Today I bring you a special podcast interview with singer, actress and entrepreneur Christina Milian and her business partner Josh Bocanegra who together have built a company called Persona Bots. Persona Bots is a tech company that builds chatbots for celebrities. They've built chatbots for reality TV star Jwoww, literary film character Christian Grey, model Karrueche Tran, musician Kehlani and more. “Celebrities are the trendsetters. People want a way to speak to their fans in a way that’s real. They want their voice to be heard in a way that’s authentic,” said Milian.
Celebrities today are brands. Thanks to social media, celebrities have the ability to engage with fans directly. Though most don’t. Why? It’s not possible. With millions of Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter and Facebook fans, celebrities generally engage in one way conversations on social media.
Brands have a similar conundrum. They can’t respond to the millions of social media comments they get from customers. And they’re using chatbots as a way to provide tailored and personalized interactions. Chatbots have the potential to scale and provide personalized interactions in a way that hasn’t been possible in the past.
Milian has over two million people messaging her on her bot. She says this was the fastest growth out of any social media she’s ever done. According to Milian the goal for the chatbot, built through Facebook messenger, is to keep the fans there engaging with her on Facebook messenger. She believes people don’t want to be bothered with ads. And messenger provides a direct and uninterrupted channel with the consumer, sans ads.
Celebrities And Tech
More and more we are seeing the collision of tech and celebrities. Even Ashton Kutcher has invested in 60 companies including Airbnb, Flipboard, and Change.org. The next few years will only bring more celebrities into the world of tech. It makes sense for celebrities and tech to get together considering tech brings a large platform to celebrities for them to create and share media, and celebrities bring other celebrities and fans to these platforms as well.
When I ping Christina Milian’s chatbot on Facebook messenger, she responds “oh hey…” Her chatbot is fond of using the kiss emoji and that makes sense considering Christina’s brand. In fact in our podcast interview she mentioned much of what chatbot users ask her is if she’s single, and will she marry them. In fact her business partner mentions one unique interaction that occurred on Milian's chatvot. A girlfriend of a male chatbot user found his phone, and thought Milian was really engaging with her boyfriend through messenger, according to Bocanegra. Bocanegra says the user's girlfriend became very jealous; a testament to the power of chatbots. Some people don’t even realize it’s a machine at all.
For now the questions are predetermined and organized by category .For example “Q&A: Get to know me on a personal level.” One of the questions the user can ask Milian is “were your parents strict growing up?” She responds “Nope. Both of my parents were really cool. They were protective though. My parents were actually young when they had me.”
As Milian builds Persona Bots and her own chatbot the variety of ways you can interact with the chatbot will grow.
Today you can view Milian's latest music, request a signed autograph, learn more about Christina’s personal life (mentioned earlier), shop for fan gear, her clothing line, or her line of wines called Viva Diva Wines. The chatbot is not perfect, however it’s one of the first I’ve seen that grants fans the ability to interact with Christina on chat, the same way one would interact with a brand.
We’ll only see these technologies grow.
Blake Morgan is a customer experience futurist, author and keynote speaker. For more from Blake sign up for her weekly customer experience newsletter here.
One of the brightest and most recognizable accessory brands around is Vera Bradley. Its bold patterns and functional designs make it a desirable brand for purses, wallets, and more. But beyond the bright colors is a successful brand that had stood the test of time and showcases the importance of building a brand that lasts.
No matter the industry, there is a ton of competition for customers’ attention and sales. It can be easy for companies to focus on staying ahead of the competition instead of building their own brand. However, if companies get too caught up in seeing what other organizations are doing, they run the risk of losing focus on their own brand and not building a strong customer experience. Although Vera Bradley operates in the competitive accessory space, it has managed to find its niche and focus on what it is good at—creating an experience and showcasing a special item. Vera Bradley isn’t a discount brand and typically represents a special product customers are willing to spend more money on. Because of that, co-founder Barbara Baekgaard and her team can focus on creating a great customer experience because they are confident in their brand position and aren’t distracted by comparing themselves to other stores. The lesson here can be applied to any brand: find what you are good at and use that to build a personalized and strong experience for customers. Don’t just play catchup to the competition—create something that represents your brand and what you stand for, and customers will respond to that.
