Can Products And Services Be More Social Than Humans?

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Can technology make marketers suck less?

One could argue that social media – for all of its wonders – has created a new breed of marketer. A hybrid. Ones that aren’t solely focused on the creative in the ads, but rather ones that act as holistic brand ambassadors in a real-time environment. From tweets and posts to online videos to mobile apps and games, there is no doubt that the role of marketing continues to evolve well beyond its intended state. Recently, I had the pleasure of spending some time with Ragy Thomas. Thomas has built a fortune (and some significant companies – like Epsilon) pushing technology to help marketers. His latest venture is Sprinklr, a company focused on the next evolution of social media by helping big brands get social at scale. He hopes, in time, that the tools he can provide to brands – that helps them manage the social experience – will be able to go even further. This concept of "further" is the fascinating next-stage of context: pre-emptive social signals.

Think about that.

Going from "someone isn’t happy about us and they’re complaining on Twitter," to "We’ve had 25 customer service issues that were resolved without any human intervention."  It’s like the Minority Report of marketing. We go from fighting crime to stopping it even before it happens. Precog Marketing, anyone? It makes sense and seems closer than we might imagine. Marketers are both Mad Men/Women and Math Men/Women. We are collecting data points and information about our consumers that we could have never imagined possible even a short while ago. As this data becomes more accessible and easier to work through (don’t say big data… don’t say big data…), it makes sense that the technology to resolve customer service issues without human intervention is just on the horizon. Think of it as the IBM Watson of marketing.

A real life example of marketing without humans.

Let’s look at how this might unfold in terms of historical context: In the past, a consumer has an issue with your product or service so they call your customer service center. Whether they got a proper resolution (or not), they feel snubbed. What next? A letter to the CEO? A letter to the local newspaper? In this, traditional, instance the consumer probably tells people they know via word of mouth. Perhaps the story becomes more public, but more often-than-not, it dies in a letter in the filing cabinet of the brand. A more contemporary example: a consumer has an issue with your product or service, so they tweet about it, rant on Facebook, blog about it or create a nasty video on YouTube. A brand reacts. Some brands have a formal structure around this (team and technology like Sprinklr), while others have a few team members moderating these social and public spaces. These issues get resolved (and quickly) and lean in favor of the consumer, because the last thing a brand needs – in this day and age – is a digital legacy of negative brand sentiment. If it doesn’t get resolved, a lot of those disappointments get drowned out in a mass sea of social media complaints. Where this could go: a consumer has an issue with your product or service and it get resolved (maybe even before they realize that it’s happening) without any human intervention. The product/service offers social signals, and through technology, resolves the issue.

How does this come about?

We have mass amounts of devices, appliances and technology that are/are going to be connected. Not just to the Internet (as we know it to date) but to one another. The ability for these devices (and their software) to self-diagnose, correct course and then inform the user of the fix is not an unreasonable thought. What makes this most fascinating is that social media came into popularity under the notion that technology was enabling a more human (and more humane) way for us to connect – to one another… and to brands. In a world where a product knows it’s about to break (or is broken) and is able to remedy the situation either through updates (or by organizing and notifying the consumer of a drop-off, maintenance appointment, etc…) is an inevitability. While some may scoff at this idea, imagine layering in the ability to rate that experience or notify the manufacturer – in real-time – whether the outcome was satisfactory? It’s hard to imagine a world where people are complaining about service, if repairs and updates are built into the product. These devices will be both self-diagnosing and social in their consumer interactions.

Things move fast.

While we’re still in a nascent stage, the shift from call center to social media to social and self-diagnosing products and services seem evident. Right now, the software is enabling us to better respond to human needs and, in the not-so-distant-future, human brand managers may well simply be managing and organizing the workflow, as the machines become even more social and interactive with each other and consumers. The limitations of your current social media and customer service teams becomes obvious. Imagine that. Products that are always optimizing and have the historical inputs and analytics to understand everything from usage to repair and beyond. 

As scary as that sounds, this sort of marketing innovation makes big date feel kinda minor.

The above posting is my monthly column on marketing innovation for Strategy Magazine. I cross-post it here with all the links and tags for your reading pleasure, but you can check out the original version online here: