Is 4G the End of VoIP? Or Is It a New Beginning?

voip-phone-closeup
image courtesy Mashable.com

Voice over IP technology has been used in both the consumer market and to greater effect, the business marketplace, for years. Now that mobile users are starting to see the same benefit in their communications protocols, namely with the advent of 4G LTE technology and WiMAX connections, businesses are starting to integrate mobile phones into their in-house data networks. Of course, this has its own set of barriers to overcome, but this is beginning to be an attractive alternative to the higher price of pushing data through traditional cellular plans. And the rapid advancement of 4G networks has resulted in the advent of VoIP options that can effortlessly retain compliance with older devices.

LTE networks enjoy less disruption than their older cellular counterparts

4G information networks promise to make a seismic shift in the way mobile networks function, and indeed in the entire mobile VoIP market. This is clear when one considers that 4G is not merely an incremental step up from 3G technology, as the name would suggest. Rather, 4G is an entirely different system. For one, there are no bandwidth restrictions with 4G networks, such as those that limited the growth potential of previous IP networks, especially in rural or remote areas. Combining 4G and VoIP technologies – transforming voice into data for transmission, and back again – will transform accessibility to the Internet, making it available anywhere 4G is.

As of this writing, the prevailing standard in 4G communications is Long Term Evolution (LTE) or 3rd Generation Partnership Project Long Term Growth (3GPP LTG). Within the mobile field, something that makes LTE networks unique is that they are entirely packet switched. This means less multi-user and inter-cell disturbances, and also greater throughput. Ultimately, current voice and data plans offered by mobile phone operators might become obsolete. And as VoIP becomes more and more mainstream, continuing advancements in Web technology will continue to shape the way the industry grows.

Mobile VoIP
When considering mobile solutions, VoIP becomes a different matter. In order to conduct a VoIP conversation, a wireless data connection has to be reliable enough to transmit data (or voice, transformed into data) all of the time. Something that works very well is to use a mobile VoIP app over a WiFi network – but then the person on the other end of the call is limited to using the same application. And using a WiFi network has the other limitations of that sort of network, as well – it’s not the same thing as using a WiMAX network, or 4G/LTE. This is why 4G will come to lead the VoIP revolution, if another standard does not rise to challenge it. The usage of VoIP and the apps needed to make use of the bandwidth are normally free. In other words, people are not getting paid for use of these services. One has to wonder if cellular companies will continue to allow this to happen – or if they will evolve with the times, instead.

VoIP is here to stay, regardless of the name it goes by

Something to note is that WiMAX works very similarly to the WiFi one might have in their house, with the most notable difference being the ranges involved. The normal, unobstructed range of WiFi is 150 to 200 feet, whereas WiMAX range is measured in miles or kilometers. LTE is useful in another way, as well, because it enables packet transmissions, which in turn enables mobile broadband. Again, this is far more advanced than the older cellular systems.

So What Happens to VoIP?
For mobile VoIP calls, WiMAX and LTE will certainly function well enough, although it remains to be seen if the price per call in either format will be comparable to the existing cost of wireless calls. Each of these fourth generation protocols are IP based, making them reasonable transport solutions for Mobile VoIP. So will that make VoIP go away? Certainly not. It might be referred to by a variety of different names, such as VoLTE, VoWiMAX, or Vo4G, but bet on the simplest one, because no one likes a cumbersome name.

Can you say 5G?

It’ll still be VoIP, regardless.

 

 

Originally published in April 2014

The Basic Flaw Inside Every Chatbot

chat-robot-diginomica

Chatbots are a relatively new addition to the tech landscape.  Last year at this time, they simply weren’t on the radar, for the most part.  Of course, Amazon’s Alexa has been around for a while, and Apple’s Siri for even longer than that.  Chatbots really took off, though, when Facebook released the API platform for its own chat service, Messenger.  That one act spurred developers to create over 40,000 chatbots in eight months.  They’re still making them, too!  And if you count those created on platforms such as Kik and Telegram, add thousands more to that figure.

The function of one chatbot is pretty much like that of any other — after receiving input from a user, it gives information to that user via a text message.  The aim of a chatbot, though, can vary widely.  Some provide beauty tips, some allow you to order food, and still others satirize political candidates.

How do you make your chatbot stand out from the rest?

Chatbots are mostly the same behind the scenes, as well.  They all do the same thing.  A chatbot accepts input, then provides information based on that input.  Thus a user’s experience in one chatbot is pretty much a duplicate of another.

So what makes a bot special?  Or more importantly, how does a developer create a chatbot that’s distinctively different than another?

An abundance of bots

This question is becoming increasingly important as more and more bots vie for users’ attention.  Forty thousand chatbots is a huge market to try and get a share of.  And that’s just a drop in the proverbial bucket, compared to the deluge coming.  The exact number can’t be divined, of course, but take a look at how they’ve taken off:  Since the number of chatbots has grown by roughly 20,000 in the last five months alone, it’s a safe bet that the number of chatbots will soon outstrip the number of apps available.

Ever heard that “There’s an app for that!”?  Pretty soon we’ll all be saying “There’s a chatbot for that!”

