Engaging Content – Messaging to the fore? – [FULL INTERVIEW]

In this full interview with James O’Hare from Link UK, we discuss some of the latest developments in messaging and communications.

In particular how businesses are having to adapt to handling consumers’ shorter attention spans and how delivering richer content to mobile devices can really help… it this the end of the webpage? Maybe it is!

Find out more about Link UK -> Here.

Interview Transcript

So hi, everyone, I’m here with James O’Hare today. He’s the MD of Link UK, and then the business communications or seapass. Space. James, thanks very much for joining me. Great to chat with you. Good afternoon, Chris.

So, I know we were chatting a little bit more, but for a very much focused on how to engage customers, we’ve all been this like remote digital kind of environment, how you sort of seeing that environment change sort of particular posts, I suppose, the pandemic and the lock downs we’ve had into the like, the current environment. Yeah, I think the way that we’re seeing customer communication change, I think is rising expectations

from consumers. You know, one of the conversation topics we’re gonna have, kind of later on today is around the attention economy. And I think that’s a big big driver in consumer, consumer expectations in that no longer can brands expect to communicate with consumers in the same way they might have done, you know, prior to the pandemic, or even four or five years ago, in the, the availability of digital communication is just on is increasing exponentially. The number of channels, the number of apps that you’ve got on your phone that deal that deal with messaging. And also as well, the way that you speak with your friends and family, naturally, is within in the messaging space.

You know, I think I spend more time messaging my brother and my sister and my father, then than I do actually speaking to them on the phone. And I think that has definitely changed in the last, you know, three, four years. And it’s the and I think post pandemic, I think people are really trying to

people expect for their services to be provided them in the time that they want them.

But it does feel like through the pandemic, we moved removed away from, like, 10 years ago, and we were very much more like using the phone to try and call people. And now we’ve just all moved to like messaging, I mean, even WhatsApp during the, during the pandemic, with all the memes that came out. I mean, like, everyone who was everyone was on WhatsApp and WhatsApp groups and, and those kinds of things, it feels like we’ve moved to this much more sort of, like, digital interaction rather than voice interaction. Yeah, absolutely. I think there’s a very, very, very famous stat out there. And I don’t was one of those statistics that’s completely made up. But it’s certainly stuck with me, in that I think, 18 to 24 year olds, would sooner go to the dentist than make a phone call.

You know, and I think, you know, I’ve got I’ve got a 16 and a 14 year old and I don’t think I’ve received a telephone call from them, you know, in the past few years, you know, you know, I’ve looked at my phone and actually checked the incoming outcoming logs, you know, they’ve never phoned me, they will always message me. And I think that’s where what’s really interesting for brands, is that, especially organisations that have large contact centres, how do you deal with a particular part of the demographic, demographic society, that would sooner not be on the phone to you? So what kind of customer journey are you going to design to cater for that particular part of society? Yeah, I mean, I mean, there’s there’s trends, definitely other markets around, which is you see this in terms of like voice notes, so dude, use the juicy stuff around voice notes, rather than the rather than rather than the text piece. I mean, that’s there’s always that almost like a bit of a halfway house between two more than that one on the next.

From a from a business communication perspective, I don’t think we’re there yet. With voice notes. I think I certainly was in the industry for a few years ago, where deploying recorded voice recording recorded voice broadcast was something which was used, I remember being part of the business during the pandemic, where

a very famous footballer Jamie Vardy, actually recorded, recorded an outgoing voice broadcast, and sent it to their to their, to their sort of list of Leicester fans. And I think it was when football was cancelled all the time. So it was like, please don’t cancel your season tickets, or I can’t remember the actual, I can’t remember the actual sort of complete content. But that was certainly something that seemed to be sort of resonated during that particular time. But ever since, you know, just thinking about the last year since I’ve started.