A strong brand tends to create a great customer experience, and much of that brand starts with corporate culture. With niche brands, customers want something they can count on—the experience is more than a one-time transaction, but a shopping experience that they expect to be enjoyable and lasting. Vera Bradley hires nice people as sales associates and tells them to be themselves. The result is a reputation for strong customer service because customers know they will always have a friendly and personable experience in the store. The same principle applies to customers who are shopping for more than just handbags—today’s modern shoppers tend to want an experience instead of simply a transaction. The best experiences tend to come from strong brands that have an identity that permeates through their employees and makes every step of the buying process enjoyable. Employees should be aware of the company’s brand and know the role they play in sharing the experience with everyone who comes into the store or visits the website.
A strong brand can be a powerful tool in creating a high-quality customer experience. Although there are many things that can shake a brand, having a strong foundation that is embedded in every aspect of the organization can make a huge difference and be felt by customers at every turn.
For more from Blake Morgan sign up for her weekly newsletter here.
Imagine being able to instantly get recommendations for top restaurants, hotels, and attractions, no matter where you are in the world without having to talk to a human. It’s a great resource for travelers made possible by the TripAdvisor chatbot.
Chatbots are popping up everywhere. TripAdvisor as a company tries to stay on top of new technology, but it didn’t want to create a chatbot just for the sake of making one. After considering the strategy involved, the team, led by Jeff Chow, vice president of product, decided to dip its toes into the chatbot water with a way to deliver great recommendations where and when people need them. Creating the chatbot was a learning experience with principles that can be applied to a variety of verticals. The overall goal for the chatbot was to take TripAdvisor’s leading qualities and turn then into the ultimate travel assistant on the go—perfect for planning a trip, traveling, or sharing information with friends and family. With its software, TripAdvisor wanted to use machine learning to scale the data from its many interfaces so that it could be used in different customer interactions.
The team views the chatbot as guided discovery—the questions start big and then narrow down until the task is completed and the best recommendation can be given. In order to provide the best recommendation, the bot must understand what the traveller is really looking for—after all, a restaurant recommendation in Miami will be different based on if someone is traveling for work or pleasure. Chatbots have potential to be a powerful, personalized tool. Because they can remember things users say, it can get personal and hopefully soon learn soft signals and natural conversation. That way, even if a user doesn’t explicitly ask something, a chatbot could potentially know what to recommend based on their patterns or behavior. However, getting smarter over time is a unique challenge in travel, as people’s travel preferences can change greatly depending on the purpose of their travel, which means the bot needs to be adaptable to different travel needs.
TripAdvisor also learned that building a chatbot isn’t a one and done process—there is always room for continued growth and improvement. The company’s next focus is to increase engagement with its partner businesses to provide better recommendations to customers.
Jeff’s best advice from the TripAdvisor experience is for other companies to be strategic with their chatbots and technology. Don't create a chatbot just for the sake of doing it, but instead think of what it can do to move your business forward. When done correctly, chatbots can create great opportunities for an organization.
All companies face challenges with industry disruption. No matter if you’re in healthcare, education, retail or anything else, there are sure to be changes in the industry over the coming years. However, prepared companies can use that disruption to their advantage to continue to hone their customer experience. AT&T is a good case study of staying ahead of the trends while still working to provide an excellent customer experience. The company has led the charge to the new TMT industry that represents the world we now live in—telecommunications, media, and technology—and uses industry growth and change to create an improved customer experience.
Customer experience is more than just a singular event—it can include the time the customer spends researching product options, browsing in store or online, and the actual purchase, not to mention what happens after the sale or service. At AT&T, customer experience is known as a journey that starts when a customer joins the company for a single product like phone or internet service. With that initial relationship established, the company can work towards its goal of creating long-standing trusted relationships that cover multiple devices. According to AT&T Mobility CEO Glenn Lurie, the company allows customers to define the customer experience and relies on feedback from them to create the best experience possible.
Great customer experience starts from the top and won’t happen if executives can’t find ways to connect new technology and offerings to what their customers are experiencing. At AT&T, every employee is in charge of staying in front of industry disruption. By staying on top of trends, the company is able to talk to customers about nearly every aspect of their lives, from their phone and internet service to entertainment and a connected home and car. Putting in the time and money beforehand allows AT&T to be very involved in its customers’ lives, just like being aware of new travel trends or computer programs can help companies in other industries know how to best serve their customers.
