Customer-interaction tech firm Workface moves to bigger HQ

Lief Larson, CEO Workface Inc.

Lief Larson, CEO Workface Inc.

Software company Workface Inc. has moved into larger digs and ramped up hiring following a round of funding.

The business recently moved into about 5,400 square feet of space in the Colonial Warehouse Building at 212 Third Ave N. in Minneapolis’ warehouse district. It relocated from about 800 square feet in Northeast Minneapolis.

Professionals use Workface’s software to interact with prospective and current customers via instant messages, video chat and audio. The company doesn’t disclose revenue, but CEO Lief Larson said 2013 sales were up 400 percent compared to the previous year. The firm also recently opened a small office in Seattle to be closer to customers.

Workface has about 14 employees and plans to hire more in the coming months.

The business targets real estate agents (the National Association of Realtors has an equity stake in the company), insurance companies, financial-services firms and travel agencies. It’s also expanding into health care, Larson said.

Workface kept relatively quiet since raising about $2.6 million in funding last year in a round led by Arthur Ventures, according to the MoneyTree Report. Larson declined to disclose further details about the round, but said a Fortune 500 company based in Wisconsin participated a strategic investor.

Workface is gaining traction with firms that want to boost sales through more personalized communication, he said. “We’re helping our customers interact in a human, face-to-face way.”

The company will soon release a version of its technology that doesn’t require users to download software onto their computers.

by , Staff reporter-Minneapolis / St. Paul Business Journal

 

Workface, Leading Web-Based Sales Enablement Platform, Announces Impressive Growth

Company Expands to New Offices, Makes Strategic Hires and Obtains Funding

MINNEAPOLIS, MN–(Marketwired – Mar 27, 2014) - Workface, Inc., the leading solution for real-time and uniquely humanized Web-based sales enablement, today announces significant growth across the enterprise. The company, based in Minneapolis, Minnesota, recently moved into a new and substantially larger corporate headquarters facility. The new corporate headquarters will accommodate a significant expansion in employees, as a result of new hires made over the last few months, further hiring currently underway, and plans to continue throughout 2014.

Workface has also recently opened a new office in Seattle, Washington, located in an area commonly referred to as the “Silicon Canal.” The area includes other technologically focused companies like Adobe, Google and Tableau Software, and was chosen as the second home for Workface, so customers in the Seattle area and throughout the West Coast would have local access to the company.

As a further testament to its growth, Workface recently welcomed Tammy Burns Woodhouse to lead the client services department. A veteran of guiding client experiences at Business Incentives, Hanley Wood Marketing and Azul 7, Woodhouse brings her expertise to oversee the expansion and development of the company’s project management, training and customer support at Workface.

“Our growth is a testament to the validity of our vision for creating real-time and humanized interaction in a world of increasingly online, largely impersonal and less than real-time commerce. The application of our unique capabilities is helping our customers improve their business models and performance in significant and quantitative ways,” said Lief Larson, founder and CEO of Workface. “We are all very proud of the milestones we’ve reached and are expecting even greater achievements going forward.”

In conjunction with the relocation to a larger office, the opening of the Seattle office, additions to the team, and hiring of more personnel, Workface has experienced significant market demand and revenue growth, and has been consistently welcoming new customers in various industries. The company has also been receiving positive feedback from analyst firms regarding the uniqueness of, and significant need for, the Workface offerings. Analysts have furthermore endorsed the value proposition that the technology offers to corporations and individuals seeking to inject a human element into Web-based commerce.

In tandem with these other areas of growth, Workface recently finalized a significant capital investment. The funds are being used for expansion of the company’s direct and strategic sales plan, new and even more innovative product development and providing a compelling and unique business culture.

About Workface

Workface is an enterprise-class and Web-based sales enablement platform based in Minneapolis, Minn. that humanizes commerce on the Internet by providing real-time communication between sales professionals and today’s online and prospective customers. The SaaS model solution provides a platform to connect via authentic, multi-channel, real-time text, audio and video chat. The Workface solution includes website and social media integration to create a better online experience for customers and businesses. Workface tools bring human contact to the Internet-based buying process, delivering “Real People, Real Answers, Real Time.” For more information, please visit www.workface.com.