The mobility back in March is that the voice side of things has not necessarily been something that we’ve seen a huge demand for. I think what we have seen huge demand for is is self serve technology, allow your consumers to self serve their issue, where possible, and then and then a really elegant handoff to to an agent when that particular interaction becomes a bit too complicated. Yeah. And I know you spend quite a lot of time sort of like looking at suppose marketing or customer care and those kinds of things. I mean, there’s the same kind of challenges that we have in you know, in the collection space as an example, which is really around. How do you get customer engagement? How do you get people to pay attention to your message, because you’ve got an important message

Whatever it is you want them to do to listen to you, what are some of the themes you sort of picked up from your customers in terms of trying to get people to engage with you and your brand?

Well, I think one of the major

aspects to the, the challenge that brands are facing is that it’s getting harder to engage customers. It’s getting, it’s getting much, much harder, because they’re the levels of attention. And and this is perhaps a good segue into talking about the attention economy is that is the, this is a phrase that was quite trendy, two or three years before the pandemic. And it was this idea that, because we are bombarded with messages each and every day, I think it was a study by Harvard, I think he showed it was like 6000, to 8000 interactions, a 6000 to 8000 messages per day that we are seeing as individual consumers. And then when you have on top of that the rise of micro content. So the 268 characters, I think it is for Twitter, the TIC tock videos Instagram story, where you’re actually only engaging with the content for only a matter of seconds. And so

before you then move on, and and I think I was I was at a conference in July where somebody said, what we’re trying to do as a business is create thumb stopping moments. Because if you think about the scrolling, the scrolling sort of mantra that is on your mobile phone these days, to be able to gain someone’s attention, you’ve got to stop them scrolling, scrolling away from your particular piece of content.

And so what we’re seeing marketers, and also through Customer Care, and also in the financial services industry, is that you’ve got to try and create engaging content, that is going to stop them from scrolling on it, stop them from moving on, you need got to do it quickly. Because within within seconds, they’ve moved on. We had a

again, another, it was the same conference back in July, it was a worldwide FMCG brand. They had carried out a particular campaign. And they’ve been able to use down Anil Analytics to measure the amount of time that their consumers was interacting with their content. And what they found was the adverts TV adverts had less than

eight seconds of attention. Then when you look at Facebook ads, it was less than four seconds. And an online banner ad which gets a huge amount of investment from brands across the world online banners. The kinds of things that you see on websites, third party cookies, where they you go on to my son, you know, borrows my phone and is hugely into golf at the minute. So I now whenever I visit any website, it’s just serving me adverts for golf gear.

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You know, because of that, you know, that gets less than one second of attention.

And so how do brands? How do all organisations? How do they create content that engages with that particular person, engage with those customers? And does it really quickly? And I suppose there’s almost like this arms race that goes up with sort of those banner ads into like, how do you how do you get more attention versus other used to see that in TV advertising in terms of like it was gonna get these really innovative kind of engaging kind of content to do but you’re saying there’s a different way of doing it rather than using traditional methods. But, you know, I think it was like using like mobile methods. I mean, the mobile phone, I mean, it’s transformed communications, just in terms of like, we’re just having this thing, you know, always with you on on your, you know, I mean, just you can do everything through it. Right. So. So you’re saying like, creating rich, engaging content through that is, is is effective guiding the engagement piece is kind of fascinating. Yeah, absolutely. What we’re seeing, what we’re seeing organisations, when they seem really successful campaigns is when they’ve been able to have, I think mimicking the way that people interact with their friends and family. If you think about the type of thing you might be arranging to go on a night out on a Friday night, the type of interaction you would tend to have you would share, you would share interesting, you know, an amusing anecdotes, you might have a quick back and forth, you might then share a location, that sort of journey. If you were to really look at that with a CX customer experience in mind, if you were to look at that, you would actually see a customer journey that could be replicated for businesses. And I think using the mobile phone using mobile messaging applications, whether that’s just standard

SMS applications, whether that could be WhatsApp, it could be Google messages that will allow you then to create an engaging experience. That is two way it’s a conversational experience. That’s where we’re seeing brands get some amazing results. And we showed an insurance company hardly the most sort of creative industry, shall we say or exciting of industries. They managed to use Google messages to create a brand experience, engage with rich imagery, engage with a conversational flow to that interaction, and it was an insurance

