The Future Of Communication Between Brand & Customer


This week, we interviewed Charlie Cadbury, CEO at Say It Now about what he's learnt working with major brands such as Marriott Hotels, Ministry of Sound, Virgin Media, Aviva, Greggs and BBC. Stores using conversational commerce in the right way are said to be increasing annual revenue by 7 - 25% so we talk to Charlie about best practices, how conversational SEO works and what the future of communication looks like for brands and customers.


Lucy Hopkins: Hi Charlie. Thank you for joining us on The Botcast.

Charlie Cadbury: Very happy to be here.

LH: Great. So, I’ve heard a few podcasts with you before. Can you just tell our listeners a little bit about your background and how you came to be the CEO of Say It Now?

CC: Sure thing. I’ve had an entire career in technology. I sold my first website in 1999 then started my first software business in about 2005 with a friend of mine. We grew that into a 45-man business and we started off in the early days just building websites in 2005 to 2007, and then built a whole load of Facebook applications. We were the retained agency for Cheil, building out all of the Samsung and Facebook apps at the time, which was a whole load of funding stuff for Robbie Williams and the Prince’s Trust. I actually got my face on the advertising board at Piccadilly Circus at one point.

LH: Wow. No way.

CC: It was fun. And then we started doing a whole load of mobile phone apps. Started off with some augmentative reality apps for Peugeot and then moved on to specialise in mobile payment apps from 2011/2012. So, during that spell, that business grew quite quickly and we built about 350 mobile apps, websites and social products.

Then I found myself consulting to an enterprise travel software business in 2015. They were looking at how people are going to book their travel in a five to ten-year horizon. They were a company that build ecommerce systems for low cost airlines and looking at what other products they could use to anchor their business around. And so, Alexa had just launched in the States and we started experimenting. We built our first proof of concept of how you could build an Alexa skill and how you could book an airline ticket using your voice. And we did that in early 2016.

And that got our knowledge up and then I came up with the idea for Dazzle which, in its first instance was in room concierge for hotels. And so, we started working with Marriot in October 2016. Had a proof of concept concierge product in Marriot Hotel County Hall in December 2016. This was allowing people to go into their bedroom and say “Dazzle, can you send me a new bathrobe”, and that would go down to the concierge and get sent back up. What we worked out very, very early on was that at that point people didn’t necessarily trust voice as a channel and they needed a bit of confirmation. So, what was actually happening was that people were saying “Dazzle, can you send me a new bathrobe”, and then they were phoning down to the concierge to ask if they got the request. Which really disappoints the fact that it was integrated.

LH: Oh really? They were checking up on it?

CC: Exactly. So, we then realised that we had to, kind of, build in a secondary channel. So, we then built in a messenger bot so when you said can you send me a bathrobe? The phone would then vibrate in their pockets and say yes, we’ve received that. You’ll get a bathrobe in about ten minutes. And that, kind of, closed the loop and gave the user the confidence in the system. And so, from that point on we then built out the Dazzle platform and started putting that towards rail companies and other airlines. And myself and the VP of product for Dazzle, were contracting into this travel software business. That ended in June this year and we left and set up Say It Now, you know, using this relatively mature understanding of conversational platforms and how to build them out. And to set up Say It Now specifically to help brands meet the demands of consumers, channel shifting towards these conversational channels.

 

 

So, we’ve been in operation now for a good four or five months reaching very, very good traction from the market. We’ve got a couple of core products. One’s a conversational advertising product. And the other is more consultancy led helping companies understand and deliver against their road map and understand what the opportunities are for those businesses over the next couple of years. So, that’s been my journey here today.

LH: That’s fantastic. I noticed that one of the services you offer is conversational SEO. Is that right?

CC: Yes, very much. It’s important to understand the role that conversation’s going to have for a brand over the next few years. I gave a talk a week or so ago talking about where we are in the hype cycle. So, the message that I’ve been trying to get through over the last couple of years is that the innovation is not in smart speakers or voice and innovation isn’t in chatbots. The innovation is in natural language processing. So, that’s the underlying technology which allows humans to communicate with technology using conversation just as you and I are using right now.


'The innovation is in natural language processing. That’s the underlying technology which allows humans to communicate with technology using conversation just as you and I are using right now.'CHARLIE CADBURY, CEO AT SAY IT NOW


Now, we’re relatively early in the growth of that technology. So, although we might stand on stage and I’ve been guilty of this, and say “right, you know the future, the end game is what we’ve seen in science fiction. And it’s going to be us just standing in the middle of a room and saying right, I want A, B and C to happen”. In reality, the use cases are a little bit narrower right now so we’re doing far better creating conversational experiences with very narrow domains. And that’s why if you’ve got a smart speaker, you’re probably using it for very specific tasks like choosing music or setting timers or turning lights on and off or asking very specific questions and then people are building skills or chatbots. The best ones at the moment are those that produce very narrow tasks. But over the course of the next few years these assistants are going to get better and better.

And I talk about these playing a role of influencers. So, if you stick with me, you know, the influencer market is going to grow from a one to two billion market because marketers and advertisers are saying that they get a better return by using influencers within their campaigns. Over the next few years as your assistant of choice – so if you’ve chosen to carry Google Assistant or Alexa with you as your primary access point for services in the web, then they’re going to become your influencer. So, they’re going to be able to nudge you to buy products and services that they want you to buy and you’re going to be relatively susceptible to that.