Chatbots scale very well

Say it’s Saturday night.  You open Facebook Messenger and visit the Uber bot.  You use it to order a ride for yourself and two friends.  You go to a restaurant and get the seat you reserved while you were on Messenger.  It’s exactly what you wanted — non-smoking, near the door, a table for three.  After you eat, one of your friends tells you about Louis Vuitton’s new fall fashions.  You open another chat, connect to Messenger again, and look up the company chatbot.  You start by looking at shoes, but on impulse you buy a new jacket instead.

This scenario is not at all far-fetched.  And you never have to leave Facebook Messenger to get it.  By now, messaging platforms are practically ubiquitous, so any brand can have one-on-one, personalized interactions with their customers.  And this can happen on an enormous scale.

Yet for this to happen — much less for it to happen well — there needs to be a richer experience for the customer.  Right now chatbots are menu-based.  And even though they provide a conversational interface, the actual exchange is anything but.  This circles back to the design of chatbots, their basic functioning.  Generally speaking, answers are scripted.  A user can’t type their own free-form input.  Instead they look at several structured answers, and choose one of those from within the chat message.

When you narrow the bandwidth, you focus the message

This leads to a certain sameness in the user’s experience, when moving brand-to-brand.  A lot of this is because of the medium.  By itself, text doesn’t offer much differentiation.  Take a chat from Telegram and it looks a lot like a chat in Facebook Messenger.  This is a real challenge for a brand that wants to make itself rise above the others by creating a unique experience for consumers.

Authentic conversations are the missing piece

But consider for a moment that the problem might not lie in the interface, but rather with the brands themselves.

The basic flaw in the chatbots available right now isn’t the fact that they’re not providing flashy interactions, or even that they lack the visual design possible with a regular web page.  Rather, brands are wasting the chance to engage their customers with one-on-one, personalized interactions.  Instead they offer tired interactions that are about as memorable as reaching out to your bank.  In other words, today’s chatbot interaction may as well be a menu-based, touch-tone call.

John Schwartz, Washington Post writer for science and technology, once said “That’s part of the reason that filmmakers like Woody Allen or Steven Spielberg shoot movies in black and white. When you narrow the bandwidth, you focus the message.”  Because chatbots lack the standard neat interactions and good-looking visuals, they force a brand into examining the thing that truly matters to an audience:  The conversation with the users.  More specifically, the content of those conversations.

Just selling things to consumers is so 1990s.  A brand needs to invest in the relationships it has with its customers.  A brand has to create affinity with themselves and their customers.  A consumer will be much more likely to buy from a brand they already have a relationship with.  And brand affinity is built the same way it is built with other humans:  Through personal interactions, through conversations.

And that’s the prime ingredient:  Conversation.  True conversation, as opposed to scripted, menu-driven “chats.”  And conversational content is crucial if a chatbot is to be effective.  Companies like Amazon, Microsoft and Google understand this.  They have hired multitudes of writers, including comics and novelists.  These people are helping to develop company chatbots so that each one has a unique voice, an individual personality.  These things are what make chatbots compelling; only by using voice and personality can they be good brand ambassadors.

It works both ways, too, which is a good thing for brands that lack a personality or a voice.  It is a chatbot’s duty to convey the personality of a brand, yet due to the hard work of the creative people that write their scripts, they may put more personality into the brand than might have been there in the first place.

Chatbots represent the next boundary in brand marketing and consumer engagement.  They give brands an exquisite opportunity to forge durable bonds with their customers.  But the first step is crafting an experience that is genuinely compelling.  Up until now, users have been willing to overlook the basic flaw of chatbots; they’ve been putting up with the boring interactions.  Now, though, it is time for chatbots to evolve.

Where’s the Killer Chatbot?

shutterstock_408097675-technode
Image courtesy TechNode

Let’s face it: Most of the chatbot experiences today are pretty wretched. They’re stilted, artificial and in some cases downright affected. Natural language processing is still in its infancy, and has a long way to go before sounding actually “natural.” Or truly understanding natural speech, for that matter.

This is due in part to the difficulty of designing a user interface around a conversation, which is non-hierarchical in nature. When talking to another person, the steps don’t always flow naturally from one to the other. This kind of design is also fundamentally different than either a mobile or web interface. Additionally, we have yet to develop a general-purpose AI which can accept a user’s open-ended input.

UIs are crafted to serve linear experiences

It is incumbent on chatbot creators, therefore, to pick out engaging patterns of interaction. Building on and around these will enable developers to create whole experiences that will delight the users.

So how do we work around the limitations of a conversational UI, knowing the above?

About the UI
Up until now, User Interfaces have been crafted for a linear experience, not a random one. In other words, after the user comes to the page, a specific sequence of events typically happen, at least in terms of ecommerce. First they search for an item or two. Those items are then added to the user’s cart. They enter payment information, check out and leave the site.

A chat based UI is completely different from either a web or mobile interface. One of the biggest stumbling blocks is that the customer can initiate the procedure in different places. Say they want to buy tickets for a movie. The customer can ask a bot “What’s playing around 8pm?” Another valid starting point can be “I want three tickets to Trolls at the Regal on Little Texas Lane and Congress.”