This company based in France, and they were able to encourage their customers to actually explore their other options within their insurance world. So they could go for a single car versus a multi car policy, they could go for home insurance versus via car insurance. And they actually got two or three minutes, two or three minutes of average engagement per consumer. And when I said earlier on, we’re talking seconds to three minutes is a lifetime

in sort of today’s world, and they did that all through the messaging app, the messaging app on on on the handsets on the customer’s handset. So I think it’s, you know, being able to create those experiences through the messaging app, I think is is something we’re seeing lots and lots of success. And why do you think that is? Do you think that’s just because of the nature of the handset itself? Because we’re so familiar with it? I mean, that was one of the stats that you mentioned before around? I mean, no one has one of these conversations via email. I mean, you don’t arrange to meet your friends in a restaurant via email. I mean, we used to, but it was 15 years ago, right. But these days, no one does it, even though you could do it on your handset on email. Everyone, does it using messaging? Really? I mean, is there something innate about it is the immediacy of it. I mean, what creates it’s so much more compelling? Yeah, well, I think, I think when it comes to business communication, starting your emails with do not reply, I don’t think necessarily helps, doesn’t necessarily help with with sort of encouraging the dialogue with your customers. But I think in terms of why I think it goes back to what I was saying previously, I think it’s to do with, it’s to do with how you would normally interact with your friends and family. I think that’s where it has huge impact. And businesses will get that right, in creating an experience that feels similar to the way that you might engage and have a two way conversation with your friends and family. That’s why I think it has such impact. And I think the sooner that organisations and, you know, I believe there’s a bit of a bit of a superior superiority complex that the marketing world, especially, you know, sort of high tech marketing agencies that believe that the messaging app is is a bit lowbrow. It’s a bit basic.

But I think that overlooking the overlooking, especially with recent developments, that overlooking a channel there, that can be the destination of content, doesn’t necessarily have to have an SMS with a link in it that takes you somewhere else to to an application that you spent half a million on, or to a website that is extremely expensive. You can you can delight and engage customers directly in the messaging app. So what do you think’s happened with with attention? Are this the going back to the attention economy, which I think it’s a really interesting concept, and I hadn’t come across it and it caused me to go down a rabbit hole of attention economics, which there is as well as we watch it, what do you think sort of behind it? And why do you think the longer term trend is on attention? Well, I think I think it isn’t a universal bad thing. The attention economy, I think it is painted as you know, we’re brainwashing children brainwashing ourselves, not to be able to keep attention for a certain amount of time. And I think there’s, there’s a lot to that, you know, I only have to look at my number of hours, I’m on my mobile phone each day and be a little bit ashamed. Because because it’s, you know, over over a certain amount, and I’m thinking all I’ve been doing is scrolling BBC Sport and, and Twitter, probably for most of that time.

You know, but on the other hand, I think the attention span, I think it is trying to raise the get, I think it raises everybody’s game, it raises the game of organisations in being able to create amazing customer experiences. And I think it doesn’t matter what industry that you’re in, you should be aiming to deliver amazing customer experiences. And I think that’s, that’s, that’s, that’s my, what gets me up every morning, to a certain degree.

What I quite like about these fields, is these sort of like, the the academics will appeal it way into, like, what are the key levers? So like, how do you create engaging content? You know, and how do you sort of keep stuff, you know, in one location, you know, like this, the short video what what is the successful versus not, which I suppose comes back to some of this piece around sort of having embedded content. I mean, having things on the phone where you don’t have to go to third parties is kind of seems like that’s important. And I think another really important part of how creating engaging content creating engaging

customer experiences around the impact that could have on certain industries and I think about the collections industry, for example, who do a an amazing job supporting vulnerable customers, supporting people who, who require help. And I think there’s lots of research out there in terms of the developing customer experience that ensures that you are giving that vulnerable person the best possible chance of confronting, of confronting the situation that they’re in and actually seeking help. And I think by having a bad customer experience, by having something that isn’t easy to deal with, you are more likely to turn off