Aside from being aware of trends, customer experience can be shaped by listening to feedback and seeing how your organization is viewed by customers and outside groups. AT&T does this by keeping a close eye on how it is viewed from third parties like JD Powers and the current state of its net promoter score, but other companies could use social media metrics, Yelp reviews, or call center logs to measure feedback.
Strong leadership plays a vital role in customer experience, especially as technology and trends change across the board. Although the methods may vary, the goal of customer experience should always be the same: to surprise and delight and create a real bond with customers. Companies truly invested in the customer journey are sure to see success as their industries continue to evolve.
As the consumer world changes, businesses must adapt their strategies and marketing to best meet the needs of customers. 3 Day Blinds started nearly 40 years ago as a way to provide window coverings faster than the market norm. As the industry changed, the company slowly moved away from retail stores and now sells all of its product through at-home appointments that allow customers to see samples in their homes to get a better idea of the product. The move from retail locations to at-home consultations was a large shift for the company, but one that allowed for more personal experiences with customers and a way to better connect with them throughout the entire buying process. Now the company is one of the few remaining direct-to-consumer manufacturers in the U.S., meaning it has the power to control every aspect of the customer experience from initial contact to manufacturing and delivery.
3 Day Blinds has also adapted its marketing strategy to reflect customer trends. Although the big push these days is towards mobile, the company realized 70% of its appointments come through call center phone calls. Instead of spending time and money to develop mobile just because it is trendy, the company stuck with its roots and found ways to integrate marketing automation into its more traditional phone operations. With new technology, 3 Day Blinds can track what keywords drove customers to make a phone call. For example, if a customer types a search into Google and gets the results for 3 Day Blinds, the website can create a unique phone number that lets the company know what keyword resulted in the call. Call center agents are also given a list of keywords related to the customers’ search that they can use to organically steer the conversation for best results. The company was surprised to see the diversity in keyword searches and what they lead to, which further showcases the need for personalization and to understand what each customer is looking for.
For Dan Williams, chief revenue officer at 3 Day Blinds, marketing automation is all about breaking down the business to see what can be optimized to have the biggest impact. Using data gathered from at-home consultations and phone conversations provides the company with automated data about things like how often to contact customers, the optimal length of a call, information to gather or not to gather on the phone, and much more. Combining automation and call intelligence allows all employees to better understand the customer and make the most of the phone call. This not only impacts sales but also leads to increased customer satisfaction when a person can get the answers he needs quickly.
The 3 Day Blinds experience is unlike most other consumer experiences and allows the company to be creative with its marketing and data collection. By truly understanding the customer and implementing technology and automation when appropriate, customers can have a unique and personalized experience that meets their needs.
How do you keep your brand on message during a changing digital landscape with a company that is more than 100 years old? That’s the question faced by Toni Clayton-Hine, CMO of the Xerox Corporation, every day. One of Toni’s main tasks is managing an evolving brand narrative to a new wave of customers as her company returns to its roots.
As the world gets more digital, Xerox is going back to its core products and finding ways to transform its traditional copy machines into systems that manage the entire document experience, both digitally and physically. These days, it’s about more than just making copies, it’s about optimizing the movement of information and what and how information gets printed. Although the company is going back to its roots with a modern twist, the core brand of Xerox is still the same: to innovate how the world communicates, connects, and works.
To spread the brand message, Toni relies on a team effort at Xerox. Everyone from the product designer to the tech support representative plays a role in how each customer interacts with the product, and everyone has a role to play in the customer experience. Everything the company does is about putting the customer first. Toni’s marketing team works hard to be present where the audience is present. That means connecting with them in new ways, such as social media, and making sure the information is available any place a customer wants to consume it. In today’s sometimes complicated digital landscape, Toni uses the approach of engaging with customers wherever is most comfortable to them to get the information out clearly and quickly.
There’s also the issue of managing the message to see how well it resonates with customers. Xerox has a large focus of getting its employees out in the field to talk to people who are actually using the products, whether they are re-sellers or end customers. Combined with customer councils, feedback sessions, and surveys, it provides the company with strong feedback to make sure its messaging and methods are effective with customers and that the company isn’t over-promising but not delivering, which could be detrimental to the brand. Staying in near-constant contact with customers also allows the brand to make changes quickly as the digital landscape continues to evolve.
Even though times are changing, the overall customer experience is still the same, especially when it comes to Xerox products. The customer experience still includes every touchpoint from early research to buying the product and actually using it. Even though the methods may change, the focus is still on engaging with the customer before, during, and after a sale. There are ways to innovate the process and the products, which Xerox does through its Park division, but the idea of sticking to the core brand and constantly engaging customers stays the same.