So we see that a big challenge for anyone wanting to design a chatbot is that the path a customer will use to reach their goal (in this case, to purchase tickets) is not known beforehand. The chatbot has to assist the user and provide the desired answers without needing a discussion to progress in a straight line.

AI is Not Yet Ready
The next big stumbling block for chatbot developers is that a true AI that works on a variety of inputs is still a long way off. AIs themselves are not especially new, but they are new to the consumer marketplace. One AI-like construct that bot creators use a lot is the Simple Linear Tree, which forces the user down a predetermined path. New AI routines might also be used, but these are not true AI. They simply match patterns against pre-programmed conditions, in an effort to determine a user’s intent.

What we think of as AI is not truly AI

Generally speaking, these work well enough when there are a finite set of ways a user can interact with a bot. But as developers are finding out, user input can be totally random. This leads to situations where a bot can get unexpected input that it can’t handle. So without better tools, a better AI, it’s all a matter of hunt and peck. Or worse, finding the linguistic needle in a haystack of possibilities.

The Solution: Modify, Publish, Iterate, Repeat
So how does a bot developer succeed with the limited tools they have? The best path is not already defined, given the variety of inputs. Neither the number of inputs nor their content is known. There has to be a quick, iterative path to successful completion, and it has to be low-cost as well. A developer needs to be aware of how their bots are responding to the inputs provided by the user. With this knowledge, they can then iterate on what is already there. Any blocks between the user and their goal need to be addressed.

Users must be able to easily understand your conversational UI

Experience has shown that the best tools for the iterative method are bot native. This means they are able to understand the complexity and nuance of a conversational interface, and are able to translate them into clear metrics. Conversely, it also means the user is not simply dumped into meaningless dialogues or dashboards.

Marketing teams can use these tools to pinpoint groups of similar users, then connect with them through personalized messages. Creative and editorial teams can use them to address messaging that may be off-brand or that doesn’t have the desired tone. Business leaders can use them to provide a detailed picture of their efforts without the use of an engineering team and a data scientist just to “run the numbers.”

It’s important to have a conversational UI that’s easy to understand. It’s also important to iterate quickly on this. Being able to do these things will assist business leaders to grow differentiated bot-native arms that can leverage the great power found behind the conversational interface.

8 Truly Helpful Chatbots

chatbots-chatboten

There’s a lot of hype around artificial intelligence today.  And chatbots are one of the primary ways the consumer is made aware of AI.

Chatbots are surprisingly easy to create.  And the deluge shows no signs of slowing down, thanks to the hype, the ease of creation, accelerating investments, and the rush of developers.  Over 225,000 bot developers have created more than 300,000 bots, reports Pandorabots, a leading chatbot development platform.

In this case, though, there is lots of supply and not so much demand.  The rush of supply seems largely due to the “cool factor” of bots, and is not driven by anyone asking their favorite brands to start using chatbots.

Chatbots do well when focused on one task

Dr. BJ Fogg is the founder of the Persuasive Tech Lab at Stanford University.  When looking at his model of behavior, we see that in order for any shift to be made in consumer behavior, any given chatbot needs to be easier to use than the method being replaced.

Unfortunately, they’re not there yet.  Chatbots are still clunky.  As of this writing, it’s still easier to call, text or email the company in question.

At this point chatbots seem to do well when they focus on making a single task easier.  There are a few that realize the promise of AI, and that are able have more reasonable conversations by using context.  At this point, though, many users will still have only bare-bones conversations with most bots.

The sheer number of bots out there presents users with a problem:  How is anyone going to know which ones are truly helpful?  Sure, some bots may well assist a company’s cost-cutting measures.  Still, there is a lot of work needed before any customer gets a measurably better experience.

Right now there are a very few chatbots that provide some real utility and actual value.  They provide an inkling of what an interaction with an actually intelligent bot might be.  You might notice a theme among the bots picked:  They’re more realistic when the user wants to ask one of a group of prearranged questions.  They’re at their best when the tasks they handle are specific and clearly defined.

So here’s a list of the eight most useful chatbots out there today, in no particular order:

1.  Howdy’s function is to help you run your meetings in Slack.  Its founder, Ben Brown, created it with an eye to customization, so that everyone can use its talents of digital assistance and automation.  Howdy will reach out to participants and ask them a group of questions to prepare for the meeting.  It automates information collection and distribution.  It makes meetings shorter by leveraging a shortcoming of human nature — Howdy can talk to many people at once, whereas humans can’t.  These answers are then delivered to the meeting leader, and all participants, if the leader chooses to do so.  It sure beats copying and pasting the same questions over and over again.

2.  HealthTap was launched on Messenger not too long ago.  It aims to make good healthcare easier to reach by more people.  Not only does it allow a user to get a referral from real doctors, but it also assesses results of tests.  All that, and you can ask it health questions as well.  If other users have asked similar things, then it will show you those results.  Of course, health information can be highly personal, so HealthTap is ideal for those people that have no inhibitions.  The company does state that all questions and identity information is kept confidential and anonymous, but the fact that the company may associate a personal Facebook account with certain medical conditions may be a turn-off for some that prefer to keep a tight lid on their health information.