 

IMG_6170 IMG_6148

Helpful Links:

Twitter: @workface
https://www.facebook.com/workface

Contact:

Media
Rebecca Hasulak
Ubiquity Public Relations
Email Contact
(323) 902-6855

 

New Workface Features and Capabilities Released

Workface is proud to announced that we’ve implemented several new features and capabilities which we’re very excited about!

  • HTML5 Anonymous Chat

We’re happy to announce to release of the new HTML5 Anonymous Chat application to all of our clients.  This version makes our chat available to users on all modern web platforms, including mobile browsers.

As of today, if your customer visits a Workface user’s chat “connect” page, they will be shown the Flash standalone chat if they have Flash installed.  If they do not have Flash (many mobile devices), they will see the new HTML5 version.  We’re still testing the audio/video capabilities of the HTML5 version.  Once the development of the audio/video functionality is complete we will be removing the legacy Flash chat in all scenarios.  Until then, users with Flash will continue to see the older Flash chat and all other users will see the new HTML5 chat without audio/video chat. This is a significant milestone for Workface as it means that our client’s customers can now text chat with agents using Workface from virtually any web-connected device, including tablets, smart phone, and even some web-enabled televisions.

HTML5 chat screenshot

  •  Export Chat History

There is a new feature just pushed out to the Administration section of workface.com.  The newly completed feature allows administrators to Download chat history in CSV file format directly from the “Chat Log” area.  To use this, simply click on “Edit Filters”, choose the appropriate filters by clicking the check box to the left, and adjusting the options appropriately, then hit “Apply”.  Once you have filtered the chat logs, hit “Download CSV” and the file will download and prompt you to open or save it.

Workface has always had a 100% data portability policy since our inception.  We feel strongly that our clients, and only our clients, own their data created through chats. This new feature was added to enable our clients to maintain data portability over their chat history log files. For various reasons having ready access to this data is important, including for CRM exporting/importing, chat log admin and manager review for quality assurance, and for regulatory compliance considerations.

  •  Salesforce CRM Integration

Workface client can subscribe to the optional Salesforce CRM integration and link their Workface account to their Salesforce account.  When linked, all new Workface chats will be linked to the Salesforce account. The chats will sync and appear in Salesforce as a custom field object which is called the ‘chat record’ and is assigned to the specific Workface user who conducted the chat.

To learn more about the Salesforce option, or to obtain instructions for connecting a Workface account with a Salesforce, please contact your Workface account representative.

–by Lief Larson

 

My Day with Satya Nadella

Satya_Nadella

 

It was widely announced late Monday that Satya Nadella will replace Steve Ballmer as the CEO of Microsoft. This hire not only ends a months-long search, but it also celebrates an achievement pinnacle for a person who has worn so many hats within Microsoft over a 22 year career. Though there is much talk of the respect Microsoft employees have for Satya, I thought I would share my perspective based my day with Satya as I believe it provides some insight into his character.

Workface Inc. has had an incredible backer in Fargo, ND-based Arthur Ventures (www.arthurventures.com). Partners James and Doug Burgum co-lead the investment in Workface and also had very strong ties to Microsoft.  Doug was the long-time CEO of Great Plains Software which was acquired by Microsoft in 2000.  Subsequently, Doug stayed on at Microsoft and contributed to building the Dynamics business at the megalith.  As a result, Doug developed many strong and lasting relationship that continued after his departure in 2007.  Once of those relationships is with Satya Nadella.

James and Doug, being the incredible guys they are, were always asking me how they could add value and help Workface become more successful.  In August of 2010 I proposed an idea to them that I thought might have some future application for Microsoft’s Bing search engine.  Doug was planning a trip to the Seattle/Redmond area and offered to help me with a connection within Microsoft and to hitch along for the Washington visit.  Going straight to the top, Doug helped get me in front of none other than Satya Nadella who, at the time, was running the engineering for Bing and Microsoft online advertising (basically a multi-billion dollar “division” of Microsoft).