The customer landscape is no doubt changing, especially due to technology and increased information. However, by sticking to core principles and looking for ways to reach customers where they already are, brands can join Xerox in having great brand messaging success.
Evolving technology means nearly everything about the customer experience is changing—including the role of the CMO. That’s according to Maggie Chan Jones, CMO of global software company SAP. Maggie draws on her years of industry experience to navigate the changing customer landscape. Where the buying journey used to be linear, the best marketers must now adapt to changing consumer behaviors. Marketers used to rely on the traditional marketing funnel, which moved each customer along a track until they made a purchase. However, today’s customers go in and out of different stages of the buying process, which makes understanding the customer more important than ever before. Instead of walking customers through the now-non-existent linear buying process, brands should work on engagement and building trust with the customer so that they feel comfortable making the purchase whenever they are ready.
As the customer market becomes more complex, brands are struggling to simplify and survive. Complexity can be a drain on customers and on business resources and takes more than 10% of profits from many companies. To avoid complexity, work to simplify your processes and help customers find what they need quickly. The more options a customer has, the more time and money it takes for the company to provide them with what they want, when most times it is just a simple answer to a question. Maggie recommends using innovations and technology to solve customer problems, but to never lose sight of each person you are trying to reach. Even with the newest and best technology, your goal is still the same: to create a quality, personalized experience for each customer. No matter what happens, marketing is still about connecting with people. Before adding in technology, take a step back and consider where you want your company and customer to go. With the processes and goals in place, you can then add in the right technology to reach the end point without becoming too complex. Consider the people and the journey they will have with your brand—everything should focus on the customer and breaking down complexities to make things as simple as possible.
Whereas CMOs used to focus largely on big-picture marketing campaigns, they will soon, if they haven’t already, take on more responsibility than ever to drive bottom-line growth. In many cases, this means having a strong understanding of changing technology and even taking over responsibilities that were traditionally held by the CIO. Machine learning, which Maggie believes is still in the early stages, has the power to lead to big analytics. To better understand the customer, CMOs must be able to decipher big data to find the right analytics to drive growth and connectivity for their company. Big data can provide amazing customer insights, but only when it is used correctly and understood. The use of digitization and big data helps brands stay relevant and in tune with their customers so that they can implement changes and programs while they are still relevant.
Today’s customer landscape is fast-paced and ever-changing. To lead their teams to success, CMOs need to have a strong grasp of both large-scale analytics and small-scale customer engagement.
Much of the technology that’s being developed now will help us coordinate things, from employees to customers, in a much smoother way. Devin Fidler, research director at Institute For The Future, compares it to being an orchestra conductor—as we better use technology, we can more easily bring in other parts of the customer experience to create a smoother melody within our organizations.
One of the greatest benefits of new technology is that it provides us the ability to find the resources we need much more quickly. Just like Uber can connect us with a ride or Airbnb connects millions of customers with millions of open rooms, we can also find ways to use this new technology to change our business strategy. Rethinkery Labs, for example, runs software like Upwork and Freelancer that sifts through thousands of freelancer profiles to find the exact right match for a given project, then reaches out to that person to ask if they want to be involved. Instead of people looking for work, the work is now looking for people.
To be the most effective, Devin recommends re-thinking what you want your customer experience to look like. Because things are changing so rapidly, the experience will likely look very different to even how it did just five years ago. These new tools allow us to fundamentally change nearly everything about our customer experience and are a great opportunity to creatively look at how customers will view and interact with your company from every level. Disney Parks has done this by completely re-vamping the customer experience. Soon before a visit, guests receive interactive wristbands in the mail that can then be used at the park to get in lines, make purchases, and perform other common actions.Customers have a better, more streamlined experience in the parks because Disney was able to re-think its experience approach and take advantage of new wearable technology.
Machine learning, or artificial intelligence, is sure to play a huge role in a forward-thinking customer experience, especially as it comes to serving customers in real time. Software like Amazon Echo allows customers to communicate with a device that coordinates all of their data on the back end to better respond to their needs; similar technology is being developed for a wide variety of other companies to help customers get things where and when they need them.
