I’m doing some work for a new client, who look at optimizing customer service across multiple channels using, rather interestingly – artificial intelligence. In my research on this I find myself observing an interesting convergence with the Web Engagement / Web Experience mantra that I’ve been peddling here and that there is perhaps something here that we often overlook.

The audience that we are often playing to are the black framed glasses of the digital marketer, but I think when we talk about engagement we should be paying attention to the customer service professionals within organisations and give more consideration to good customer service as a driver for adopting these strategies.

Recently Gerry McGovern wrote for CMSWire  ‘Web Engagement: Web Customers Crave Speed, Not Emotional Experiences’ and he makes a great point, that in a nutshell your site visitor are often here to get something done, not to be entertained and I’ve talked often about how the visitor attention is fragile (hence the rather cumbersome ‘Hovering over the Back Button’ moniker for this blog).

I am not as convinced as McGovern that every visitor wants as efficient an experience as possible all of the time (although they should be when we need them to be). I’ve stood in line in the bank watching a customer ahead of me who clearly enjoys a chat with the teller as part of her engagement experience and I must admit to have passed the time with my dry cleaner talking about past visits to Stamford Bridge (the home of Chelsea). The marvellous thing about the web as a customer service agent is that there is no queue, take as long, or as little time as you like – the experience can be yours.

Our websites are more than just brand beacons; the thing that embodies who we are, what we stand for and what we do to our customers, our citizens or our employees –a shining pretty thing. They are here to do something  –  I often refer to this in my analogy of a man walking into a suit shop – the objective of that story being to buy or sell a suit (depending on who’s perspective we are looking at this from)  and our website strategies should have this same clarity – what does it do for me and for my visitor? The advice is that when you develop your websites, to think about these web engagement objectives.

Of course in the social web fuelled consumer revolution, good customer service takes on an added significance – organizations are looking to not just harvest fresh new customers, but there is a new imperative to create advocacy. Advocates drive positive buzz, write reviews that’ll sway the undecided, to sneeze (in the words of Seth Godin) and take your products and ideas viral. That’s the high of good service, but of course the low of providing bad service and for folks to start tooting on that horn, is a bitter, long remembered hangover.

But, if you read this blog, you know all that, so back to this AI thing that I’m up to my eyes in at the moment. When we discuss web engagement and web experience, we talk about relevancy. In the world of automating customer service they talk about intelligence, of being cognitive. So, aside from both operating in this same social media fuelled world, what inspires this blog post is that I am thinking that these are the same thing. Is it such a leap from the science being applied to predictive modelling to figure out which page, product or service I might be interested in reading or buying next to real artificial intelligence?

I agree for a sports website to learn that I am interested in Chelsea football club takes a low amount of intelligence, but – to me if someone can remember my sports team that might be all I need to have a great conversation. But imagine if I am filling in my tax return – the level of help I’d need would be beyond being relevant.

Equally the challenges that face the digital marketer on the customer acquisition trail are the same as the customer service professional maintaining customer satisfaction levels – these ‘experiences’ happen across multiple communication channels and there are lots of them. Both sets of folks are figuring out ways to triage this deluge – to offer the very best service they can, consistently across these channels, without hiring a cripplingly expensive army of folks to do it.

Perhaps we should consider each digital engagement in terms of a customer service conversation, maybe we should strive to make that web experience cognitive – not just relevant. – and give that website a name badge.

Image of an elevator light by gruntzooki reproduced under creative commons license.