3.  Sephora chatbot on Kik.  Although it currently exists only on the Kik chat platform, the Sephora chatbot makes it easy for consumers everywhere not only to shop for products, but to get beauty tips as well.  Acting like the best in-store assistant, it provides three prime attributes of great customer service:  It responds right away, it’s highly educated, and it’s always available.  If you’re a member of Kik, it’s like having access to a Sephora team member in your back pocket.

4.  X.ai provides Amy, a personal assistant with one function:  Amy takes on the task of scheduling meetings, so that you can focus on more important tasks.  X.ai has been so successful with Amy because she does only one thing.  But that one thing she does extremely well.  She’ll schedule meetings without effort, but won’t take notes or solve any other problems for you.  Dennis Mortensen, X.ai’s founder has made a huge bet on the thoughts that bots are terrific for any very small task.  Due to this laser focus, the bot needs to be just about perfect.  Amy is their first attempt, and she makes scheduling conversational and easy.

5.  Assist integrates with several on-demand services such as Uber, GrubHub, OpenTable and Lyft.  A user can communicate with Assist through Facebook message, a text or by using Assist itself.  They can then get a ride, book hotels, or order take-out.  Assist uses input from users to improve itself with every question.

6.  Ozlo is a more personal AI.  At this time available only for iOS, he helps the user find information on their phone both easier and faster.  As with other bots, engage Ozlo in a dialogue text conversation, and it will give you answers on Google Now-like cards.  Deeper links are also provided to the websites and apps where it found the information.  The bot is partnered with other websites and apps such as Foursquare, Yelp, OpenTable and Zagat so he can provide great recommendations.  Right now Ozlo is being trained to help people find drinks, eats and entertainment — things that we all do daily. You can get more information about Ozlo from Charles Jolley, one of its chief designers.

7.  Pana blends AI with real humans to create an always-on travel agent.  Planning a trip is made easier, simpler, more personalized and cheaper with Pana’s skills.  Pana can also be your personal concierge, providing vetted choices for places to go and food to eat.  Since booking travel these days is mostly a matter of searching the same criteria on many sites, Pana makes booking easier and less time consuming.

8.  Birdly is a chatbot that acts as a bridge between Slack and Salesforce, making business-related data accessible to entire teams.  Directly on Slack, one thing Birdly can do is manage expenses.  This makes things more efficient, as it recognizes data input from invoices or receipts, allowing users to spend less time on expense reports.  Birdly also provides analytics, efficient alerting and customer information in one place.

What comes after building your chatbot?

after-the-chatbot_huffingtonpostuk
Image courtesy Huffington Post UK

Way to go!  You’ve just finished building a chatbot for your own awesome purpose.

But what comes next?

It’s easy to think the hardest thing is just building your bot.  It’s no lie that it takes hard work and dedication.  You have to make many tough decisions about what platform you’re going to use, what you want the experience of your users to be — and that’s not even including the conversations.  After all that is worked out, though, you’re going to release it to the world-at-large.

Choose a metric and aim for success!

And this is where the really difficult work starts.

In order to help you along, here’s some tips to make sure your chatbot is received well.

Know when you’re a success

Each product has at least one measurable item which will identify its success, or lack thereof.  There are lots of metrics to choose from.  Amount of messages traded per session is a good one.  So is total amount of chats sent and received.  Two more have to do with users:  Number of unique users, and total amount of returning users.

How will you know when you’re a success?  Pick a metric or two and aim for those.

What’s your path to success?

So now you know what success looks like to you.  Now you have to create a plan to actually get there.  Success doesn’t drop into your lap.  People won’t ever find you if you don’t have a plan.  They never contact random Facebook pages in hopes there’s some neat chatbot they might be able to use.

How do you achieve victory?  You get there through the use of measurable and intentional steps.

Your target audience should form the core of your path to success.  Learn where they go, where they congregate.  Then go there yourself and spread the gospel.  You’ll know you’ve arrived when your first users begin to market your bot to their friends.  Word-of-mouth is still one of the most powerful marketing tools out there.

Data, Data and More Data

Delve into your data on a regular basis.  You’ve already defined how you know when you’ve crossed the threshold into “success” territory.  Start there, then take a look at any following complementary metrics.  Gather this data and graph it.  This will make it easier to spot trends.  If your metrics are slipping, ask yourself why.  The answers lie in your data:  You should be able to see if your conversation paths are presenting users with dead ends.  Perhaps there was some big event that prevented your users from using the bot.  Or maybe they’re simply bored with what content you’re offering.

At the same time, should you see your metrics heading upwards, don’t just sit on your laurels.  Ask why that is.  Replicate a winning ad campaign.  If you made a great Reddit thread, try posting again somewhere else.  Make continuous iterations on the effort that boost your metrics the most.

