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We’ll Spend 1 Billion Years Online in 2018

By Mandy Reed, Marketing Manager (Global)

It’s certainly no secret that we’re spending more and more time online. In fact, the 2018 Global Digital suite of reports from We Are Social and Hootsuite, published earlier this year, share data showing that the average internet user spends about 6 hours online every day. When you add that up for the 4 billion internet users across the globe, the world will spend an impressive 1 billion years online this year!

Nearly a quarter of a billion new users came online for the first time last year, bringing the total internet users to 53% of the world’s population – up 7% from 2016. Much of this growth is due to more affordable smartphones and mobile data plans. Social media use is also on the rise, up 13%, with over 3 billion people using social media platforms each month. Not surprisingly, 9 in 10 of those users are accessing those platforms on mobile devices.

Digital Around the World in 2018

The Growth of Messenger Apps

During 2017 nearly 1 million people started using social media for the first time every day, which breaks down to more than 11 new users every second. Facebook’s core platform is still the leader in active users, but WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger both grew twice as fast. The number of people using each of those messenger apps was up by 30% last year, tying them at about 1.3 billion active users on each platform. However, WhatsApp wins when it comes to geographic penetration, boasting top messenger app status in 128 countries compared to Facebook Messenger’s 72 countries.

 Top Messenger Apps

The Rise in E-commerce

1.77 billion people worldwide are now buying consumer goods online, a growth of 8% during 2017, reaching a total annual spend of nearly $1.5 trillion USD last year. Adding in other categories such as travel and digital content raises the global e-commerce figure to be closer to $2 trillion USD.

Approximately 45% of all internet users are now making purchases online although there is a wide variation among countries. The United Kingdom leads the pack with 78% of the population buying consumer goods online; the United States comes in at 69% and Australia at 59%. Not surprisingly, the average revenues per user (ARPU) has also shown solid growth and is up 7%.

e-commerce consumer goods

e-commerce

Get to Know the Trends AND Your Customers

More than just providing attention grabbing statistics (like the world spending a whopping 1 billion years online in 2018!), these reports highlight some important worldwide trends for businesses. More than half of the world’s population is now online. It’s where we go to connect with each other, find answers to our questions and do our shopping. We’ve become highly connected digital customers looking for 24/7 access to information and support on a variety of devices. Organisations and brands need to keep their finger on the pulse of these trends – both global and local.

Getting know the trends is a great place to start but it isn’t enough. Companies also need to get to know their customers in order to understand how best to apply these trends and address the changing digital landscape. For example, organisations should be looking at how they can engage with customers on messenger apps and other social platforms but need to know which ones their customers are already using or those efforts will be wasted.

A good example of an organisation doing this is Transport for NSW in Australia. They saw an opportunity to connect with customers on Facebook Messenger and introduced an interactive chatbot, their Real-time Intelligent Transport Assistant (RITA), on the platform. They then built on RITA’s success in Facebook Messenger by adding the chatbot to their website and, in January of this year, integrating RITA with Amazon’s Alexa.

By combining global, local and industry trends with an understanding of their customer base, organisations can take advantage of the world’s growing dependence on the internet and preference for purchasing goods online. Companies will benefit from increased engagement and a better experience by meeting their digital customers where they are already spending their time.

Don’t Call Me, I’ll Message You

By Mandy Reed, Marketing Manager (Global)

There is an advertisement by an insurance company I’ve heard several times recently in which the announcer is reading ‘A Young Person’s Guide to Adulting’. It starts with the all-important ‘you must wear pants’ and ends with the necessity of having an insurance plan. But it’s the tip shared between those two that caught my attention – you can make calls with your smartphone.