that vulnerable customer to actually seeking help. And so therefore, you know, that’s what I mean about this isn’t isn’t a universal bad thing, that we’re having to raise our games, to engage with consumers, because you know that the the outcome for certain industries is is extremely beneficial. If you can create something that gives trust, that is easy to do business with that then allows the vulnerable customer to seek the help that they need. I think that’s quite a good outcome to the arms races, as you said, I mean, one of the reasons why we were chatting was because, you know, I do think with the cost of living crisis that’s coming up, I mean, like trying to get ahold of people and get people to say, you know, breaking down stigmas that that might be around collections, or aren’t getting getting help, trying to get their attention to say, well, actually, this isn’t maybe quite as scary as you think. And we actually are quite we are here to help is kind of Paramount, right, and you can sort of, and you can kind of use some of these techniques to sort of get in front of people that maybe wouldn’t have done before. And maybe some of the things can be timed Attention Economy allows you to almost like break that down, what are the levers we need to look at? So you know, engaging content, its speed, its making it easy to do business with, you know, having a high open rate, making sure there’s a long stick raise in terms of actually be able to look through it. So like the time to next the time to scroll almost? And can you use the levers to try and generate communications that generate engagement? Right? Absolutely. And remembering that it’s highly likely that people I’ve spoken to over the past three or four months, in the financial services industry have all confirmed that, although they haven’t really seen the huge increase in contact related to the cost of living crisis with a bit of a,

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you know, has it been a a warmer autumn, and therefore, you know, the real impact, the real impact of the cost living crisis has not really yet been felt, however, what they have found is that they are dealing with

households and people within those households that

have never experienced the collections industry before. And so how on earth are they going to navigate a particular world that they’ve never experienced before, this is the first time in their lives that they’ve actually entered this particular phase of, of managing their debt.

And I think they’re only going to be helped if those organisations are creating, you know, leading customer experiences that that ensures that they do seek the help that they need, and they are aware of the help that is available to them. I mean, certainly, certainly, WhatsApp seems like that’s that’s sort of taken us forward into like, you know, extra ritual content that’s coming up. I mean, is that was that what the other guys are sort of like building on that, too? I mean, where do you sort of see us going from, essentially, a lot of us are still sending SMS at the moment. But where do you sort of see us going from here? I think WhatsApp is a really interesting channel, in that it gives it gives the uniform, it gives the ubiquity across both iOS and Android handsets.

I think there’s still some way to go with the rich media, the rich imagery that that WhatsApp can deliver. And also maybe some of the the interactive experiences. You know, for example, Google, Google have created a particular piece of technology called Rich business messages, which allows you to have things like suggested replies, so you know, the customer friction that’s solved in that, would you like to do A, B and C on WhatsApp, you’ll have to type out A, B or C, whereas with Google Business messages, you’re actually able to just press a button and therefore the customer friction is lower. Now whether

meta and WhatsApp will up their game and improve that is highly likely, I would say, considering that they are looking to make that

the best channel it can be. But I think having more interactive app like experiences within the messaging application itself, that’s the way I see messaging going sort of more long term.

And when you add in the ability to create conversational AI experiences, which essentially means just mimicking a two way conversation between a business and an organisation, but you’ve got artificial intelligence. That is, that is running those interactions. When you add those two things together, you know, rich, imagery, rich, rich conversations, plus conversational AI. I think that’s a major theme that I see developing in 2023. Yeah, I mean, we spend so much time on our on our messaging apps mean, just personally, don’t we? I mean, do you see the messaging apps almost like evolving to become almost like a replacement for the web browser? In some ways, so I know, we’re not quite there yet. But it could in some ways, you know, rather than being sort of portals where you sort of click and point and click I mean, it becomes information that scrolls but it’s the same information just you see us evolving to that as it’s almost like, instead of being Internet Explorer, it’s now the the messaging app that kind of replaces it. It’s it’s

interesting trend is a trend for sure. I think, for example, Google have developed a chat based

chat based solution, which is available if you were to search, or in just standard, your standard browser based search that you might have on your phone.