Periodically review chatbot conversations by hand

Remember what Arthur Ashe said:  “Success is a journey, not a destination. The doing is often more important than the outcome.”  He probably wasn’t talking about chatbots, but the saying is true for them nonetheless.

Keep your bot fresh

Once you’ve coded your chatbot, it’s tempting to move on to the Next Big Thing and forget about it.  That puts your hard work on the fast track to obscurity, though.  You need to keep adding relevant conversation paths — and make sure you use the bot’s existing voice!  That fresh content will do wonders to re-engage returning users.

It’s important to stay ahead of the curve, especially with regard to natural language processing.  Make sure your bot can discern between words found in the dictionary and those that might be typed in.  In the latter case, be sure the user is shunted to correct path.  One great way to find out which words your bot needs more training on is to review user conversations manually.  Not only will this method help with those peculiar words, but you’ll also discern other ways to improve the overall experience.  Little tweaks can go a long way.

At the same time, this method makes it easy to find rabbit holes.  Don’t get tricked into going inside.  If one user is having a particular problem, make sure other users are having the same issue.  If they aren’t, don’t waste your time on fixing it.  Your bot’s identity is not worth compromising over just one user.

Analyze It Again and Again

Review your data points and user conversations over and over.  Track everything humanly possible and look for trends.  Use that data to keep improving.  Always.  Keep doing these things for the full life cycle of your chatbot.

For you and your bot, ultimate victory might consist of having thousands of users.  It might mean you trade jillions of messages.  Regardless of which metrics you choose, there is no winning without an investment of time and a great deal of tenacity.  Hang on to your goals; keep measuring your progress so you’re ultimately successful.  Stay aware of the time as well.  No sane person is going to wait around for months, just to see if your bot does something cool.

Now quit reading and go build your chatbot!

Writing Chatbot Dialogue Worthy of John Grisham

chatbotdialogue_ell-blue-icon

We’ve come full circle — once again, our interface with computers is defined by words.  Instead of specific words and phrases, though, we can now use the full range of the English language.  The entire lexicon is our UI/UX.  Theoretically, at least.

Exact attention must be paid, therefore, to each phrase of an interaction with a bot, just as it was once paid to every pixel and icon in an app or website.  Many people are ready to admit their lack of experience when it comes to creating that website.  Yet when it comes to the dialogue of a chatbot, we’re all suddenly experts.  Haven’t we all been talking since the age of two?  We must know at least a few things about communication by now.

Sophistication and planning is required when writing chatbot dialogue

Of course we’re quite skilled at relating snappy anecdotes to friends.  But we’re not as deft when it comes to succinctly relating a long-form technical process to a stranger.  For this, quite a bit of sophistication and planning is needed.  You have to grab and retain the attention of a person who is not concerned about damaging your ego if they terminate your conversation early.

So how can you craft irresistible chatbot dialogue which will ensnare users like a finely honed app interface?  A good place to start is by asking these questions.

Who is your audience?

Think about your “perfect user” a lot.  A LOT.  Describe them as narrowly as possible.  Sure, anyone can potentially use your chatbot.  Yet few things equally appeal to Queens grandmothers and L.A. tweens.  Who do you think will comprise the majority of your audience?  This will advise you on how you should craft your chatbot dialogue.

What is the end goal?

In other words, what action do you want your audience to take?  It’s important to know what you want from the user, what you want them to do, before you start rambling on without a point.

You need to have a plan

Once you’ve addressed the above questions, you need to start thinking about a general outline for your chat experience.  This outline will become the framework for all your later conversations, so it’s absolutely essential to have it to guide you as you’re writing the specifics of your chats.  Why do you need to do it this way?  Because if you don’t have a framework, your conversation will be devoid a point, and thus the entire conversation will be both confusing and meandering.  Not only that, but your users may well feel they don’t have enough guideposts to get back home.  They might even simply give up.

One strategy that works well is to make note of all the top-level points you want to get across.  Make sure it’s a manageable number.  No more than 10, perhaps.  Be aware of their order, and make sure they flow logically one to the other.  Your conversations should flow as well.  Be sure to place your most important points at the top of the list.  It’s a mistake to assume the user will make it completely through your chat maze every time, regardless of how brilliantly you designed it.  Hook your users early, and you have the luxury of educating them later.

Employ Artificial Intelligence, not Artifice in Communication

One thing our brains excel at is communicating with other people.  It’s an incredibly important skill, shaped by many years of evolution.  Typically we take stock of a room before speaking out loud.  There is no room, however, when communicating with others through a computer.  Thus many of us use a completely separate part of our brains to do so.  If someone is at a dinner party and is going to tell an off-color joke, they’ll usually be aware of who else might be present.  Most people will consider how those at the table may take the joke.

Think of your “ideal user” when writing chatbot text

But there is no context with online conversations.  There is no “room” to take stock of.  A cursory scan of any online comment section will suggest that most people don’t extend the same courtesy as they do in their real-life conversations.

So in order to create chatbot dialogue that is engaging and inviting, we have to appeal to the more evolved part of our brains that is more attuned to the subtleties and nuances of communicating with other people.  One of the best ways to do this is to keep in mind some person that would be the ideal user for your bot.

