What is a Conversation, why is it Important?


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A conversation is the most straightforward, easy to describe, form of communication. Very few people, if anyone, will raise an eyebrow and say ‘conversation, I am not sure what you mean’. This is an important distinction when compared with an interaction, a relationship or engagement, terms we use and overuse. In the world of technology more often than not we make what should be straightforward concepts and bend them, morph them, break them, turning simple concepts into nearly unrecognizable shadows of their former selves. Like developers and scientists, business people need to break concepts down into small, atomic components; objects, that can be worked with, understood, isolated and used to build more complex systems. Conversations are the foundation, the object to be used.

At a conceptual level, a conversation is easy to describe and easy to understand.

While the concept of a conversation is simple and straightforward, there is no universally accepted definition. However, there are two loosely held axioms; a conversation is verbal and it is between two people. As a technologist and someone who is preparing for the future, I am going to stray from these axioms; a conversation does not need to be between two people, nor does it need to be verbal. My working definition is as follows: A conversation is a synchronous exchange of messages, verbal or written, between two entities, intended to achieve or drive towards an outcome. The formality is important so that discussions regarding personal or business communication have this common baseline. Using conversations as the core object, we can extend it; designing and developing systems of engagement, enhance customer journeys and build powerful service and self-service platforms.

On the one hand, a conversation can be simple, no technology required, just air; two people sitting at a table ‘having a conversation’. On the other hand, conversations can be complex, two machine based (artificially intelligent or not) bots, ‘having a conversation’, negotiating a contract on behalf of their human counterparts. Yes, this is possible. Increasingly, conversations will include non-human actors; a human on one side, a system (or systems) on the other side. Conversations that involve a person on one side and a system on the other that is my focus, that is going to be my main area of research and analysis for at least 2018 and likely beyond. What an enterprise requires to be ready, that is my purview, my charter. From Alexa and Google in the homes to Chatbots and Intelligent Assistants, organizations are going to need to be prepared, smart and prepared to scale.

Conversational Intelligence is the Key to Successful Business Outcomes

This discussion is about Conversational Intelligence. In the business world conversations between company and customer are sometimes simple but more often complex. The complexity involves many different elements; context, timing, information, permission, and even legal issues (HIPAA, GDPR). There is so much to know about each conversation, each customer, employee, prospect, each service request. Stated most simply, this is the intelligence that you (as a business) need to know about the person on the other side of the conversation. This Intelligence must be woven into the fabric of your organization, become part of your DNA. This is more than analytics or personalization, this is about understanding customer needs, understanding what jobs customers are trying to get done and driving positive outcomes. There are right times to have a conversation and there are wrong times to have a conversation. There are right and wrong conversations to have! Conversations are inputs into customer engagement, customer journeys and each customer interaction.

Conversational Intelligence — Weave Intelligence into the DNA of your Organization

As I stated in my Opus post last week:

“A customer is any individual who wants something, anything, to get done (e.g. an employee is a typical customer, a customer of HR). There are many types of customers and using a conversation as an object allows this discussion to be both horizontally broad and vertically deep. Abstracting a conversation allows for discussion of sales, service, marketing, employment, collaboration, assistance, and guidance.”

Where a discussion about conversations differs from other communication types such as interactions, engagement or experiences, is that a conversation is foundational to customer-company communications. When taking the customer point of view, there should not be an intent to have a ‘next conversation’. If the customer journey is a set of epics, with marketing, sales, and service representing their own unique segment of the journey, a conversation is a story about one point in time within one part of that journey. Conversational Commerce will transform how your customers communicate and do business with you. Conversational Intelligence will transform their experience, by adding context to their journey and enhance their experiences. Saying and sharing the right thing at the right time will create a new imprint of your brand’s key messages. Conversations do not need to be long and drawn out, they can be quick and purposeful. “Where is my order?”, “Do you have my size, color?”

In a perfect world, each conversation between a customer and your company would be between two people, but that simply will not scale. The future will be about the enterprise creating and supporting different modes of communication; customer will choose the mode that they like, and will likely change from one mode to another; within one conversation. A conversation may start as an SMS switch to Chat then to Voice if needed, just to suggest one of many. Digging in deeper, Chat could be with a person or a Chatbot, a system. Voice could be a person or a digital agent or assistant. The digital agent could be through a public channel; say Alex or Google, or a private agent. If this sound complex, it is and it is not going to get any easier, anytime soon.

There are so many interesting and important questions: What does it feel like to converse with a Bot? Do customers care? If so, how much (if they can get their job done?) What personality does a Bot have? Should the personality match the customer? Is that level of personalization creepy? By the same token, there will be entirely new types of conversation that will emerge based on the physical contexts; car, home, walking on the street, looking around a store. I will be exploring these questions and many more.

If you are an enterprise looking to figure things out, please feel free to reach out. If you are a vendor, I will be building out a set of reports based on what I describe above. Are you ready?


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