As technology grows, so should the sharing economy, including services like Uber and Airbnb, as well as the freelancer economy. These unique and new ways of working present new issues that can be resolved with advanced technology and new applications. These new models also take advantage of digital management to find workers that are a perfect match for a specific situation and can move people easily to where they have the most value.
Automation and new technology play a huge role in how companies run their businesses and interact with customers. As new technology arises, brands should look for ways to add them to their customer experience to create a fuller experience for employees and customers
Not everyone loves dealing with banks or credit card companies. Citi Global Cards and its chief customer and digital experience officer, Alice Milligan, are changing that with a customer-centric culture and plans to make the entire credit card process simpler and easier for all customers.
With so much disruption in the banking world, the focus is definitely on digital and mobile. Citi Global Cards customer experience team members spend a lot of time with customers to make them central throughout the entire strategy. The team focuses on three main areas: how to make it simpler for customers to interact with the company, how to make customers’ lives easier, and how to take away anxiety or pain from customers. Based on detailed research, they realized the three most important things to modern customers:
From those key areas, the company discovered how important time is to customers—everyone is busy and doesn’t want to spend a lot of time banking, but they still want the security and convenience. Understanding the customer has been a driving force for improving customer experience—when they realized a main concern of customers was to stop any charges on their card after it was lost or stolen, the company introduced Citi Quick Lock that allows users to quickly lock their card from a mobile app while they look for it. Citi has also been working to empower customers by giving them the tools they need right at their fingertips; at the start of 2016, the company had one-third of its functions available on its mobile app, but by the end of the year it was up to 75% of functions with the rest rolling out soon.
Citi Global Cards continues to strive to enhance the customer experience by finding new ways to meet customer needs and solve their problems. This includes anything from gamification and rewards programs to developing the messaging and phone systems so that customers can contact the company however they wish and get a quick result no matter which method they use. Alice and her team also keep a strong pulse on the industry by talking to thoughtleaders, going to trade shows, reading, and putting the latest technology and thinking into action in ways that will help their customers.
The customer experience is more than just putting things in the hands of customers. It’s listening to them and incorporating their convenience and wishes in every step of the process. That’s why customer experience is part of everyone’s job and responsibility across the company, regardless of what department they are in.
Credit cards and banking might not be areas where customers love to spend their time, but improving the customer experience can lead to great results of satisfied customers.
Collaboration and feedback are two hallmarks of great customer experience, and both are on display at Salesforce. The company’s IdeaExchange is a place for thousands of customers and end users gather to share their feedback and suggestions about the popular software, and it has been wildly successful as it celebrates its 10th anniversary this year.
As IdeaExchange has grown over the years, it has become a very strategic part of how Salesforce runs product management, according to Mike Rosenbaum, EVP of CRM. There are more than 66,000 ideas on the exchange and millions of votes from people expressing their support of certain suggestions. Spirited users even start campaigns to build enthusiasm for their ideas. The suggestions cover everything from design to efficiency and are taken into consideration by the Salesforce team. Mike estimates that one-third of a product management team’s thinking is influence by IdeaExchange. One of the most unique features of the exchange is that it isn’t simply a one-sided suggestion box—it allows customers and employees the chance to start a dialogue and work through issues together. Employees are encouraged to check the site daily for updates and to respond to suggestions. Each suggestion has an associated feed, which allows users to collaborate. Often times, the results from IdeaExchange come more from the collaboration and brainstorming than they do from the initial idea.
Aside from helping the company hone its product, IdeaExchange also greatly helps the customer experience. It gives customers a chance to voice their opinions and really feel like they are being listened to. Salesforce prides itself on having the strongest community of professionals in enterprise software, and it empowers customers to help the company come up with advances and solutions to programs. Salesforce has spent years developing a community of trailblazers—the people who are known in their individual organizations as Salesforce experts. These trailblazers are a huge asset to the company with their advanced knowledge and feedback. As they interact with product management teams, they can feel better about investing so much of their career into the software.
IdeaExchange has led to a number of major upgrades for the program. One that was seemingly simple was the suggestion to offer more than three columns in the dashboard display, which quickly became one of the most discussed suggestions. When the upgrade to unlimited columns was announced, Salesforce customers cheered knowing they impacted the change. That change would never have happened without IdeaExchange.
IdeaExchange benefits both customers and the company by connecting them and building a strong, two-way relationship where customers feel valued. By engaging customers and leaders, Salesforce hopes to be an example to other companies looking to increase customer engagement.