Don’t think of classes or types of people — think of a real person that you know well.  It would be better to think of your best friend in college, Steve, rather than your bartender.  Then when you are writing, write as if you are talking to Steve.  This way you won’t have to stress about writing for the unwashed masses.  How would you chat with Steve?  Would you send a smiley or other emoji?  Then have your bot say it that way.  Would you tell a short anecdote to illustrate a point?  Do it the same way in your chatbot.  Use jokes to humanize the conversation, if you would talk to your friends the same way.

Sure, chatbots are still a new thing.  As such, we tend to be more interested in getting things to work right behind the scenes.  Too often, the actual written dialogue is more of an afterthought.  This manner of thinking, however, is a grievous mistake.  Think if you opened a restaurant:  There may be some benefit to micromanaging the kitchen, making sure there’s a perfect amount of salt in the entrees.  But you’re not going to waste time with that if your waiters are putting their smokes out on the customer’s plates.  Chatbots are rather similar to restaurants.  Yes, it’s important to serve a great-tasting meal.  But the customer will remember how they were served.  It will last much longer than the taste of the food itself, and it will greatly influence the probability they become repeat customers — or even if they will recommend the experience to their friends.

Converting Addiction into Productivity

by John Onorato

 

Have you heard the term “nomophobia?”  Perhaps, perhaps not.  This is an actual thing, though:  Nomophobia refers to the fear of being out of mobile contact, due to a user having no network coverage, losing their phone, running out of battery life or not having credit.

The word itself is an abbreviation of sorts, standing for No Mobile phone phobia.  It makes the language geek in me cringe, as it should properly mean “an irrational fear of the law.”  (Nomos, in Greek, means “law.”)  Still, there’s no accounting for taste, or Internet pundits, for that matter.

And apparently this is a big problem, as well.  47% of 2,163 women assayed have this fear, and 58% of men have it too.  The level of fear participants  experienced compared to those experienced on wedding day, trips to the dentist, and so on.

Of course, in many cases, this may not be an actual fear — or phobia — but may be simply a more typical anxiety.  Yet still, this points to dual growing trends in Western culture — those of mobile phone overuse and Internet addiction disorder.

So the question is — is this a real problem?  And if it is, should we address it?  How?

To be sure, mobile productivity applications and cloud-enabled networks, along with Unified Communications technologies and others enable workers to “make better use of their time.”  They can email while standing in line at the grocery store; they can work on a presentation while waiting for their car to be serviced; any idle bit of time can be transformed into a moment of productivity.

The downside to this, though, is that it’s disconnecting humans from one another, and pulling our focus into devices, a million miles away from the people standing right next to us.  We’re increasingly addicted to our tech, many enterprises having workers that are spending every free moment tweeting, emailing, and chatting, with the line demarcating work-related tasks and personal ones growing more blurry all the time.

Mobile devices are great ways to give us things to do.  Many times those things are even quite useful.  Too often, though, these devices take priority over the other people in the room with their users.  This is enough of a problem in a social setting; in a business setting, it can be disruptive and even insubordinate.

So again — how do we deal with this easy-to-distract workforce?

The first thing that needs to be done is basic parameters need to be laid down.  Like what parents do with children, ground rules for good screen time habits need to be set.  Firm corporate expectations need to be established.  Let your employees know, for example, that it’s your priority that your company be seen as on-task during meetings.  In other words, no phone use during meetings, especially when clients are present.  Of course there are extenuating circumstances; information needs to be looked up, and so on.  Phones are indeed useful tools.  But when that situation is dealt with, put the phone away.  And for heaven’s sake, no personal use.

Simply put, boundaries need to be set.

Another possible strategy might be to try convert disruptive habits to a more collaborative and productive effort.  Take, for example, business VoIP applications.  Most of them offer cost-effective ways of maintaining constant communications, and even collaboration between departments.  There’s video conferencing, SMS, IM, and the various features of UC as well.  So if, by their own choice, your employees are going to be cyborgs anyway, you might as well leverage that to your advantage.

For instance, do you have an employee that’s overloaded with work?  Try shifting some of that over to one of your more smartphone-addicted workers, and you’ll have a shot at remediating two problems at the same time.

And of course, there’s always the last step:  Bringing in an outside expert to talk about device etiquette in the digital age.  They can also deliver talks on how to deal with addictions to their devices, and actually get more done … instead of simply checking their phones 110 times a day.

published link:  http://www.zyxaw.com/2015/03/how-to-convert-mobile-addiction-anxiety-nomophobia-in-productivity-uc.html

Wow-ing Your Customers by Speaking Their Language

by John Onorato

Good communication is a crucial aspect in a good relationship between a business and its customers.  It would appear to be common sense, but many businesses don’t seem to realize that how they communicate with potential buyers can drastically impact their success rates.  Knowing the audience is key: there is a time for technical jargon and catchy buzzwords, and a time to empathize with people by using appeals to emotion.