The day started with a visit to the Microsoft campus.  Doug introduced me to Satya.  I knew I only had about 20 minutes scheduled with Satya, so my game plan was to simply share my idea in 2-3 minutes, then sit back, be quiet, and listen.  To my surprise, Satya, very tactfully, pulled me into a highly engaging and interactive discussion where he asked me questions and rapidly fired off ideas of his own on how I could potentially bring my idea to life.

I found Satya to be kind, diplomatic, energetic, and highly intellectual. He exhibited all the qualities of a leader, but especially a keen ability to help the person with the idea (namely myself) have a pathway to execution. Literally, Satya laid out a STEP #1, STEP #2, STEP #3 plan to help me reach my goal.

Yes, my idea was unique, but Satya’s time was also at a premium.  Because he found the topic engaging, and I truly believe he saw the future potential value to Microsoft, he cleared additional time on his schedule and gave me over two hours to play out the idea. That showed me what a dynamic leader he is.

Later that afternoon our meeting ended so that Doug and Satya could go out for lunch as friends and old colleagues, but I was left with a renewed vigor about my idea, about my time with Satya, and frankly my improved impression of Microsoft.  Sayta, in that time, revealed all four qualities of a great leader: 1) a bedrock of principles, 2) a moral compass, 3) a vision, 4) the ability to build a consensus to achieve that vision.

A few weeks after that meeting Satya went on to run the hardware division of Microsoft and then Microsoft’s cloud computing and enterprise technology division which, under his tenure, experienced a staggering 30% revenue growth. I congratulate Satya on the hard work, integrity, and dedication that resulted in this incredible promotion.  I look forward to the weeks to come as Satya lays out his vision for Microsoft.

TIDBIT: Satya Nadella was Midwest-educated at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee, then obtained his Master’s degree in business administration from the University of Chicago.

–by Lief Larson

Customer Service Then & Now

As Lief Larson mentioned in an earlier post, the web today is anything but anonymous for both consumers and businesses. Your web identity is your business identity. Period. How your customers experience the web is how they experience your business.

 Positive Service = Satisfied Customers

Satisfied Customers = Good Business

Good Business = Happy You

The equation hasn’t changed. What has changed, thanks to the web and the hyper visibility it provides, are the context and tactics to deliver positive service (and ultimately a happy you). The web is now the hardest working front line employee in any organization. The experience your customer has on your site is the touch point with the most riding on it.

Here are a few customer service déjà vu moments to consider:

The bad attitude The tone, look and feel of your site communicates the front line attitude. Does your site look like it is happy to be at work today? Don’t let your electronic personality be the digital equivalent of a burned out truck stop waitress. Do a site review for branding. Retire a tired format and change the tone to reflect the attitude of your business.

The wrong information There’s no more “he said, she said” plausible deniability with web commerce. Every piece of information is documented, saved and retrievable. Prevent misunderstandings with a site review for content. Make sure that every piece of data on your site is correct and not easily misinterpreted.

The runaround This oldie-but-goodie is alive and well on the web in the form of a complex user experience. Requiring customers to dig for information several pages deep is the digital equivalent to making them sit through a bad “Who’s On First” sketch. A user experience review will quickly indicate the degree to which your site is simple and easy to use. Correlate those UX results with analysis of your page level site metrics to surmise if bounce rate indicate customers are finding the information they need and leaving the page quickly, or if customers are digitally wandering and clicking randomly.

That’s not my job Limited functionality that prevents the customer from completing their transaction in three clicks or less is a guaranteed sales prevention tactic. Add tasteful, appropriate shortcut buttons or links to every page, such as “try/buy now” to help customers cut to the chase and move on.

Slow service After the customer has established that the website can’t solve their problem, they are often confronted with the “Contact Us” form. Make sure the person behind the curtain is not Lily Tomlin’s character Ernestine the Telephone Operator wickedly cackling, “fill out this form and we’ll get back to you …. never”. Develop, review and follow customer response protocols. This can be a manual system or support from one of the many software tools available.

