Aug 14, 2023

Not like watching paint dry! The art of providing real-time customer interactions

Real-time AI interactions are the key to not boring customers out of their mind. So... how do you provide real-time experiences?

Not like watching paint dry! The art of providing real-time customer interactions

Nobody likes to be kept waiting – but especially not your customers. In fact, three out of 10 consumers claim they would quite literally rather watch paint dry than be left on hold. Ouch.

The poll of 3,000 people found that waiting for a customer service response was the most painful thing Americans have to deal with, along with sitting in traffic. The same could undoubtably by said further up the customer lifecycle, waiting for a marketing or sales response.

So, as customers, why do we even reach out at all?

Well, when interactions are done right, they leave people feeling warm and fuzzy. In fact, when polled, 59% of people said their most positive customer service memory was of an employee successfully resolving a problem for them and being honest and clear when doing so.

Extra marks were given by consumers when that employee was attentive (52%), acknowledged the customers’ frustrations (49%), and was happy themselves (47%).

It’s the human touch that people remember.

Get a customer experience wrong, however, and people are unforgiving. One-third of people will stop using a beloved brand after just one poor experience, according to PwC.

So an inter-personal, human-to-human experience in real time and with no hold times? Simple!

We’re going to explain why that might not be the impossible task it first seems to be, particularly now we're in the age of conversational AI. We'll also dive into the ways you can avoid “watching paint drying” as a more preferable option than your customer experience strategy.

What are real-time customer interactions?

Speaking to an employee in a store is a real-time customer interaction. So is ringing a customer service line on the phone. Or messaging a rep on live chat. Even social media channels can offer real-time responses, when there’s someone answering customer questions "live".

Any time a brand communicates with a consumer in the moment using back-and-forth dialog, they are offering real-time interactions.

Engaging with people in real time can dramatically improve their perception of a brand if – and it’s a big “if” – they aren’t forced to wait around.

Unfortunately, being put on hold for too long is the most common complaint from consumers, and tops the list of the three worst customer experiences. 51% say it’s their biggest customer experience bugbear. Being transferred between departments multiple times comes in a close second (49%).

These examples show the difference between “technically real time” but poor customer experiences (CX) and great real-time CX. A phone call is a real-time interaction, but being put on hold and passed between departments isn’t in the spirit of what brands are trying to accomplish. Neither is when a customer has to catch a bus to the store to speak to someone in person.

So for the sake of clarity, we’re going to focus on elements of real-time customer interactions that make for a better customer experience – interactions that are responsiveness, data-empowered, fast, friendly, efficient and convenient.

But first, allow us to clear up an important distinction...

What isn't a real-time AI interaction

So what isn't "real time"? It might seem like a silly, elementary question; but in the age of AI, there's some confusion.

AI video generators, while offering humanlike content, aren't real-time applications. You could use them to create cool, memorable customer video guides, but they can't answer a particular customer question in the moment.

This is perhaps the biggest confusion when it comes to our digital humans and platforms like Synthesia, D-ID, Colossyan and more. These are your go-to tools for creating impressive AI videos – say a series of videos allowing you to onboard new clients.

A digital human, meanwhile, is real-time interactive. It's more akin to having a customer service representative on a video call guiding you and answering your questions face to face. We can dive deeper into how digital humans work shortly.

Do real-time customer experiences actually matter?

Yes, is the short answer. YEEESSSSSS! Is the long one.

Whether it’s business-to-business (B2B) or business-to-consumer (B2C), people want to be able to talk to the companies they deal with in real time.

A recent Salesforce study found a staggering 80% of B2B customers expect other businesses to be available (and responsive) immediately. B2C customers are a little less demanding, but not much. Nearly two-thirds (64%) still expect organizations to offer real-time interactions.

Nowadays, an automated “please do not reply to this message” email isn’t going to cut it with many customers. And if people are forced to wait, they don’t expect to wait long. Sprout Social figures show around 40% of consumers expect a response from a company’s social media channel within an hour.

To put that in perspective, the most attentive industries (legal and real estate) only managed to respond to 29% of social media queries – not within an hour; at all.

It’s not just social. Whatever the channel, organizations often struggle with real-time customer interactions for a very simple reason: scale. Their marketing, sales and customer service reps can’t be everywhere and talking to everyone at once, all of the time.

Automation can help lighten the load, but as we’ve seen, consumers like the human touch. Chatbots and virtual assistants are easily scalable and available 24/7; however, are they capable of building rapport and delivering a memorable customer experience in the same way that a person can? Probably not.

And nearly half of consumers (49%) say their most positive customer experience memory was an employee simply acknowledging their frustration. While 41% said dealing with a grumpy employee was one of their top customer service peevs. Empathy and friendliness matter, and this is where many automation solutions fall short.

The good news is that brands are aware they need to up their game. Salesforce revealed that engaging customers in real time was a marketers’ biggest challenge. Their second biggest? Innovating.  

Why not try to kill two birds with one stone? Let’s see how businesses can make that a reality.

Bringing real-time customer experiences to life

Let’s recap some of the key challenges that brands face:

  • Customers want real-time interactions and don’t want to be left waiting.
  • Businesses only have so many employees to meet expectations in real time.
  • Automated solutions are scalable, but often lack personality and empathy.
  • A bad experience is enough to turn a customer off your brand for life.

That’s a lot of hurdles to jump. But there are also significant benefits for brands that can provide the right customer experiences. According to Salesforce, 84% of customers believe the experience they have with a company is more important than its goods and services – up from 80% in 2018.

This is where conversational AI can lend a helping hand. A digital human provides an enhanced AI-powered customer experience, with businesses enjoying all the best bits of automation, while also delivering a more empathetic, personal service.

Digital humans are scalable, available 24/7 and can plug into multiple channels within your omnichannel strategy, whether it’s online, through mobile or in-person via physical kiosks.

“Our chatbot can do most of these things,” you may be thinking. But digital humans go beyond traditional text and voice features. Some fantastic things happen when you give your chatbot a face – as well as some fun but curious things. You get the benefits of  real-time customer interactions, but those interactions carry the non-verbal cues real people use, and the emotional range real people have.

Instead of choosing between a chatbot or a waiting on hold for a human, digital humans offer a touch of both worlds.

Ultimately, digital humans are designed to be more than just a triage system for your customer teams. It’s about offering the people who interact with your organization a friendly face to talk to when they need help or advice.

After all, an emotionally connected customer has a 306% higher lifetime value to a company than a customer who is merely satisfied. They will also stay a customer for 50% longer on average and be much more likely to recommend a brand to others (71% vs 45%).

How do I start creating real-time digital interactions with customers

OK, so competing with drying paint isn’t a high benchmark. With competitiveness high and consumer patience at an all-time low, customer experience needs to be more than bearable – it needs to be exceptional.

So how do you get started into what might sound like a brave new (but costly) world? To be a bit salesly for a minute, we’ve made it as easy as possible to find out.

If you’ve got a chatbot, you’re already off to a great start. For a little extra inspiration, take a look at our new eBook on building a digital workforce. You can also check out our Buyer's Guide if you want a peek at what your digital human project could look like, how we build one for your brand, and even why it might not be your best solution (if you're not looking for real-time interactions, for instance).

But, of course, you might need real-time answers to your real-important digital human questions. For that, you can speak to Sophie on our homepage – our AI website guide extraordinaire.

We think that beats watching paint dry any day of the week. We'd love to know what you think too!