META : Creating a Smart Contact Assistant

We recently launched the META ‘Smart Contact Assistant’ - the easiest way to connect with all your customers on mobile and social messaging.

This is the story of how META came to be, why we created it, and some things that we learned along the way.

Quick caveat: this post isn’t about the META product itself. If you’d like to check it out, go here and give us feedback directly through META!

The story behind META started more than a year ago when our team (ChatGrid) started developing infrastructure tools to help businesses talk to consumers over popular messaging app platforms like SMS, Facebook Messenger, iMessage, LINE, etc.

Like many folks, we were excited about the opportunities to improve how people could interact with businesses over these increasingly ubiquitous communication platforms — and leverage messaging automation to assist businesses in providing better experiences for their customers.

In the early conversations we had with partners and businesses, there were three main things that stood out.

1 : So Many Use Cases

Early on, we talked to as many people as we could to hear about how their businesses wanted to use messaging automation (chatbots) to communicate with customers. It ended up being like The Blind Men and the Elephant — this parable is largely self-explanatory, but the gist was:

Messaging automation meant something different for every business.

There wasn’t some unifying theme or commonly-identifiable use case from businesses beyond this basic sentiment:

“Yeah, of course I want to engage my customers over messaging!”

Here is a laundry-list of actual use cases that we heard from (and implemented for) businesses:

  • Deliver personalized content around provocative listicles
  • Consumer referral program to recommend baby products
  • Inform an audience about a Korean presidential candidate’s policy positions and events
  • Drive leads for a SaaS service by promoting an e-mail newsletter
  • Remind customers when their refrigerator filters needed replacing
  • Connect with companies that want catered Vietnamese sandwiches
  • Get student feedback for a Registered Nursing (RN) program
  • Inform customers when their personalized mugs were delivered
  • And much, much more! 😂

As you can imagine, we learned a lot from these conversations. There was a question that did keep coming up, which was formative to our eventual approach to META.

How do businesses connect with their customers through messaging in the first place?

2 : Go To Where Your Customers Are

In the early days of our conversations with partners, we reiterated the idea that businesses should “be where your customers are”. If you looked at most websites of vendors in the messaging or chatbot space, there was some variant of this tagline.

This was usually accompanied by the amazing statistics from the popular messaging platforms, touting the ability to reach billions of users and communicating with them “1-on-1”.

The idea was that if a majority of consumers were on these messaging app platforms, a business needed to have a presence on those apps as well. There was also a belief that if you “build it (a messaging presence or chatbot on these platforms), they will come (consumers will find your business).”

Great right? Well, not exactly … we found that this didn’t really help most, if any of the businesses that we talked to. It boiled down to something pretty simple, which was lost somewhere in all the hype and promise:

It doesn’t matter how many consumers use messaging if they don’t know they can message my business or aren’t connected with my business on messaging

As it turns out, messaging has a big Discovery Problem.

3 : Is Anyone There?

The last thing that we heard from businesses that we talked to was perhaps the most common:

I know my customers want to message me. But I don’t have the resources to always be there when someone reaches out to my business. But I also don’t want to miss out on any opportunities.

Across all industries, businesses talked about not having enough time and resources to engage everyone that reached out through a contact channel.

For those businesses that had dedicated sales or support people, they were usually busy dealing with a host of daily activities. Backlogs of missed calls and unanswered e-mails were the norm.

Even the more forward-looking companies that implemented live chat on their website struggled to support these tools, and in some cases eventually abandoned their webchat channel entirely.

There was a need to more intelligently connect a business with the people that were reaching out through that business’s contact channels.

Introducing META

We created META to provide a way for business to automatically connect with their customers over mobile & social messaging, regardless of how they are currently reaching out to you.

Most communication with a business happens over what we call “traditional channels” — that’s usually some combination of phone, e-mail, offline and on websites, where most online contact channels live.

That’s actually “where your customers are” and how they are reaching out today. At the same time, businesses want to start connecting and communicating with their customers over messaging, since thats what customers actually prefer.

META had to make messaging available across all of a businesses’ contact channels.

There’s also the questions that every business asks about people that are contacting them — what are they reaching out about, and how should the business reach back out to them? We asked if there were ways we could help businesses answer those questions more easily over messaging.

More importantly, businesses need to be responsive even when there wasn’t someone available to talk with the person reaching out.

META had to engage people automatically, and help businesses turn those people into real connections.

There wasn’t any big Ah-Ha moment — instead, we realized that there were many individual opportunities to improve the way businesses could engage people who reached out to them — and that messaging had an important role to play in each of them.

So we set about trying to make traditional Contact Centers better — by seeing where messaging & automation could improve experiences for both consumers and businesses alike.

How We Approached Creating META

As we were developing the META product, we started with and continue to adhere to a few core principles:

  1. Be Where the Customers Are
  2. Engage and Connect All Customers
  3. Automate and Simplify Communication Flows Between People
  4. Work with What a Business Uses Already

Here’s where we come full circle to the set of tools & technology that we build as a part of the original ChatGrid platform.

We started with all the know-how and functionality we had accumulated over time, and then took a critical look at how they could be applied based on the above core principles.

Here’s An Example

Let’s say you are a for-profit education company that offers both online and offline training classes for Car Mechanics.

You’ve probably got a mix of people reaching out to you — from prospective students, to existing students (and their nosy parents), to business partners and vendors. They are all reaching out to you across the Contact Channels that you make available.

META should work no matter how a person reaches out to your business.

So if it’s a prospective student browsing your website, META needs to engage that user, figure out if this visitor is a good fit for the Car Mechanics program and then connect with that student over messaging so someone can reach back out to them.

Similarly, let’s say there’s a potential vendor partner that sells the latest AR-enabled training equipment and wants to talk to your business. They find your phone number and call, trying to get in touch. Similarly, META needs to connect that partner via messaging to the right person at the business.

In both cases, META needs to responsively engage the person — and figure out why they are reaching out about.

In handling each outreach, META needs to both provide and get some basic information, and provide that to your business (so you can make a decision on whether VR-enabled training is right for your business, or if that website visitor could be your next star student). Messaging can help with that too.

Let’s look inside of your business. If all of your team is on e-mail, META needs to talk to your team over e-mail. Do you use Slack to talk to partners? Then META needs to work with Slack. As it turns out, messaging can help with that too.

META should not add overhead to a business’s existing communication flows, and work with what exists already.

Some Final Thoughts

So as it turns out, we discovered that helping businesses leverage messaging channels & technologies shouldn’t be approached in isolation.

Messaging doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and neither do people and the businesses they communicate with.

We’re incredibly excited about the future of business-to-customer communications and hope that META can play a role in helping businesses with something fundamental:

Improve the way businesses connect with customers, no matter how they are reaching out.
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