Bad press Not so long ago, unhappy customers told a few people in their immediate circle. The lucky few who heard Aunt Edna complain about too many people at a wake judged when to dismiss her rants and when to call the fire marshal. Today, unhappy customers can (and do) tell everyone in their social network and copy everyone in cyberspace for good measure. Monitor chatter on the web. Ignore the trolls, but ask yourself, “how is this criticism valid” and change the things you can.

The escalation path to nowhere The escalation path that got your call transferred to someone who transferred you to someone who let your call go to voicemail and never got back to you did not entirely go the way of the telephone tree. A process that requires customers to set up an account, then login, then reset their password, then navigate to a contact us page for the privilege of sending an email to your company leaves customers saying, “I just want to talk to a real person now”. This is where authentic, real-time text, audio, video and chat technology like Workface® can help you humanize your business on the web. Workface blends simplicity and common sense with the power of conversation.

Here’s one point of customer service that hasn’t changed in the digital world:

Perception is reality The customer’s perception of their experience with your company is their perception of your company. Customer service is something that every member of your organization, and especially your number one front line employee – the web – must get right every time over and over again.

by Tammy Burns Woodhouse

Tammy bio photo

About the author: http://workface.com/meet-the-team

Defining the “Asocial Networking” Opportunity in Commercial Context

By: Lief Larson

Social networking services are platforms designed to build social networks or social relations among people who share interests, activities, backgrounds, or real-life connections. However, many social networking services (take Facebook or LinkedIn for example) are designed with the premises that the users need to validate their connection prior to being permitted to connect, and that both parties to the social networking service intend to maintain a lasting social connection.  But, does this model obstruct commercial scenarios in which no pre-formed social connections are necessary or where there is negligible desire for an ongoing relationship after the transaction?
In many commercial settings and scenarios the relationship between buyer and seller is initiated only because of a desire to complete a transaction.  As a result, there is trivial interest to maintain an ongoing social bond beyond the culmination of the transaction.  E.g. it is winter and my furnace went out and I need to talk to a heating technician, but after he has my furnace working again I do not plan to continue a perpetual relationship.

Likewise, the initial part of the transaction, which we could call the “pre-purchase” or “information gathering” stage of the customer lifecycle would not necessitate a pre-formed social bond, and in cases where the buyer would want to freely engage the seller, would have an extremely high likelihood that no prior social bond existed or would be necessary for both parties to pull value from an impromptu and temporary relationship. E.g. I just bought a used car and need to talk with an insurance agent right away to make sure the car will have appropriate insurance coverage today, but I’m not “friends” with my agent in LinkedIn or Facebook because I use those sites for other purposes.

Furthermore, there are likely scenarios where a secondary network connection may be valuable to the buyer, independent of whether he or she has a fully baked connection with the primary asocial connection.  E.g. I’m considering buying a small vacation property via my agent Amy, so I ask her for a referral to a property inspector who specializes in vacation homes, and Amy suggests I chat with Hank.

So, we might define these scenarios as follows:

asocial networking: the opportunity to temporarily connect to primary, secondary or tertiary persons in the absence of a pre-formed social networking service relationship with no requirement for an ongoing association beyond the immediate and short-term engagement with the goal of considering and concluding a commercial transaction.

In summary, there are commercial situations where available social networking services may inhibit business dealings in which no pre-formed social connections are required or where there is limited need for a continuing relationship after the transaction.  We delineate these type of commercial circumstances as asocial networking opportunities.

BETA Version Release: Workface 1.2.1

January 8, 2014

Dear Workface Customers,

Workface has released a new BETA version of Workface desktop software. Here is the link to the new build of Workface Desktop Build 1.2.1:

http://desktop.workface.com/Workface_1.2.1.air

Release Notes:

  • Fixed logout bug (now stays logged out).  This was an issue reported by many users wherein they would logout, but Workface would automatically log them back in after a varying amount of time.
  • Added support for company-wide auto login and auto update.  Now you can set, at an organizational level, whether you auto-update your Workface version, or do so at your own company-controlled increments.  This is especially useful in situations where, due to admin or security rights management, users require system administrator approval to update Workface software.  Previously Workface would alert a user to upgrade even though that user may not have the authority to upgrade their system.  Now those alerts can be disabled until a system admin would choose to initiate the software upgrade.
  • Added check to ensure conversations are synced with the server.  In some situations conversations were synched latently.

