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Virtual Sales Rep Boosts Productivity by 50%

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After having struggled for years to reduce its phone support load, Loftus Photography turned to Oddcast to implement a virtual sales rep, enabled with artificial intelligence, to assist potential customers. The avatar, named Kathleen, was taught to respond to user questions with context-sensitive spoken answers. The results were huge: a 50% increase in sales productivity due to reducing the time needed for an average phone consultation, as well as increased customer satisfaction. Click here to chat with Kathleen and see for yourself.

Proving the potential of virtual worlds

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I often get asked to explain why SecondLife (SL) is more than just a geek and sex fest. Millions of people have visited this virtual world only to give up and abandon their avatar on day one (over 10 million according to Wikipedia). I don’t blame them. SecondLife isn’t ready for the mainstream. And nor is it SecondLife per-se that’s important.

SecondLife isn’t the future of life online. But what it is is an indicator of the kind of behaviour online that may soon become as mainstream as YouTube. SecondLife is really a live innovation of means of interacting online. It is used by a relatively restricted number of people and often quite fanatically by these. It isn’t mainstream and couldn’t become so until we all have significantly better computing power at home.

This is what makes SecondLife so exciting. It’s difficult to visualise what it represents; what virtual worlds will become online. It’s the same as how difficult it was to imagine what the internet would be like when the web was just a couple of computers connected together.

I think that the innovation that is being developed through the use of SecondLife will bring real change to our behaviour online. A company will make the innovation leap necessary to extend avatars and virtual worlds to the mainstream. I don’t know who, when or how this will be done, but the ingredients and beheviours typical of innovation are present and so it will happen.

Today I came across a company that shows one potential development of integrating virtual worlds into our online experience. RocketOn turns the entire web into a virtual world where your avatar travels with you. And as you read a page you come across the avatars of others’ who also happen to be visiting. Could this be the future of forums? Or online communities? I think it’s a fantastic idea and it seems pretty well executed (see the Techcrunch post) and watch this video to get an idea of how it works:

An experiment in crowd-sourcing

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I had my first real experience of using crowd-sourcing to solve a business problem last week. We’re working on the design and concept for an online community that will be public later in the summer. The community is going to be covering an exciting topic and one that should appeal to a broad range of the target audience. What’s even better is the client is enthusiastic about sponsoring a community about the issues, rather than it having to be overtly product-led.

So this week we were briefing the designer to mock-up what the site will actually look like and we realised we needed a name. We started to brainstorm some ideas, but then I remembered reading about namethis, a new service from Kluster. Namethis is a collaborative product naming service and it works really simply.

  • As somebody looking for a name, I describe what I want named and pay $99. The project is then open for 48 hours.
  • As somebody suggesting names, I can just enter a name (including an explanation if desired) and it is then added to the short list. All users of the site earn points and can use these points to ‘invest’ in names they think might win.
  • When the 48 hours are complete, the site calculates the best name based on these investments and a bit of maths. The person who suggested the top three names earn money, as do the people who invested in them. In total $80 of these $99 are paid out (although users are only actually paid when they have earned more than $50, so I would imagine many of these rewards are never cashed in).

The process is simple and quite exciting. Within minutes of putting up our brief, we’d had a handful of suggestions, and in the full 48 hours 401 different names were nominated. Okay, so some of them weren’t quite right, and a few would suggest a website of a rather different nature, but we got more names than we might have got if we’d stayed in that room and brainstormed for an hour. And because the names came from over 300 different people, there was real variety there.

You can’t see on the site which are the more popular names, so any ‘investments’ you make are purely because you personally think the name is a good idea. So the winning names should be the ones that the majority of people who contributed to the project, independently, think are good names. So I was excited about the results.

When the results came I think we quickly decided we wouldn’t be going with the ‘winning’ name. It’s not a bad name, it just isn’t right for us. The second-placed name was one we couldn’t understand (was it a person’s name? was it a place?); and the third a Greek Goddess. So we probably won’t go with any of these. But of the 401 names that were suggested there are some really good ones and we’ll be suggesting a couple of these to our client.

So, what did I learn from my experience? First, namethis appears to have a large number of users from the US, so the names suggested often seem ones that might work better in that consumer market than in the UK. A second learning would be how important it is to get your brief right. This can, of course be difficult. In a real-world brainstorming scenario, you tend to refine and revise the brief as the ideas come in. You have a two-way dialogue that wasn’t possible on namethis. This might have helped, I could have said that some ideas were great but wouldn’t be quite right for us and then given reasons. This would have helped subsequent users to suggest or invest in different names.

But was it worth it? In terms of the quantity of names suggested I think so. There are some great ideas that I know we would never have come up with. And for $99 it was probably cheaper than the opportunity cost of four of us spending even half an hour brainstorming.

Bill’s last day

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It’s Bill Gates‘ last day at Microsoft today. Somebody today told me that they thought he was the greatest entrepreneur ever. Whether you’re a fan of Microsoft or not (and I should confess I’m an Mac user!) you can’t deny the impact he’s had.

So if you want to know what Bill’s going to be doing now, or just want a bit of fun for a Friday, take a look at his leaving video.

Consumers itching to talk to brands

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A new study from ExpoTV shows that 55% of consumers want an ongoing dialogue with brands. The study investigates how brands and consumers interact, and in particular how consumers want brands to engage them. And the results are exciting. In addition to the 55% wanting an ongoing dialogue, 89% of respondents said they would feel more loyal to a brand if they were invited to take part in a feedback group

These results mirror our own experiences, where involving people in a true feedback process has positive impacts on loyalty and advocacy. The ExpoTV survey looks into this in more depth and shows also how consumers will spread this positive message.

Of those who have a positive experience, 92% said they would recommend the brand to somebody else. Perhaps more striking from the perspective of generating buzz, 60% of people said they would tell 10 people or more about a brand they liked and a third would tell 20 people or more. There is a lot of willingness to create buzz and word-of-mouth for a brand that you like. There is a real strengthening of positive feelings when a brand engages a consumer. And there is a real willingness on the part of the consumer to take part in such engagement.

These are the building blocks of a really successful word-of-mouth and advocacy campaign. People want to be engaged and if you do it, this will only have a positive impact on feelings towards the brand.

For every 100 consumers about 55 want to engage with you. And nine out of ten of those that you engage would feel more positive about you as a result. So from any group of 100 customers that you try to engage in a feedback group or online community, 50 would be more loyal to the brand as a result.

From these 50 people, about a third (or 16 people) would tell more than ten people about the brand (so at least 160 people from our group) and another third would tell more than 20 people (so at least 320 people from our group). So as a conservative estimate from those 100 people you try to engage:

  • 50 of the original 100 become more loyal to the brand, and tell a further
  • 480 other people about how positive they feel about the brand.

This survey helps us to understand motivation for taking part in an online community or feedback group, and the benefits it will cause.

As a conservative estimate, these results suggest that for every 100 people you try to engage in an online community, 50 will leave more loyal to the brand and a further 480 people will hear about this loyalty through word-of mouth. That’s a huge impact for engaging a relatively small number of people.

There is a real willingness on the part of the consumer to engage with brands, and a real and demonstrable benefit to the brand of them doing this.