So, with that concept in mind, the role of conversational SEO becomes really, really important. Because if you are asking Alexa to send you some more toothpaste tomorrow and then tomorrow you get some more toothpaste, where does Total get a run on Colgate and maintain their brand relevance there? So, the way that brands need to think about their conversational SEO starts now. And there’s a huge opportunity right now for those kind of brands to build skills or actions and claim their expertise. Because the way that branded skills have been actioned has changed over the last year or so. You used to have to ask Alexa to specifically open a skill. So, if you were in this, kind of, Colgate skill you’d have to say Alexa, open Colgate. Whereas there’s a huge opportunity for a user to create skills that say Alexa, tell me about best practices for brushing my teeth. And Colgate, if they create the right kind of skill, they’re then able to own those terms and become the expert in those terms and make sure that they can maintain their brand relevance as people use these systems more and more.

LH: Yes, absolutely. It’s such a fascinating space, isn’t it? And on that point and also the influencer point, I saw a stat the other day that said apparently stores and brands that are using conversational commerce in the right way, are increasing their revenue by between 7 - 25%. Which is huge, isn’t it? What would you say are the best practices for brands just starting to dip their toe in voice?


'Brands that are using conversational commerce in the right way, are increasing their revenue by between 7 - 25%'CHATBOTS MAGAZINE


CC: I think first off is not to be blinded by the shiny technology that is voice. Take a step back and look at it as a multi-channel opportunity. I mean, the way that we look at things, we don’t tend to build discreet voice skills and then chatbots. We abstract it and kind of, build one assistant that you can then apply across the different channels, but you need to start early. You need to start and create your own learning and metrics within your team because every brand’s going to be a little bit different. But then start really, really small. I mean, if you look at what ASOS have done, they haven’t gone and released a chatbot that can take you all the way to transaction. What they’ve done is they’ve started to create a chatbot that can help you curate your wish list and help you explore the range rather than go all the way to transaction.

 

 

I think starting in a really narrow domain that you can do really, really, really well, that gets you some learning and starts to get you some understanding of the way that people are using these interfaces. You can then iterate and grow. And very differently to other software development paradigms, you’re not bound to releasing an update every couple of weeks. You can really, kind of, incrementally improve this every day and there’s tools and techniques that you can use in order to build an automatic learning and improvement into these systems on a daily or hourly basis.

LH: Absolutely, yes. what other sectors would you say could really make the most of voice that maybe aren’t right now? I think brands, especially ecommerce, they’re really starting to adopt it. Are there are any sectors that you feel are lagging behind that could massively benefit?

CC: What we saw with the growth of mobile apps is that over time people trusted the channel more and more to do more and more of their higher value tasks. So, ten years ago in 2008 you probably didn’t use a mobile app to do your banking but right now you probably prefer to do that. That’s because the channel has matured over time. We’ll see the same kind of thing happen with conversational interfaces, with chatbots and voice. So, I see a huge opportunity for high value sales. At the moment, you can already buy your rail tickets and there’s a whole load of retail – and there was a nice update by Flights last night which is a burger brand, which is currently escaping me, which you can now pay at table using a chatbot, which I thought was really interesting. So, these low value, day to day tasks where it can take some of the friction out of your life, those would be the first use cases.

But over time more complicated sales where you really want to explore and curate and make your decision over time. This, kind of, asynchronous, your ability to dip in and out of a conversation and know that you’re not annoying someone. So, if you’re buying a house or if you’re buying a car, you’re able to drop into that conversation. Really, kind of, fuel yourself with all of the knowledge that you need in order to make that transaction. That can be applied to a holiday as well, I think when you’re going to spend a large chunk of money - you want to do a whole load of research upfront and you really want to be walked through. Conversational interfaces will deliver a really, really great experience because they will be the best person to walk you through that. Over time what you’re really trying to do is aggregate the best of all of the customer service and all of the sales from those industries and improve those over time. So, whatever great experience you’ve had from a human, you’ll get an even richer experience because it will be better optimised through an automated conversational experience.

We’re a number of years away from that. You’re also over, building apps or websites because these will be able to talk to you as an individual rather than apps and websites which tend to talk to you as if you are one customer.

LH: Yes, absolutely. Out of curiosity, what is your favourite skill?

CC: It’s still got to be Spotify. It’s the one that gets used the most. It’s been really, really abused my Spotify playlist. My kids are ruining all of my recommendations. I’m listening to some things which I think I’m really going to enjoy and then Frozen jumps in, Trolls jumps in. I’m up against,Justin Timberlake. It’s not a coherent rise.

LH: That’s brilliant. I know you haven’t got a massive amount of time today, unfortunately. Hopefully we can have a really good chat again. But just to round up, and you might have already answered this by your last question, what tool or app could you simply not live without?

CC: This will be Headspace. A few years ago, I started to care for my mind and it can get quite busy up there. Taking a little time out for myself every now and again and stopping to pause a couple of moments during the day really helps give me a little bit more cognitive capacity. And I’ve been on a few mindfulness courses and there’s two ways to look at this. Some people say this is great because you get a little bit more space in your mind and then your mind and your thoughts have more time to breath. Or they look it and say oh, you can get more space in your time and you’re going to fill it up with doing more stuff. So, I don’t know whether I’m using mindfulness in the right way, but it’s useful to take a little bit of time out for myself.

LH: I love that, yes. I’m very similar to you. I always use meditation apps. I actually use Insight Timer more so than Headspace.

CC: Okay, interesting. I’ve got an interest in this space.

LH: Yes. Well, watch this space. It’s been great talking to you, Charlie. Thank you so much for being on TheBotcast. Where can people find you?

CC: I am Twitter @charlescadbury. I am at the sayitnow.ai.

LH: Fabulous. Right, thank you so much.

CC: Lovely. Great to chat.