family and friends, but also with colleagues and businesses. As Layer scales its customer conversation platform, we at Tenor are thrilled to team up to make it easy for developers creating integrated messaging experiences to quickly add GIF-sharing capabilities.

Layer customers now have direct, integrated access to the Tenor GIF API—included in the Layer messaging toolkit for developers.

With just a few lines of code, Layer customers that are building out messaging to improve customer service, commerce, or community experiences now have the full power of the Tenor GIF API readily available. The Tenor GIF API:

  • Enables GIF searches and browsing by term, emoji, or conversation
  • Supports more than 30 languages and content-rating filters
  • Is specifically built to deliver GIFs that load fast and consume less bandwidth

Tenor already serves 200 million monthly active users who conduct more than 200 million mobile GIF searches daily. This vast dataset gives us unprecedented insight into how people express themselves in this new medium. More than 90% of Tenor searches center on emotion—think thumbs up, eyeroll, happy dance, hairflip, high five.

We’ve used this data to build the Tenor Emotional Graph, which maps the thoughts and feelings people want to convey in mobile messages to the GIFs that help them say it best. We see that users typically choose the GIF they’re going to send in 22 seconds or less, which reflects the quick back-and-forth nature of mobile messaging. Because the mapping engine can deliver just the right GIF quickly, it is well-suited for the customer conversation environment.

The addition of Tenor GIF-sharing to the Layer developer toolkit promises to make a broad range of messaging conversations even more effective by making it easy for people to express themselves visually.

For businesses seeking ways to better connect with their customers, it’s important to make conversations as easy and personal as we’ve all come to expect in our daily lives. GIFs are a really valuable asset in that context. Some of the topics businesses and consumers have to talk about are complex—and often emotional. GIFs help better express emotions ranging from excitement to anger to gratitude (and many more).

We’re excited to see how you’ll use Tenor GIF-sharing in your Layer-powered messaging experiences and would love to hear feedback from your team and your customers. You can catch me at frank@tenor.co .


Why Interactive Voice Response Isn’t a Necessary Evil

About Interactive Voice Response

Interactive voice response (IVR) systems have been helping airlines, banks, and other types of organizations lighten the load on contact centers dealing with hundreds of thousands of daily support calls.

But even if you work at a company that relies on IVR, we can be honest—these systems are brutal from the customer point of view.

Recent research found that of all customer service channels, IVR systems have the lowest consumer performance ratings. And worse yet, they spark anger, disgust, and frustration in the hearts of customers. For companies already struggling to match the customer experiences of digital natives like Airbnb, the last thing you want to do is trust IVRs with satisfying customers.

It’s time to stop spending millions of dollars maintaining an interactive voice recognition system that doesn’t work. We no longer have to view the IVR system as a necessary evil.

Customers Won’t Put Up with Interactive Voice Recognition Any Longer

While some companies use IVR to help route calls to the proper human department, many IVR implementations are evaluated based on their containment rates.

Containment rate is important when an airline or bank is hoping to reduce call volume by completely automating certain functions. For example, an airline might allow customers to check statuses by calling and reading a flight number. Or a bank might have customers provide yes/no answers to the automated system as they submit a claim for fraudulent charges.

In these cases, the containment rate is the percentage of customers who begin and end their calls within the IVR. But how many times have you dealt with an IVR and just started hitting “0” to speak to an agent? If your IVR is just driving people to want human interaction, what’s the point of having the expensive IVR system in the first place?

There are a few main reasons why customers so universally despise these IVR systems:

Lack of clarity through phone system: If travelers are running through a loud, busy airport trying to get a flight status, it’s unlikely voice recognition will work with 100% accuracy. Even if it’s quiet, customers might hit a dead zone with cell service and have to keep repeating their confirmation number until the IVR finally gets it right. And nothing is more frustrating than having to hang up and start the whole process again.

They don’t provide enough context: Customers often go through the IVR call routing system only to find they were directed to the wrong department. They answer questions for 20 minutes, get put on hold, and then get transferred to a new agent. But IVRs rarely carry the conversation’s context to the next agent, which means customers answer all of those questions again

Conversations are too impersonal: Customers can usually take care of simple issues on their own by researching online. This means that IVRs are left to handle more complex problems. However, IVR systems can’t understand the nuances of customer problems the way a human can. It’s great to automate customer support, but sometimes people need a personal touch.

The problem is that companies are spending millions of dollars trying to overcome these challenges. Instead of making minor upgrades to a broken system, why don’t we take a new approach altogether?

If large-scale changes aren’t made to frustrating IVR systems, traditional companies will continue to lose customers to more modern competition. It’s time to replace outdated IVRs with a mobile-first experience that interacts with customers where it’s most convenient.

