Last week I downloaded a new app from Quartz, a news site. The app is amazingly simple! A text message interface that serves readers one news story at a time. The reader is given a choice between two potential responses, one of which is usually an emoji related to the story or a question prompting the app to tell you more, the other is “anything else?” which let’s the reader skip to the next story in the queue. Opting for the “tell me more” choice reveals two text messages, one with the story and another with a related GIF.
It doesn’t sound like much and it isn’t. But the simplicity and familiarity of an SMS-like interface for consuming news is really enjoyable. It almost feels like you are having a conversation with a news-obsessed friend.
Many companies have begun to implement similar interfaces to service customers. One example is Reserve, which allows you to book a table at a restaurant through an SMS simulated platform. The entire booking process happens inside an in-app chatbot that feels like a text message conversation. Some of the responses in the conversation are automated, while others are managed by members of the Reserve support team. This combination of man and machine creates a uniquely personal and magical experience, making it feel like you are having an authentic conversation with a friend that is somehow supercharged with the efficiency of Google, not to mention the access of a top Hollywood PR firm.
I’d like to see more companies move towards a singular SMS-like experience. Jumping from an app to text messages to emails or phone calls feels disjointed in our increasingly mobile and connected world. Sure, phone calls may still be needed to correct major screw ups or for all safety related concerns that have a sense of urgency, and emails may still be needed to voice longer form complaints, but 90% of the support interactions we see today could be managed in a single SMS simulated interface.
For on-demand marketplace apps, a chatbot could let customers know where their car, food or package is in the delivery process. Most of these updates would be automated, using GPS or order status, but some of these updates could be modified by a driver in real time. For example, the most frequently asked question to food delivery services is, “Where is my food?” If the driver hits unusual traffic or can’t find parking, a one button “Running a Few Minutes Behind” option could deflect a ton of inbound customer service inquiries.
Driver feedback could also be facilitated with a chatbot. After a delivery or ride, the app could text something along the lines of: “How did we do? – Select 1 to 5”, and then ask follow-up questions to any dissatisfied customers to find out more. Using Natural Language Processing, the platform could identify the source of dissatisfaction, automatically respond with apologies and plans for remediation, or bring in a support representative to carry on the conversation with the customer if needed.
This SMS-like support experience isn’t just limited to today’s hottest apps. I stayed at the W in London last week and they are now offering a phone number to send texts through iMessage or WhatsApp for support requests. At midnight when the WiFi suddenly slowed down, I texted to have them reset the internet. While it was already much more convenient than calling, bringing this experience within an app would give them much better data like being able to authenticate me, see my status, know what room I’m in, etc. without having to ask. I can imagine a future in which guests can use a hotel messaging app to text for room service, a wake up call or a new set of pillows. All of these requests that would not require a person to initiate.
From airlines to credit card companies, I predict you will see far more in-app chatbots in the next few years. So, I recommend you download Quartz or Reserve to get a glimpse of what the future of support will look like!