Or if you are in Google Maps. Now interestingly, if I want to find the opening time of something,

I’ve noticed this myself, I tend to go to maps, I tend to go to maps, I find the place, I’m going to try and find out what time it opens. And there it is. Now, what Google have done is created a chat based feature that allows you then to potentially have a chat between the particular business the really local business and yourself.

And so yeah, I suspect, as you say, what the trends that these are going to the sort of the large,

sort of tech players, like metta and Google want to do is to have spend more and more time in their universe than outside. Yeah. I mean, I mean, what’s the difference between a search bar and your chat bar? If you’re talking with someone, so you could be chatting with someone, you just type into your chat bar? And then they just give you the answer the answer bappy, one of these automated systems, and then it just comes back with the information maybe in a little bit more of a message friendly format, but that be engaging, because it’ll give you a notification, and then it gives you licence to then go back and then have more of a two way dialogue with the business as an example. Well, the real extension, remember when Google launched rich business messaging back in 2018, in the UK, and the hyper bowl that tends to come with Google launches, is that they believed that, you know, this has the potential of wiping out 90 95% of all apps on phones, yeah, because you won’t need to go. Banking is a great example of that. Why go into if the security is there.

And they’re happy that you’re speaking to the right person and all that. Very, very, very important stuff around security, why open an app to go and find out what your balance is, when you might be able to go into a messaging conversation with, you know, Barclays? What’s my balance? Type out? What’s my balance? And you’ll just get that back straightaway? Why bother going into an app to do that? You know, so I think only you really think about some of the interactions that you might do with some of the these sorts of organisations, you might find that the trend could be that they could be automated, automated all within the messaging application. I mean, security would have to be there. But it’s just interesting terms. Like, how would we have to think differently around customer journeys? In almost like, we did think of everything, almost like in this static sort of web page portal type format before. And even now we think of that in terms of like, well, I’m going to go to this page, I need to get to this page. And it changes it into almost like a stream of consciousness on on messaging, doesn’t it? Well, you sort of like, well, what is the journey? And how do I then sort of go throughout that journey to reach my endpoints? Yeah, it’s quite, it’s an interesting, it’s a different way of thinking of almost like the, the experience to certain extent is more like a conversation in a conversational manner. And time becomes becomes an interesting

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variable within that. So no longer do you have to think about customer journey from a being synchronous perspective. So your customer journey could last for seven hours,

is as especially on a messaging channel, as somebody goes to work, they might send you a send a message to try and ask a particular query, you would then answer they would pick it up during their break, they would then potentially answer again, in lunch, they would then complete the transaction on the way home or transaction or interaction. So time becomes a particular very, can you create asynchronous customer experiences as well as synchronous customer experiences? And that becomes a whole different way of managing customer interaction? How do we best manage the multiplicity of channels and the pros and the cons of each of them? Because the customers are going to prefer one or the other depending on the demographic? I would imagine? Yeah, I think consumers always go for the path of least resistance. And I think they’re from a customer experience perspective, from the availability of channels, and I think it’s up to brands to ensure that they’re listening to customers. And understanding that a shift in trends shift in the type of interactions almost What channel is, is the best channel for that type of use case. Yeah. So we were talking about to our customers optimization.

How do you optimise for

a particular reason if you’re optimising for for marketing, if you’re optimising for engagement? You might have quite

an inexpensive campaign because you’re going to be send it to the most number of people so you can get the reach as high as possible, but you want to ensure that the you’ve got the the engaging content. However, if you are optimising for delivery, you’re optimising for the

customer must receive that interaction, you might choose a more expensive channel instead. Yeah. And so there’s a really interesting play where you’ve got to understand the use case that you’re designing the customer experience around, and then optimise to what is most important for, for the customer? What about information that comes back as well, so that they have different levels of information that comes back? I mean, so if you’re sending, I imagine much more so like basic SMS campaign, it might be different than if you’re sending, you know, a more more complicated one was like rich, rich, rich messaging type campaign that that comes back into how the information comes back how you can then use that to then decide what the best journey is. I mean, does that does that vary? And then you also have barriers, I suppose, for example, WhatsApp business chat, you have to get approval to be able to send the messages. I mean, I mean, how should we start thinking about that in terms of as we sort of laid out, because I think everyone’s kind of just defaulted to SMS, because everyone has a mobile phone, everyone has an SMS, and you know, it’s gonna get there. And it makes it easy, right? Yeah, you’re 100%. Right. creating and sending an SMS campaign is really quite straightforward. Yeah.