The Advantages of Replacing IVR with Messaging

Who says IVR is the only way to achieve automated routing logic? That may have been the case a decade ago, but a mobile-first world requires a mobile-first communication system—messaging.

The key difference between messaging and IVR is that it makes asynchronous connections available whereas IVRs require all support to go through the phone. You can start using chatbots to answer generic questions and quickly establish connection with a human agent for anything more complex. Voice conversations are available in this kind of strategy—but they aren’t the primary (or only) means of communication.

Putting a messaging strategy in effect to replace IVR systems offer many benefits, such as:

Increased scalability for human interaction: When human agents are only able to speak over the phone, they can’t manage more than 1 conversation at a time. But with a messaging interface, they can handle 5 or 6 conversations without putting anyone on hold.

Real upsell opportunities: Automating through IVR means eliminating as much human interaction as possible. If a customer is told their flight was canceled, the conversation is over—they just hang up and move on. With messaging, flight cancelation messages can be followed by a new flight recommendation and discount codes for the nearby member’s club. Agents can provide value personalized to individual customers.

Integration with advanced technologies: When you move customer conversations from voice to text, you open up the opportunity to use machine learning and big data analytics to optimize interactions. You can continuously improve AI responses and adjust the customer experience based on positive and negative outcomes.

It doesn’t make sense to sink money into an IVR system that isn’t working. We need to get out of the mindset that IVR is a necessary evil. There’s a better way—one that can actually delight customers rather than frustrating them.

If you want to learn more about implementing your own, branded messaging experience, contact us today for a free demo of the Layer customer conversation platform.

How BOOK A TIGER Uses Messaging to Build Trust Between Customers and Cleaners

How BOOK A TIGER Uses Layer Messaging

BOOK A TIGER is a Berlin-based company that provides on-demand cleaning services for both residential and business customers. Founded in 2014, BOOK A TIGER has grown quickly and raised $21.5 million in venture capital in February 2017.

On the consumer side, BOOK A TIGER’s ability to build trust between cleaners and the customers who are inviting them into their homes is critical. BOOK A TIGER’s digital booking platform must facilitate frictionless coordination and strike a balance between intimate and professional conversation.

However, BOOK A TIGER CTO, Matias Bonet, says that “even though we are considered a tech company, the real value for our customers is the quality of our cleaning, regardless of the fancy technology tools around it.”

Rather than getting bogged down building out a powerful communication infrastructure for its platform, BOOK A TIGER turned to Layer to power its customer conversations.

How Overnight Uses Messaging to Engage with Guests Quickly     How Overnight Uses Messaging to Engage with Guests Quickly

The Problem: No Time to Build World-Class Communication

“Especially in B2C, customers have to trust the people coming to clean their homes. They open their doors and they want to see the same person every week, 2 weeks, or month,” said Matias. “If the cleaning team has to change, they want to see that once a year—not on every visit. So that’s one of the basic promises to our customers. You build a relationship between the customer and cleaner that leads to trust and flexibility in scheduling.”

But fulfilling this promise is easier said than done—especially when you have to pitch a proof of concept to stakeholders on short notice.

BOOK A TIGER only had a couple of days to come up with a proof of concept for its digital booking platform and prove that it could facilitate trust and communication in the cleaner/customer relationship.

According to Matias, “We spent the first 2 hours searching for different providers and evaluating different approaches to integrate all of our existing systems with this new functionality. We decided on messaging functionality where cleaners and customers can communicate with each other without having BOOK A TIGER getting in the way—something integrated in mobile that also worked in a web app.”

After looking down a few other paths, Matias at the BOOK A TIGER team decided to contact Layer.

The Solution: Simple Integration and Fast Proof of Concept with Layer

BOOK A TIGER found out first-hand that it doesn’t have to take long to create a working proof of concept for world-class, branded messaging.

“Before working with Layer, we were doing these conversations over email and SMS,” said Matias. “But over the course of the 18-hour proof of concept project, we discovered our roadmap for implementing messaging from cleaner and customer perspectives. With our Layer proof of concept, we closed our deal with stakeholders, get approval to finish the project, and in the end, it was about 4 days of work.”

While the initial proof of concept was just a skeleton, the feature has seen robust adoption in production across their consumer segment. BOOK A TIGER users have even organically discovered a use for location sharing within their conversations (included with Layer UI) in the coordination of picking up cleaners from awkwardly designed neighborhoods and gated communities.

“We’ve found that sometimes cleaners are late because they can’t find the right customer address,” said Matias. “With the rich location-sharing feature through Layer, we now have customers offering to pick their cleaners up to get them to the right location.”

The BOOK A TIGER story shows that any company can foster mobile customer conversations that drive lasting business value, and that they can do so in a customer experience that they control end-to-end.

If you want to learn more about how BOOK A TIGER got to market so quickly with its messaging strategy, contact us today for a free demo of the Layer customer conversation platform.