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Twilio says it's time you gave your listening muscles a Flex

Most corporations use omni-channels for talking but they’ve got too little time for listening. Nick Booth thinks there’s plenty of scope for improvement

Is your company suffering from blemishes? You need to apply marketing concealer. It’s packed with - here’s the science bit - algorithms, netbots and the latest in artificial emotion. It really works.

Take a B&B, a particularly bad one. A quick application of an exit survey, just as guests are checking out, is a great way of putting context through the blander. Typical question: In order to complete this survey as quickly as possible, how brilliantly would you rate your stay? Choose 1 for Megatastic or Choose 2 for “Yes, I want to be dragged into a long drawn out questionnaire.”

Soon you’ll be able to report that every guest of  rated it as a top place to stay.

Forgive the cynicism, but there does seem to be a massive reality gap between what companies tell us we’ve just experienced and what we really feel.

Not all IT companies are awful. Half of them are great - but how do you tell them apart on face value? They all speak exactly the same language. If anyone comes up with a genuinely sociable initiative, the Me-too marketing brigade soon learn to fake it.

In a bid to get to the bottom of these communications fails, we’ve consulted some of the more promising thinkers from Twilio and Sprinklr. These are genuinely free range, fresh thinkers that the ‘farm fresh’ companies, with their hen pecked human resources kept in battery conditions, will be seeking to copy.

All IT can make our lives better, but first it has to them worse. Far worse.

Call centres exemplify this ‘disruptive’ principle perfectly.

There are so many reasons to dread them. First there’s the mental scars - it’s even worse if you’ve ever worked in one. Being directed to the call centre is an immediate blow to your self esteem - it’s a company’s way of telling you that you’re NOT a ‘very important person’.

You’re now talking to someone who, judging by their superior language skills, is far smarter than you but is unlucky enough to have been born in a call centre country. Despite your guilt, you still can’t help being bad tempered when they keep asking you to repeat everything. They probably resent you too, so you couldn’t really blame them if they sold your details to a hacker. Even if you could strike up a rapport with them, they are constrained by a script they must stick to. So your attempts at banter will force them to miss their deadline and be penalised.

You might be forced to speak to a Netbot at some stage. You wouldn’t mind, but in a bid to impress you they all have to put on that ridiculous ‘Steven Hawking accent’.

To round off the inhumane treatment, you will be subjected to the Forced Feedback torture, alluded to above, just as you think you can get back to work. “Quick customer service survey. How passionate are you about our fabulous brand?”

It doesn’t have to be like this and there is clearly a massive opportunity for the UK’s service providers to create friendlier systems, says Al Cook, head of contact centres for Twilio. To that end, it has created Flex, a contact centre building system that promises to combine the instant gratification you can get from cloud apps with the industrial scale professionalism that was traditionally supplied to enterprises by Avaya.

Twilio has liberalised the comms market by removing all the incompatibility barriers between all the various channels of communication.

It’s now possible, if companies are so inclined, to give every customer equal weighting, no matter what channel of communication they come in on. Flex promises to support an ‘omnichannel experience’ by making it possible to allow agents to speak across the full spectrum of channels. Although voice, SMS, email, chat, video, Facebook Messenger and social media apps are all catered for, there is one omission. Letter writers are still left out, so older people are still discriminated against.

Which is bad news for the most disenfranchised section of our society but a great opportunity for a creative service provider with a social conscience. Assuming they exist. You might not earn much money for any solution you created, but the media exposure would make it well worth the effort.

As Cook argues, it’s an easily customisable system that can cater for 50,000 agents, all kinds of intelligent new options and it’s even got Netbots with artificial common sense. “If people are screaming with frustration, the system can pick up on that and pass them direct to a supervisor,” says Cook.

The biggest mistake that corporate communications departments are making is talking over the clients. Effectively, they are driving them away.

Retail banks are currently bombarding their customers with paperwork, because it’s so easy to automate a mass mail shot. How many defections will it take before they realise that customers hate having to deal with this Tsunami of time wasting tittle tattle that floods in through their letter boxes.

Many corporations are incredibly immature about their use of these weapons. Over communication is fatal according to Ann O’Brien, director of content marketing at Sprinklr. “In every conversation it’s important that both sides feel they are having a say,” says O’Brien. “When you are getting into communications with no value, it quickly becomes counter productive.”

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