This is, of course, a humorous way of trying to sell insurance policies, but it also hits on an important societal trend that has shifted the way we communicate with each other. For many, texting is often quicker, easier and more efficient than making a phone call and has become the preferred way to keep in contact with each other. The introduction and subsequent global adoption of messaging apps, such as WhatsApp, WeChat and Facebook Messenger, has further solidified this change in communication preferences. With over 3 billion users around the world, messaging apps are poised to continue to grow in popularity in 2017. In fact, statistics released by GlobalWebIndex in their final quarterly report last year show that WhatsApp is the most frequently used social platform with nearly 60% of its users online more than once a day.

 social platforms


These changes in communication preferences and habits are also impacting expectations when it comes to customer service and support. Consumers, now used to getting fast, efficient responses in their personal communications, are looking for the same speed and ease in their engagements with businesses. And as more and more companies and brands offer support on digital channels such as messaging platforms, customers will increasing come to expect the same from ALL organisations. This reality helped drive the renewed interest in chatbots from customer experience and marketing professionals in the wake of Facebook’s big announcement of bots for Messenger last year. Chatbot and virtual agent technology offers a cost-effective way to provide 24/7 support to customers on these platforms.

This isn’t to say that the phone call is completely gone from our personal or customer service communications. There is a generational gap in preferences with digitally native Millennials gravitating away from the phone, but older generations still consistently opting to make a call as their first point of contact. Yet in some situations, even those who would typically turn to self-service or digital channels prefer to make a phone call or understand that their query needs to be escalated so they can speak with a contact centre agent. This is important for organisations to acknowledge because it highlights the necessity of having a tightly integrated support experience. Offering a standalone chatbot solution on Facebook Messenger may be ok for providing some basic self-service on that platform, but what happens when a customer has a more complex question that needs to be escalated to live chat or a phone call?

Let’s back up a little. The first step is for organisations to accept that customer experience is a key (if not THE key) to remaining competitive and to commit to offering engagement options to customers where they are, particularly in the online channels. Then organisations need to find out where their customers are and identify what digital channels may be missing from their existing customer support strategy. In 2017, that’s likely to be messaging platforms like WhatsApp and WeChat. Before jumping on the messaging app chatbot bandwagon, organisations need to carefully consider how this channel fits with their overall customer experience and select a chatbot solution that will allow for it to be properly integrated with other channels and support options, such as live chat.

The infiltration of messaging platforms into our everyday digital interactions isn’t something that organisations can afford to ignore. In fact, this communication channel offers huge potential for companies to improve engagement and deepen conversations with customers. Organisations need to be smart about their strategy though, and approach it with the appropriate planning and thought to create positive, loyalty-building experiences for customers.

Messaging Apps: Over 3 Billion Users and Counting

By Mandy Reed, Marketing Manager (Global)

Times are a-changin’. After a transatlantic phone call with me several years ago, my now 94-year-old grandfather marvelled to my parents about how clear the line was and how easy it was to understand what I was saying. It was nothing like the international calls he used to get from his sister many, many years earlier! Compare that with the expectations of my 4-year-old niece. I recently had to explain to her what a payphone is (or was!). For her, it’s normal to be able to FaceTime with me even if we have the Atlantic Ocean between us.

Technology is changing and so is the way we communicate with each other. There certainly is a generational change taking place. With over 3 billion users around the world, messaging apps are quickly growing in popularity. A recent Forrester report identified the top three apps as being WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger with more than 1 billion active users each, and WeChat with 806 million active users. Users are increasingly turning to these and other messaging apps to communicate with each other. While one study found that consumers currently prefer SMS over messaging apps for communicating with businesses (see chart below), the results showed that they are also open to engaging with companies through these platforms too.

Mobile messaging with businesses

So why should organisations care? According to Forrester’s The Future of Messaging Apps report, messaging apps combine the three keys to powerful digital relationships: frequency of use, emotional connection and convenience. This makes them a prime channel to deepen conversations with customers. In China, a typical customer in a metro area spends 10.4 hours a week using WeChat and over half of them open the app more than 10 times per day. Messaging apps are also achieving some of the highest interaction rates for both UK and US customers according to Forrester. Brands would be foolish to ignore this opportunity to allow customers to engage with them through these platforms.