Marketers Prepare – The Future of the Web is Anonymous

Anonymous

I remember the late 1980′s Internet (pre-browser days) when I would connect via the telephone line in my home with a Hayes Smartmodem.  Back then your only choice for “social networking” was IRC, it was text-only and you would like.  Other than my handle, I was basically incognito.

 

Over the last twenty-something plus years the World Wide Web has blossomed into this marvelous tool where first the world’s information became organized and searchable, then the people.  Who could have imagined that a single website called Facebook would become a digital playground for 900 million active monthly users? [BTW- that's nearly 40% of the 2.3 billion global internet users and 13% of the global population of 7 billion people.]

 

In 1996-1997 I was attending school at the University of Minnesota (origin of the Gopher Protocol) and had a large group class with Professor Ronald Faber.  I distinctly remember getting into an argument with Professor Faber in front of the whole call wherein I stated that someday the Internet would dominate advertising and marketing spend and he thought that it would amount to a hill of beans.  His basic argument back then was that it’s too difficult to target people on the World Wide Web; much easier to identify customers and deliver messages to them via print and television.

 

Well, I think we all know how that turned out.  Today marketers can place a specific type of ad in front of a person based on IP geolocation or behavioral variables.  We marketers know just about everything about you.  When you’re browsing the web from your business, we know it.  When you’re browsing from home, we know it.  We know if you’ve been naughty or nice, and by golly we can tether that information to our CRM.  We can retarget ads to you based on your browsing history. We know what social networks you’re on.  We know where you live, your contact information, where you went to school, and a few other dozen pieces of information that might shock you. Heck, we can use your lat and longitude with a Google Earth overlay to see if you have a pool in your back yard.

Whoa, wait a second!  But what’s happening here?  Now Internet users have all these privacy settings in Facebook and can use “Do-Not-Track” settings in Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari (and by the end of 2012 Google Chrome).  What’s up?

The Digital Advertising Alliance (which represents more than 95 percent of online advertisers and other marketing and technology groups) are rushing to implement a browser-based Do-Not-Track system.  Why?  Because if the DAA fails to bring the option of anonymity to the web quickly, it is likely the U.S. Congress will pass Do-Not-Track legislation.  Two bills have reached Congress which, if enacted, would legally enforce a consumer’s decision to opt out of online tracking by advertising networks and other businesses.  Similar measures are happening in the European Union, too.

The way Do-Not-Track is being used today – without legislation – means almost no websites respect the consumers anonymity request even if they’ve set it in their browser.  That is why I’m convinced that this will lead to governmental protections: marketers and advertisers have no motivation to comply, yet.

In this anonymous future consumers (visitors) will need to grant explicit and unambiguous consent to allow companies to gather data from their visits.  Imagine the only piece of data in your Google Analytics account will show the number of visitors, and NOTHING else.  Hard to imagine, but that is the direction we are heading, and it’s looking increasingly that this will be turned on by default.

Digital customers

These changes have the potential to send shockwaves through the marketing world and few marketers are prepared.  To help you think through what this could mean for marketing, here are just a few ways Do-Not-Track could impact digital marketing:

  • Inability to deploy advertising based on specific personally identifiable characteristics or behavioral targeting
  • Inability to perform lead scoring
  • Far less analytical data being collected
  • Inability to alter/customize website content for specific types of visitors
  • Inability to understand which website pages a visitor visited or how they originated to your website
  • Inability to map a visitor to their social network
  • Inability to understand where the visitor lives (geographically)
  • Futility in passing cookies and shared objects

If Do-Not-Track and anonymity become the de facto for Internet marketers, it is plain that there are a number of areas where pain will be felt.  However, it is also likely to spawn new technologies and tools that we have not even thought about yet to tease this information from visitors or engage with visitors manually to collect information.  Not necessarily workarounds, but rather completely new ways to interact with visitors, new modes to entice visitors to proactively share their information could include:

  • “Share your personal info and save 10% on your first order”
  • “Customize your website experience by going non-anon”
  • “Want to stay anonymous?  No problem.  Let’s talk live with chat.”

 

5 Cool Social Media Tools to Help You Expand Your Small Business

Guest Post by Alicia Ranch-Traille

For a small business, the successful use of social media involves a bit more than simply “liking” a few things on Facebook. If you want to make an impact on the social media scene, you’ll need to run your presence like an election campaign. You’ll want to appeal to multiple networks, track what people are saying about you and prompt those people to leave a positive review every time they check out of your site.

Tools

If that sounds like a lot of work, it’s because it is a lot of work. Luckily, there are a ton of programs out there that can help you manage your social presence and promote your company without losing your mind. If you’re running a small business, here are 5 tools that are definitely worth a download.

1)    Monitter. Monitoring your company’s Twitter presence can be a pain, especially if you use only the default search tool to study your mentions. This is where Monitter comes in handy. Monitter is like a turbo-charged search engine for Twitter. This free, web-based program allows you to track your mentions, your hashtag trends and even your competitors’ trends over a comprehensive multi-column interface, all in real time. So if you want to see who’s tweeting about your company, just enter your Twitter handle, grab yourself a cup of coffee and watch the hits come rolling in.

2)    Social Q&A. The only thing better than a positive review of your company is a positive review of your company that your customers share with their entire social network. Social Q&A by TurnTo Networks encourages this sort of goodwill by prompting customers to answer a series of questions through an interface during checkout. They can read other customer reviews to help them make a purchasing decision, or they can post their own reviews and send them out over multiple social networks with the click of a button. Since it’s so very easy to chime in, your customers are much more likely to leave positive feedback – feedback that all of their friends will see.

3)    Sprout Social. Sprout Social is an all-inclusive management suite for your different social networks. Not only can you monitor your mentions on Facebook, Twitter, Yelp! and more, you can schedule posts and view detailed analytic reports as well. There’s even a “Discover” feature that will suggest who your company should follow or unfollow. You may be able to find a more comprehensive management service out there, but with prices starting as low as $9 a month, Sprout Social is perfect for small businesses with a small budget.

4)    Workface. What’s the point in being social if it takes you a year and a day to respond to your customers? Don’t make them wait for you to respond to an email, tweet or Facebook post – be available when they are with live chat. Social media, ironically, has made the Internet less personal. Online sales have become more about facts and figures than honest human relationships. Bring the “face to face” back online by putting a real, human voice behind your brand with Workface. It adds an additional layer of realtime communication on top of your existing social media, making it easy for customers to reach out to you.

5)    Disqus. Disqus is a must-have addition for any small business blog. This nifty, free service turns your comments section into a social conversation. After users create a Disqus account, they can take the comments they leave on your blog and repost them to their various social networks. They can also “like” other comments and subscribe to your blog as well. Disqus even comes with its own spam filter to keep your comment section free of those bots that claim that they make “$79 an hour from the comfort of home!”

Don’t lose your mind trying to manage your small business’s social media presence – sign up for one of these services and let them do the heavy lifting for you instead. They’re easy to use, and if you own a small business they’ll certainly fit your budget. And the most important reason to jump in? With these tools, you’ll spend less time staring at your computer screen and more time doing what you do best: running and growing your business.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Alicia Ranch-Traille is a freelance writer and mother of two. She writes sharp, smart articles to help small business owners navigate the often-tricky waters of social media. She’s written for GalTime, Business2Community and of course, Workface!

A Philosophy of Humanlike Customer Communications on the Internet

Philosophy

A burgeoning trend in online technology development is to improve customer experiences by making digital encounters “more human”.  But what exactly does being “more human” mean?  There doesn’t seem to be a satisfactory answer to this question yet within the Internet pundit community.  Until this question is dealt with in a meaningful way, new web-based technologies may fall short of market desires.

To answer the question of what it means to be a human on the Internet, we first need to assume that online technology can provide a humanlike experience.  If we believe this to be true, then we need to define what type of humanlike experience online technology provides.  Many would support the idea that online technology provides a humanlike experience as a communication tool, yet misses many of the emotional quotient (EQ) characteristics of actually being human.

Next, we need to further flush out what about the experience of communication qualifies as “humanlike”.  Many may agree that the mere transmission of information is not what is considered to be “humanlike” about the digital communication experience.  Rather, what makes the experience of communication “humanlike” is the result of a creation.  Whether it’s creating a new idea, a new product, or a new sale, they all require communication with others to transform a kernel of truth into reality.   Therefore, it may be concluded that if we are to make the Internet communication experience “more humanlike” we need to provide platforms that can connect our customers with the collective for the purpose of fulfilling their creation needs. E.g. A customer creates a desire for a product and explores the concept online, but requires interaction with peers and/or salespeople to bring a purchase to life.

With this view of “humanlike” online communication in mind, the recognizable flaw within the recently popular social web is the perspective from which “social” technology was developed in the first place: it was developed with the assumption that the expression of the individual is what is “humanlike” about the communication experience.  However, as mentioned above, it’s more complicated than that.  We (as humans) communicate to advance the creation of an idea; this subtle, but very significant difference impacts the types of Internet technology that can – and quite possibly should – be developed.  If we are to successfully satisfy the needs of our customers to have “more humanlike” experiences with us online then we need to develop technologies with the goal of fostering communication within the collective for the purpose of creation rather than to propagate our unique brand vanity.  E.g. Developing websites that enable the customer to tell us what they want vs. websites created based on what we think the customer wants.

So what might something like this look like?  Here is a short list of what may create a “more humanlike” online communication experience:

  • A purpose-driven professional profile for the customer-facing people in our organizations.
  • No overt collection of “vital” statistics from visitors.
  • The visitor’s ability to access a variety of methods and levels of anonymity to communicate with our organizations.

Today, many of the “social” profiles that are created online focus on “check-a-box” descriptions of the people in our organizations.  It’s very binary, which is fine for describing a machine, but lacks the ability to capture the full essence of who the person is represented within the profile.  The purpose of the person creating an online profile should be the part that stands out to a visitor (prospective customer).  In order for visitors to our websites to make meaningful “humanlike” connections, a visitor to a profile needs to feel there is a common purpose that can be achieved with the person in the profile. Unfortunately most commercial/business social network sites that enable such profiles require a prior connection with the customer in order for the customer to initiate communications.  This is highly limiting to the business desirous to be available to the visitor’s open need-state.

Another item that may create a “more humanlike” communication experience online is the elimination of the overt collection of “vital” statistics on visitors. Yes, this is contrarian to everything we know about the science of visitor intelligence and pulling customers into a CRM.  However, customer relationships in the offline world do not commence with one party having to fill out a short questionnaire before a conversation begins with the other person about a buying scenario.  Rather, this customer intelligence is revealed through the building of a trusted relationship first.  If this collection of data could be delayed in the online world until the 3rd or 4th “date”, a “more humanlike” experience is created through focus on building trust and rapport, not building a database.

A final suggestion is that any platform developed for the purpose of creating a “more humanlike” experience should include a variety of contact methods and levels of anonymity under which visitors/prospects/customers can connect to our organizations.  From a single profile location, a visitor should be able to choose how they want to approach someone.  Whether it’s via IM, audio chat, video chat, email, phone, etc., different customers have different comfort levels of how they might digitally approach a new person in our organizations (such as a sales or customer support representative).  To create a “more humanlike” experience, we should offer the visitor a choice in how to connect with the people in our organizations.

In summary, it’s clear that online technology needs to address the market’s desire for a “more human” experience.  In order to do this effectively, the online development community might do well to step away from the limitations and status quo of technology for a moment and reflect on what “humanlike” experiences can and have provided our customers in the offline world, and recognize what about the experience makes it “humanlike” in the online world.

–Ann Zitzmann