The easiest way to learn how to speak with customers is by simply listening to them.  Know what their priorities are.  How they describe those priorities gives you a sense of how they are ranked and valued by the customer.  Buyers aren’t looking for products, they are looking for ways to achieve their goals.  Likewise, you shouldn’t be selling them only items — you should be selling real solutions.

Easily understood language shows you care

Part of selling solutions in a manner that ensures your customer returns is looking through the same lens as your customer.  Because customers always have a choice where to procure their goods or services, your business has to go the extra mile to convince the consumer that you really care.  An employee that’s respectful and engaged will raise a customer’s confidence.  They’ll think that the business they’ve come to really is looking out for their greater good.  Should that employee suggest a new service or product, the customer will be more likely to trust that the business has their best interests at heart.  On the other hand, if a customer detects a lack of of true congeniality — or, worse, if it’s forced — then they’re likely to question the business’ motives behind their suggestions.

When you’re speaking to your customer, be sure to speak in layman’s terms.  Use language that they’ll understand.  Avoid using the jargon of your industry.  For instance, Austin Visuals 3D Animation Studios should avoid talking about Alpha Channels, Control Vertices, or Anti-Aliasing.  Those terms can be explained fairly easily, yes, but in order to make the customer feel the most comfortable, it’s best to avoid them altogether.  It’s possible that the client may be familiar with them, but it shouldn’t be assumed that they are.

Take, for example, one customer who is putting together their first mobile app, and wants a slick animated website to sell it.  On the other hand we have another customer who has bought many animations from another animation vendor, but has decided to switch to Austin Visuals 3D Animation Studio.  Those two customers will be looking at the business through different lenses.  The first will be excited and nervous.  They need to speak with a sales agent who is similarly excited for them, who can explain what they’ll be getting in plain language, and who can give them advice that will make their purchasing experience easier.  If the developer is treated with care and respect, they’ll be much more likely to come back for his next project, and they’ll also tell their friends.  The second customer is no less deserving of the care and respect that the first got, yet as they are more experienced, they do not need so much of the “kid glove” treatment as the first did.

Create “wow!” moments for your customers

Another source of frustration for both businesses and customers is complaints.  These can be made easier, however, by applying the same maxim above:  Try to see things through the same lens the customer is seeing them through.  True, it’s often difficult to understand why a client is making such an issue about such a small thing.  But it’s not a small thing to them; it’s a big thing.  To them.  Don’t they understand that looking into a problem takes time?  (Of course they don’t.)  Come on, it’s right there in the contract!  (Which they probably didn’t read.)  If there’s one thing to remember, it’s that it’s not the client’s job to see things through the business’s lens.  It’s the job of the business to see through the lens of the customer and show empathy for their frustration.

There are many more ways to create “wow” moments for your customers.  Even the smallest of gestures can create wows for them.  Learn what your client’s favorite drinks and snacks are — easy to do with a little social engineering — so you can have them stocked when they come in for a meeting.  Know what their favorite lunch place is ahead of time so you can take them there without having to ask.  Even remembering a customer’s name — it might seem like a small thing — ends up being a big thing, as it engenders a feeling of family.  Telling a customer about a different product that might meet their needs better than yours is another wow moment.

And one of the best ways to create “wow” moments is to put your heads together with your fellow employees.  Every month, have a company meeting so that your employees can share ways that they’ve astonished their customers.  The simple act of discussing these behaviors enhances the chance that other people will take on the same practices or even create some of their own.  Maybe some wows will become standard — Austin Visuals 3D Animation Studio might give you a free 15 second morph animation of your face, for example.  If you owned a bank, you could give a name-themed toy to children opening an account — I remember getting a seal plushie when my father took me to open an account at Seaside Bank.

Regardless, communication should be a two-way dialog.  Be sure to choose your words carefully and keep those channels open.

published link:

 

True Fans and the Footprint of Core Audience

by John Onorato

 

To date, there have been many campaigns that happened online, for the most part.  One very successful example is the Occupy movement.  The “We are the 99%” crusade began in 2011.  Another effective endeavor that still continues is the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), which went viral in 2013.  These campaigns had many grassroots-type elements in them, allowing people to feel as if they had a personal stake in the destiny of the movement.  These elements also contributed financially to the endeavors and got the groups talked about — thus ensuring their success with Crowdfunding Promotion.

Fans make good things happen

There are many similar examples to be found in various places.  Two great places to start looking are here on pmd-partners.com and also on kickstarter.com, where screenwriter Rob Thomas’ Veronica Mars movie project recently enjoyed so much success.

For those not familiar with the TV series, Veronica Mars was set in a fictional California town.  The eponymous character, played by Kristen Bell, was a high school student who at night was also a private investigator.  She operated with the assistance of her father, a detective.  The series lasted three years, over which time it accrued a significant fan base.After the series ended, Thomas continued the project, writing a feature film script for Warner Bros. studios, who declined to back it.  And here’s where the commonality with the other online campaigns is seen:  The fans.  Or, if you will, the fanatics.  These two words have at their root the Latin “fanaticus,” a word describing speech or behavior that might manifest when one is possessed by a god.

