#SFSNYC: Making Conversational Interfaces the Frontline for Customer Interaction

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The development of conversational language to interact with chatbots, digital assistants, smart devices, and other machines is changing the ways consumers make use of such platforms to find the information and services they want—and this change is only going to get more important for brands and local businesses to address.

That was the theme of the keynote address at the Street Fight Summit in Brooklyn Wednesday delivered by Naomi Makofsky, who works in global product partnerships for Google Assistant.

Makofksy said conversational interfaces are “growing in popularity” and cited a broad desire among customers for more immediate and authentic communication. For brands, this means deploying the right technology to connect with customers through their mobile phones, voice-activated smart speakers such as Google Home, and other mediums, Makofsky said.

The turn to conversational tech is all part of the evolution in the ways computer-based innovations have been introduced and embraced by the masses. The public has transitioned from a time in the 1970s when early computers signaled the end of punch cards to the modern era of home computers and mobile devices being necessities for everyday life.

The world has reached a phase, Makofsky said, where people are growing up accustomed to using voice and conversational interfaces to order services and goods they want. “Now, we’re talking to get things done,” she said. 

Even with such change, prior ways of interacting with brands—to find information, ask questions, or place orders—have not vanished. Traditional web searches, emails, or even phone calls are not necessarily disappearing. Rather, the proverbial pie is expanding, Makofsky said, rather than shrinking or wiping away other mediums as new use cases are created.

For example, conversational interfaces through devices such as Google Home let consumers reach out for information or make requests at times they would otherwise be tied up. Instead of being stuck just watching television while washing dishes at home, consumers can now use that time to also access conversational interfaces to make the best possible use of their time.

Conversational interfaces represent an ongoing improvement from the early times of digital interactions between consumers and brands. Clunky chatboxes on early websites gave companies a way to at least connect with their customers during a moment of intent when they visited the brand’s home page. Now in the era of mobile-first technology reliance, speaking to devices can feel like natural interaction. For example, Makofsky said consumers can get a sense of the weather by simply asking a question such as, “Hey Google, do I need an umbrella today?”

That level of interactivity offers personally focused, real-time guidance that consumers crave. Moreover, brands have an opportunity to tailor the responses from these platforms to reflect the casual or formal manner that best reflects the company identity. “Prepare for a world of conversation,” Makofksy said. “It’s not just about information.”