As, as you probably know, yourself receiving messages, you know, you can choose to, to actually have a message being sent with your brand name in the subject line, almost like for an SMS in the Who is this from? It’s from Tesco, for example.

But that doesn’t necessarily facilitate the reply functionality. So if you if you’re sending a broadcast message, it’s from Tesco, here’s your Tesco ClubCard voucher, whatever, you know, you will get how many messages were delivered. And if you’ve included a link in there, if you’ve got link tracking, you can see how many people click the link, or something much more sophisticated, such as a conversational marketing experience, you could get all manner of different KPIs. And this is why this is what I mean about optimization. It all depends on what you’re optimising for. And I think if you’re optimising for conversion rate, that is where some of the more sophisticated KPI services sophisticated analytics will actually be much, much more powerful. Because, as I said, you can then begin to measure engagement in time, I think I think a brand new, a brand new, you know, 2023 2024 KPI that is going to rank alongside click through rate, open rates, bounce rates that you’ve got with emails and delivery rate for SMS, I think is going to be attention rate. How can I measure my campaign with how much attention that I managed to get from my from my customers or prospects with this campaign?

So in any collections arriving to might be, how much engagement Do you have? How much attention they have? How far down the journey? Do they go before they go somewhere else? And do they stay engaged as well versus just leaving it? I mean, all of those will be valid questions, I would think, yes, absolutely.

It’s, it’s very interesting. And I suppose, you know, tickly in the context of the current environment in terms of like, engagement with prayer is I do kind of things. But I mean, where do you where do you think we sort of go from here? I mean, you’re obviously talking with financial services providers, you’re talking with marketing? Where do you think this will like, what does the new year look like in terms of where we go from here in terms of the messaging space? I think?

I personally believe in the conversations that I’ve had. So far this year, there are some that believes that going through COVID, going through, maybe even as far back as the financial crisis of 2008, leaves those organisations in a good place to manage the demand that is going to come next year.

But I think there’s also organisations, which I personally agree with in that they’re looking at ways they believe that they’re not ready, and that they’re not really, they don’t really comprehend what kind of demand is going to be coming their way,

in 2023, and therefore are looking at ways of those marginal gains now.

And, and I think, those organisations that are innovating, especially around the

sort of the non revenue generating interactions, so it could be cancellation process, it could be refunds, it could be a failed direct debit in the collection space, of course, it could be,

you know, the likelihood impre erased, the showing the, the proclivity to be going into a race, you know, what type of customer journey can you create, that is going to manage that peak demand. And I believe that, that peak demand is going to be of a nature where there’s gonna have to be some thinking around automated communication, you know, that doesn’t need an agent, very valuable agent,

completely clogged up with non value adding interactions that could be satisfied through, you know, sort of really straightforward, conversational AI solutions. And that’s exactly the type of conversation that we’re having at the moment. Yeah, I mean, I think certainly what it opened my eyes to was it’s not just, it’s not just the channel which used to try and go

Hold of people. It’s also this whole new world that’s out there in terms of what you can say to then try and get the engagement as well. So it’s kind of like it because you need both of them as well. So it’s not just like, do they actually read it? So it’s like, then how do you get the engagement? And it’s what you say, and the capability you’ve got into, like, what you can say to actually get them engaged? And is this sort of this this world? That seems like it’s kind of opening up in terms of doing that sort of relatively cost effectively, to get people to have more attention than maybe they had using some of the older methods? And it seems like it’s an area that is developing really well, James is faster. It’s fascinating area. I mean, I know we’ve talked quite a bit already, and I think we’d like to talk longer. But, but I wanted to thank you very much for spending the time today and it’s been great. It was really interesting. It’s been a real pleasure, Chris, thank you for having me on.

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