The fans certainly delivered for Thomas and Co.’s Veronica Mars.  The project goal was $2 million; that was met within just ten hours of opening.  Over 30 days, they raised over $5.7 million dollars, allowing Thomas and Warner Bros. to release the movie on March 14, 2014.

Clearly, fans can make things happen.  Fanaticism makes things happen.  Therefore it’s important to understand fanaticism, so as to be able to use its power within your own projects.  It’s especially important to use within crowdfunding campaigns, which don’t have the same resources as large studios.

Primarily, there must be a reward for fans.  In the case of the Veronica Mars fan base, the movie itself was the reward.  Promise the fans something they really want, and then they will be more willing to assist your endeavor.  The cinematic continuation of the series was the whole reason why the project was backed in the first place.

Since Thomas ran the project on Kickstarter, he was able to promise additional rewards for higher levels of support.  At $10, a backer would receive a PDF copy of the movie’s shooting script; at $35, a Veronica Mars T-shirt; and at $50, a physical DVD of the movie.  If a person donated $1000 to the cause, they would also get two tickets to the movie premiere in either New York or Los Angeles, attended by the cast and creators, plus the after-party.

It’s interesting to note that not only is the pre-bought merchandise an expression of choice and desire for a certain thing, but it also conveys a recognition as a member of a common fan group.  This, therefore, assists with the need for identification and belonging, which is well-documented that all humans have.

The face of movie-making is changing

Many people, however, opted for no physical reward, choosing instead to funnel the resources that would be diverted towards their rewards back into the project.  That says something for the nature of their fanaticism, and their devotion to the cause as well.  This altruistic concern for the project may be for the project itself, but may also extend to other fans, so they too get to reap the benefits.

The power of cable television has changed the way programming is offered.  At one time, several major networks delivered all available programming.  Now the there are many different channels, some serving niches as small as The Horror Channel and Movies4Men.  Moviemaking, too, is changing in a similar way.  The fans are making this change possible, through the power of their fanaticism.  With this they wield great power; clearly, as we see in the case of Veronica Mars, they can decide what gets funded and what does not.  Although the fan base is not typically important for large studios, which have large amounts of money to invest in the next big budget film, it doesn’t necessarily deliver to the people what they want to see.

Therefore, fanaticism is a way for people to overcome the traditional unwillingness of larger studios to give them what they really do want to see.  It gives the people a way to take a stand on what they want to watch.  Not only that, but it gives them a means to make it happen as well.

published link:

How Video will Make You More Money and Increase Your Sales In 2014

by John Onorato

Thinking of the best way to promote your product? Use video. Statistics have shown again and again that it is far more engaging than still pictures or mere text. And it’s no secret that the better created a video is, the more professionally produced, the better sales you’re going to get from it.

The modern company stands to make a great deal of money, but only if it invests in the technology of today. One of today’s most vital technologies is video – who hasn’t seen their kids raptly watching some kind of programming on one of the major services like YouTube or Vimeo? Who hasn’t found an instructional broadcast to help them with a project? More people get benefit from visual learning than from instructional texts, so it’s no wonder that video has taken off like it has.

It’s also becoming apparent that the use of video is becoming a way to distinguish yourself from the crowd. Take your resume, for example. Everyone has sent a piece of paper to a hiring manager, who spends six seconds or less looking at it. Now that most resumes are sent electronically, that six second timeframe starts to look awfully generous.

But what if your resume stands out by having a professional picture attached? Better yet, what if that picture has an arrow on it indicating the presence of a short video, during which the recruiter can have a brief respite, taking a sip of water while they listen to a brief outline of your professional qualifications?

When they get another static slip of paper, another list of keywords – even if there are better credentials in the group of resumes they have to go through, which do you think is going to stand out in their memory?

Right. The one with the smartly produced video. The one with the higher bandwidth of information to present to the recruiter.

Looking at some hard facts about YouTube itself, we see that it’s backed by the might of Google, and is the 800-pound gorilla in the world of video. According to their public statistics page at http://www.youtube.com/yt/press/statistics.html, YouTube reaches more adults aged 18 to 34 than any cable network. YouTube offers niche programming people want to watch, and nothing they don’t. They’re not tied to the whims of any one network – they can make their own choices.

Thousands of video creators are earning six figures

As of December 2013, YouTube sees more than a billion unique visitors a month. That’s up from 490 million unique users worldwide per month in 2011. Those users spend over a 2.9 billion hours on YouTube in that month – over 325,000 man-years. And that’s counting the main site alone, not on any embedded programming or mobile viewing.

Video is where the money is going, too. Millions of video creators from around the globe are making money from their films, and thousands of those with major channels are earning six figures.

The equations are pretty simple – use of video means that customers will get more involved with your brand and your company. It means they’ll be more immersed with you as a people and a brand, and not just the entity they get their widgets from. Use of video puts a face on your company, which translates to more engagement with your company, and that ultimately means more revenue for you.

Isn’t it time you invested the services of a professional video company like Austin Visuals to create a video for you? We have several top-notch animators on staff, ready to help you out with video-related need you can conceive of. Give us a call at 512.591.8024 and we can talk about your needs and the best way to fulfill them.

Published Link: