If you’ve been reading my co-founder Simha Sadasiva’s blog lately, you’re probably at least somewhat familiar with the concept of micro-engagements already. In the backdrop of the fact that Ushur was just officially issued the patent (US20170193557A1) on micro-engagements, I thought I would talk a little bit about the underlying technological strategy that makes this approach to Customer Experience Automation both unique and possible.
More and more of our daily lives are automated, particularly as consumers. But automation is not necessarily making things smoother for all customers on a consistent basis. To borrow an analogy from Simha, think about how much easier it is to use an ATM than it is to use the self-checkout at a grocery store. Of course, one action is far more complex than the other, with many more moving parts. But to be a viable long-term solution for consumers, self-checkout eventually needs to deliver the same painless, user-centric experience offered by the ATM.
The reality of most technologies available today, including any type of automation or AI, is that the customer is usually an afterthought. Modern technology companies are almost exclusively focused on solving back office infrastructural problems, the impacts of which they expect will eventually trickle down to the consumer. That has never worked and never will. We founded Ushur based on the idea that the customer experience must be solved first and intentionally designed into the underlying platform. When simplified, the key differentiator for Ushur is that we’ve built a platform that is architected specifically to engage at scale while meeting users where they are.
While we certainly didn’t anticipate the pandemic, we knew we needed to arm our customers with the ability to act instantly. We knew that users were suffering from information fatigue and cognitive overload — heavy websites, log-in requirements, experiences full of friction. By comparison, micro-engagements with Ushur provide a frictionless and lightweight experience. We also knew that very few consumers in today’s market are stationary. The perpetually-moving nature of micro-engagements allows the user to continually engage at any point in time based on their lifestyle and their needs.
We’ve mentioned micro-engagements, but have not really explained what they are, so what are they? Generally, they are easy ways to exchange small snippets of critical information. It’s helpful to think of micro-engagements as being measured in units. At any given point, an insurance company, healthcare provider, or financial services company is in the middle of countless small and separate units of conversation with customers. These conversations together are like a sea in that they’re fluid and might start or go anywhere — a phone call, an online portal, an email, a text. Each of these is a micro-engagement.
At the enterprise level, there are hundreds of thousands of conversations happening at any given time. Our overall experience as customers consists of each of these units. Response time, ease of use, and the facilitation of next steps all come together to formulate the holistic view and measure of a good customer experience. We set out to enable companies to provide exceptional micro-engagements that satisfy those measures with the goal of creating an overall experience that is simply awesome.
So why does micro-engagement matter? It is our belief that if a system were to bring a compelling experience to the customers, it has to be built as such right from its foundation. In a busy mobile world with so much information it is too much to ask a customer to stay engaged with an enterprise for too long. The enterprise must meet them where they are, in mobility and in short time intervals. We believe that the micro-engagements that form the foundation of our platform is getting the enterprises to meet their customers, where they are, in their journeys.
When we initially founded Ushur, the platform was designed for real time engagement, person-to-person. But we noted the nature of person-to-person engagements becoming increasingly asynchronous, and we decided the platform must be a purposeful part of the solution. We started by alleviating a common pain point — call center wait times. Instead of consumers calling in and waiting for help, an experience that might vary wildly in quality from one customer to the next, we decided to give enterprises the ability to reach out to people in a way that fits within their own personal lifestyle and maximize the value of their engagement.
Around this time, society had started to change around us, too. One trend we noticed in particular was the concept of micro-donations; people who didn’t have big sums of money to give but who wanted to make a positive impact regardless. We drew a parallel between this and consumer experience to develop the concept of micro-engagements.
How do we break down experiences to their component parts; both front end and back? Our approach is taken module-by-module. Most engagement solutions start in a similar place — a short module intended to send a message to the user with the enterprise reaching out for a specific reason. When we want that user to respond, we employ a different module. When we want them to upload a document, it’s yet another. This allows enterprises to literally build a workflow for the user piece by piece, like a Lego set.
Of course, automation on the backend needs to happen in parallel with this modular approach to customer engagement. We use the same modular, workflow-based approach here, too. And at the end of the day, no matter what the system is doing on the backend, it is still doing it on behalf of the end user and in service of their data. In some cases, the customer might only experience the engagement as a single unit, while on the backend there are actually three modules that make up that experience. A good example of this would be the collection of personal information. Say I want a customer's date of birth, phone number, and address. The customer will experience this as a single form, while on the backend it’s processed as three separate engagements.
If I may return momentarily to the self-checkout analogy to conclude, technology alone cannot solve a problem. A scanner alone isn’t enough to guarantee a good customer experience. How do you determine how many people will be in line? How many items will they have? How quickly they’ll scan and bag them? There is no way to control or enforce the experience unless it starts the moment a shopper picks their first item off the shelf – or perhaps even earlier! Customer experience automation has to be an end-to-end experience. The modular approach allows for flexibility within each and every stage of the journey, like being able to replace a small section of pipe rather than refitting an entire house’s plumbing.
Similar to a full customer experience automation strategy, customer engagement is not made up of one interaction, but many. Each of these moments requires a different action and a finite result, therefore the underlying modules that drive each interaction must be different. Tune back in next week, when I’ll dive a bit deeper into how this all looks for our customers in the implementation phase.