Communication should always as targeted as possible – print companies need to provide their customers with dedicated communication channels. And what about online print providers? Preferably digital ones!
If you as a print provider opt to use a digital sales channel, you should also offer your customers appropriate digital methods of getting in contact with you. That’s because print products and their respective ordering processes can definitely be complex and cause customers to ask questions. How did I get on to this subject? Last month I came across a link that addressed the issue of a facial recognition tool for non-verbal communication. The whole thing works on the basis of an algorithm that films the facial emotions of a chat partner and converts them directly into a text markup, enabling both positive and negative states of mind to be “deduced” from the text. The basic prerequisite for this is therefore use of a camera – but plenty of chat partners are simply not keen on this.
We as a team then asked ourselves where online print providers in the D/A/CH region are at in this respect. By that I don’t mean to what extent do they use artificial intelligence for customer communication purposes, for example, in the form of this kind of algorithm or chatbots. What I mean is what is the overall story with the digital communication channels that online print providers in German-speaking countries utilize.
From my own experience I can say that the on-the-phone advice provided by some online print businesses unfortunately seems to be pretty rough and ready. This is actually a pity, because direct or verbal customer contact is usually the most promising method of successfully solving problems and processing orders. Why economize in this area, if things start getting really expensive if you don’t get it right here? And for most online print providers chats don’t appear to be a “gainful” alternative compared with e-mail inquiries or contact forms and direct phone contact. As far as the latter is concerned, my team and I perused the webstores of more than 300 German-language print businesses, and lo and behold: just 3 percent of the websites examined feature a chat window. Not exactly anything to write home about.
Based on this data, only every fortieth online print provider or print business with a print store from the D/A/CH region uses chat windows that open automatically and only a few more offer a selectable chat option – some of which feature a time limit. Well now, the fact that not all providers offer 24-hour availability is OK, even in the eCommerce sector – and this is what customers categorize online print as after all. But the fact that coverage is so “thin” was indeed only known to the providers themselves.
“Print products can in many respects require a great deal of explanation and advice. For online print providers that means providing channels and offering service – and doing so really professionally.” – Bernd Zipper
Aside from the cost issue for contact media – i.e. costs of integrating chats, contact forms and professional advice, which carries the same weight whether provided on the phone or in writing – appropriately trained members of staff must be able to operate these channels. And we’re talking professional advice, because print can require a great deal of explanation and advice, even if some people believe that online print is synonymous with “simple” print products that you can configure and order online. Not everybody who orders print online happens to be an expert in the subject. As far as (digital) customer communication is concerned, print providers are therefore well advised not to penny-pinch. That’s because fewer unanswered questions prior to production also generate fewer unanswered questions following production – and therefore a lower risk of negative feedback in relation to the product and the service that depends directly on the availability of and communication with the provider.
What role can artificial intelligence play in the design of chatbots? If bots are used for chat-based customer communication, they then recognize – depending on their degree of product maturity – whether a switch to communicating with the next free member of staff is required, based on the choice of words of your opposite number. In some other cases or rather during initial communication or where “simple” questions are involved, chatbots can provide assistance by applying learned question-&-answer relationships and relieve pressure on the service at peak times and at times when fewer members of staff are available. But complex questions still need to be dealt with by real people – and they should then be able to answer these questions, no matter via which channel.
Incidentally, Amazon’s Alexa may not be the only major player in the voice search and voice assistance segment, but it is extremely innovative. The above-mentioned example of the algorithm, which recognizes the facial expressions of a chat partner and converts them into text form, shows that there are enough digital communication innovations about. Alexa is now said to be able to analyze the state of mind – excitement, delight etc. – of the speaker based on voice analysis. Yes – so what? Amazon uses this procedure to feed appropriate promotional offers back – and benefits from that through the sale of appropriate products. Without going into any more detail, both examples show that a great deal is feasible as far as digital communication is concerned.
My take: it’s difficult to ascertain straightaway whether those online print providers that offer a chat window also utilize chatbots. Furthermore, the question of whether it makes sense or not to use chatbots in the online print industry is not important either. Some print providers should instead check which (digital) communications and therefore service channels they are ignoring – and should therefore upgrade. There are enough smart systems about, you just have to embrace them. And as far as the necessary skilled human resources are concerned, they are needed in order, firstly: to incorporate appropriate communications channels into websites in the first place and secondly: to be able to respond to inquiries appropriately. Print providers need to keep their eyes and ears open to find out what happening in the world of digital customer communication. I will be doing the same – and will keep you informed about my findings here.