Verizon: Retail customer experience is all about the human conversation
In launching its Fios chatbot on Facebook Messenger, retail giant Verizon is advancing its customer communication strategy and tapping digital technology to transform the retail customer experience.
The chatbot, developed and launched in just four months, lets customers search and find content, provides personalized viewing recommendations and affords customers the capability to manage the home DVR.
As Miguel Quiroga explained in a phone interview with RetailCustomerExperience, the chatbot reflects Verizon's people-centric, customer-centric, customer-first philosophy.
"Our perspective has been that we need to be where our customers are and where they will be so that we are able to serve them better and provide them the type of service and experience that we believe they deserve," said the vice president of digital and innovation.
"We've seen the narrative go from digital, mobile and eventually AI-first, where ultimately the future of business becomes distributed experiences. You have to have a different kind of brand experience altogether that is uniquely ours but takes advantage of all our capabilities."
Quiroga heads up design and delivery of end-to-end customer experiences, which integrates engineering, product and marketing. His team is focused on creating and implementing customer engagement practices. In addition to the new chatbot, his team recently revamped the My Fios account manager app in about four months.
Such digital innovation speed, said Quiroga, reflects a new business paradigm in play.
"We have to be prepared for all these potential scenarios of how consumers will eventually interact with businesses. Today it happens to be a chatbot, tomorrow maybe it becomes more voice centric," he said.
"We think about focusing on these types of models with a co-creation approach with our customers. We believe in building products and ecosystems that are persistent, well-orchestrated and constantly improve.. our customers will then basically reward us by continuing to show their loyalty, putting their money behind that and continuing to build relationships with us. That's the thinking behind why we're doing what we're doing."
The chatbot too, he said, represents yet another way of communicating with the customer as advancing technologies are quickly closing the gap between the oldest approach – a human-to-human conversation – and artificial intelligence and augmented reality tools.
"When you're having a conversation with someone one-on-one, there is a tremendous amount of give and take... agility, nimbleness and back and forth. Technology is getting to that point. It's starting to feel more natural; things like machine learning will allow that and all of a sudden it unlocks different ways of doing business and consumer interactions, and I think that's super exciting. It's a great place to be," said Quiroga.
Not just for millennials
At first glance, it may seem launching a chatbot on a social network is a communication missile aimed at Verizon's millennial and digital-savvy consumer. But that assumption isn't quite true, said Quiroga, especially given that a good number of Facebook users are well over the age of 30.
"The idea of a millennial customer is a bit of a misnomer. If that was true, then smartphones would only be used by those under the age of five," he said, adding, "I think what really happens, as with any human trend, whoever the early adopter is influences the rest of humanity. In this particular case we're probably seeing a more younger demographic, but if you look at actual (users), the Facebook demographic tends to skew older," he explained. "It's not necessarily about targeting a segment alone, though that is important; it's also having capability to do it today."
It's also about new technology advances in human communication and the fact that humans are always changing how they communicate.
As an example, Quiroga used the scenario of how email eclipsed the use of fax – recalling how expensive both those technologies were at inception and the limits companies faced relating to email send costs and fax page costs.
"I've spent a lot of time in these transition movements. That was as disruptive as anything else. I would argue that as human beings we always change the way we communicate based on the environment. That's one of the best things about humankind, our adaptability," he said.
With the Verizon Fios chatbot, users launch the Facebook Messenger app, enter Fios log-in data and then can just start asking questions such as "what's on tonight." The chatbot scans programming data and makes suggestions. Customers can watch a program on the app or access the home DVR to record a program for later viewing. They can also browse programming schedules, ask about specific programs, search for favorite actors or inquire about a certain sporting event.
The initial version is focused on providing users with entertainment content. In the future, Quiroga and his team hope to add on advanced functions such as video on demand ordering and tech support features.
Its evolution, said Quiroga, is to be directly tied to users' wants and needs.
"We were focused on solving the problem of content overload first – we obviously have other use cases we are exploring and building out – paying bills, finding out 'where is my technician,' troubleshooting, those kinds of things."
Where customer experience is headed
The chatbot is also a prime example of how digital technology is fostering fundamental change within the business enterprise. It doesn't take a year to develop and launch a digital tool, noted Quiroga.
"That is one of the things we are really excited about when we started as a transformer – in order to be agile enough to pull that off. Change is a way we do business; that's why we believe it is a part of our talent transformation."
If there is one lesson learned from the chatbot innovation, it's that retailers must strive to know all and everything about their customer, Quiroga said.
"At the the end of the day we shouldn't kid ourselves. We should understand everything about what the customer actually wants to do and try to have a human conversation with them. This [chatbot] is one way of doing that and by doing that process you will learn."
Topics: Assisted Selling, Consumer Behavior, Customer Experience, Customer Service, eCommerce, Marketing, Merchandising, Mobile Retail, Omnichannel / Multichannel, Online Retailing, Shopper Marketing, Social Media, Technology
Companies: Verizon Wireless
Judy Mottl is an experienced editor, reporter and blogger who has worked for top media including AOL, InformationWeek and InternetNews. She’s written everything from breaking news to in-depth trends. She loves a great pitch so email here, follow on Twitter and connect on LinkedIn.www