Earlier this year Facebook created a buzz with their announcement of chatbots to allow businesses to deliver automated service and support to customers through Facebook Messenger. While technologies such as natural language processing, machine learning, AI and semantic search are currently viewed as being part of a separate market, Forrester sees them as blurring the lines between messaging apps and chatbots in the future. With the popularity of apps like Facebook Messenger and WeChat, it’s likely that these will be the platforms where customers will cultivate their expectations of AI-based tools, such as intelligent virtual agents.

Chatbots and virtual agents are perfect tools for offering self-service through both messaging apps and SMS. For companies already providing these solutions on other channels such as their website, it’s a no brainer to extend the virtual agent to a messaging platform. By using the same knowledgebase, organisations create consistency across channels and eliminate the cost and time involved with maintaining separate tools. For companies not currently offering a virtual agent, messaging apps are a great way to introduce customers to self-service chatbots. And because the same knowledgebase can be used for self-service across other customer contact channels, they can quickly and easily deploy their conversational virtual agent to those channels to create a consistent experience and maximise their investment.

Companies do need to be careful though when selecting a chatbot solution for platforms such as Facebook Messenger and WeChat. Deploying a siloed solution that’s not integrated with other systems can be detrimental to the ultimate goal of providing a seamless, omnichannel experience. The five point checklist Choosing a Virtual Agent Solution for Instant Messaging Platforms and SMS outlines some important questions for organisations to ask before adding a chatbot to these channels.

As Forrester analyst Thomas Husson writes on his blog, “Messaging apps will introduce a paradigm shift for marketers where interactive and contextual conversations will replace ad broadcasting. New conversational interfaces will drive deeper relationships between consumers and brands.” Times are a-changin’ and organisations that don’t change with them are going to be left in the dust.

Facebook Messenger, Chatbots and the Opportunity for Customer Engagement

By Alessandro Giordo, Junior Development & Support Technician

When Facebook announced chatbots I went crazy and tried so many different platforms for building one. Being a Developer, I opted for ‘geekier’ versions of it using NodeJS and Python, but I have to say the possibilities are endless. Working with one of the world leaders in virtual assistants and artificial intelligence allows me to spend time exploring this new trend and experimenting with the possibilities.

There are many useful bots that I regularly employ to help me in my daily life routines, and there are others that I talk to once and never again. Bots can be useful but there are horror stories as well, such as Microsoft’s AI bot Tay.

I’ve recently read this post about Facebook ‘business bots’ replacing call centres and this really interested me. The question was: Would you miss traditional call centres? At the time I took the poll, 67% had responded that they would not miss call centres, which I think is very telling about how people actually want to engage with companies.

For organisations, the growing popularity of instant messaging platforms, such as Facebook Messenger and WeChat, and chatbots offers new opportunities for communicating with customers. At Creative Virtual, we have announced the integration of our virtual agent technology, V-Person™, with Facebook Messenger for customer self-service.

With our technology, organisations can have chatbots with personalities that can engage users in chit chat and small talk, but they can also provide integrated, seamless and personalised self-service. By using the same knowledgebase that’s already being used for other channels, companies can easily add Facebook Messenger (and other messaging applications) as new support channels. This connects them with existing channels (self-service, live chat, contact centre) for a consistent customer experience, rather than having a siloed, stand-alone chatbot.

Like many other chatbot or virtual agent tools, V-Person has the ability to become more intelligent and adapt based on usage. However, this method of adaptive learning gives companies control over content and the learning process, so they don’t need to worry about their virtual agent becoming another Tay (if you aren’t familiar with Tay, you can read more in this article).

Check out our official Facebook Messenger announcement for more information about how V-Person integrates with this platform to provide a positive self-service experience.

Also be sure to download this guide for five important questions to ask when choosing a virtual agent solution for instant messaging platforms and SMS.