And why the headhunter thinks I am making a movie…
Yesterday, I was having a few beers with a business associate. He helps me out with our recruitment activities, so I wanted to discuss few upcoming roles with him. The conversation did not go well.
This is how the conversation went. We’ll call my friend Mr. T.
Me: Dude. I need you to find me few good guys/girls.
Mr. T: Sure. What roles?
Me: I am not sure yet. We can discuss the work and the approach I have in mind, and based on that, maybe you can tell me if I am going about it the right way or not. Actually, that is why I wanted to meet.
Mr. T: Absolutely. Tell me.
Me: Okay. The roles that I have in mind so far — the best fit would be people who have had some experience in screenplay (writing script for plays, movies etc.)
Someone with experience in storyboarding etc. Then, maybe someone with experience in copywriting.
Mr. T: You are starting a creative agency?
Me: Creative agency?? What? Nooo…Oh, and if you could also find me a consultant who has background in behavioral psychology, that would be perfect!
Mr. T: Script writers, copy-writers, physocology majors?? What’s going on? I thought you were working in the fashion space. What will these guys even do in your business? Shouldn’t you be looking for fashion designers and stuff?
I understood his confusion, so I proceeded to explain. What followed was a combination of 8 pints, a cute girl joining us (she overheard our talks and the business seemed exciting), me dumping my entire thought process on him, and from what I could tell, a look on Mr. T’s face that can be best described as “I knew it. He has lost his mind.”
But had I? I wasn’t so sure. But in order for me to explain, I need you to dive a little deep into my thoughts here. It’s gonna be a long read.
Mr. T was partially right. We are into fashion. Following the ongoing trend, you can call us a fashion-tech business. But that doesn’t mean we don’t need these guys.
We are building a chatbot. Yes, that is our product. Not a website, not an app, but a chatbot. A chatbot that will enable our users to do everything that we could have achieved via an app, with one distinctive difference.
Our product facilitates conversations, not transactions.
That is one aspect I was quite clear on from the get go. The chatbot needs to appear as much engaging and conversational as possible.
I say ‘appear’ because at this stage, it wouldn’t be 100% conversational. That would require some serious tech bandwidth — which we do not have at the moment. So, for the time being, plan B.
We are a fashion rental company — meaning, we help you change your look everyday without owning as many clothes. In phase 1, we had run our business for close to 6 months, had processed more than 7,000 orders (without a website/app), had an amazing repeat rate and an encouraging overall response from our customers. There were few things that worked for us, and then there were few things that were major challenges. But, we will dig into those some other time. Today, let me just highlight a couple of points from phase #1 of our operations.
POINTS FROM OUR CONSUMER INTERACTIONS
- The concept, as our consumers perceived, was a new one. Everyone seemed excited by the idea, but when it came down to brass tacks, most had one common question — “Why would I want to wear someone else’s clothes?” The reason we were able to turn them around on this was the fact that we were right there with them. We could show them the benefits of the system, and how it is not entirely an alien concept to them. We were able to draw correlations from their life, and show them that we were merely extending it on a much larger scale. And we were able to do all this because we could listen, and we could respond. Conversations were pivotal here.
- Another common challenge, though on a relatively much smaller scale, was the perception of an expensive value proposition. We were able to convince people on the utility of our offering, but some were concerned about the price point. For about thirty seconds. We asked them a couple of questions about their behavior and spend patterns when it comes to fashion, and once they had answered those, we did not need to do anything. They had come to realise on their own that it was a misplaced notion that our offering was price-intensive. How did we do that? Conversation! We listened, we asked, they responded, they understood.
We had catered to slightly less than 3,000 customers in this phase. Now we wanted to take it up a notch, eyeing 30,000 customers in the coming six months, and another 100,000 in the 6 months after that. Naturally our offline approach couldn’t work anymore. The growth in our offline model would have been linear, but we were aiming for a relatively exponential growth. Sure, ops would keep us clogged, but we could at least fasten the product discovery and order flow.
But I wanted to retain the good things that worked for us in phase 1. If possible, even improve up on it. And that is where the chatbot came into the picture.
In phase 1, one of us could talk to a group of 4–5 potential consumers at the same time. Addressing concerns in general, taking questions, answering them for the person — but in a way that it addressed potential questions from other in the group as well. It worked. It worked quite well. But could we have made it better?
To some extent yes. A group conversation has its positive effects. You can address questions that are in the mind of people but they haven’t asked it yet. But it has the limitation of not being able to give a personal attention to every single person. You can’t do that because you don’t have enough manpower. And if you did, then the whole exercise becomes far too expensive for it to make business sense. So how could we retain the part where we answered questions — even the un-asked ones, and yet give personal attention to every single one of them.
The bot was the solution. Backed by countless consumer interactions we have had, we were in a position to make a flow that answered a good deal of questions that we had faced again and again. Even if 10% of our target-pool was asking a question, we could formulate a conversation where it had a place. And in order to do that, we needed someone who was great at story-telling. That is how the screenplay writers and storyboard experts got into the picture. We intend to create a number of different storyboards and weave them together in a flow that looks cohesive and coherent.
And the copywriters?
Errmmm. One may notice that I am not the best person when it comes to expressing themselves in as few words as possible. I am no President Coolidge, or Silent Cal as he has often called. Now, that is not so much of a challenge when it is a face-to-face dialogue. I can hold your attention, keep you interested, keep you involved. But a chat? That’s a different game altogether. No one wants to talk to a person (or a business) that just goes on and on and on. That is where the copywriters come in play. Once the scripts are ready, it is up to the copywriters to make sure that the message remains intact, yet all the flabby words are thrown out in the trash.
Oh. And I decided I needed someone who has had some experience in creating concepts (maybe even writing) for skits as well. Why? Because I wanted the bot to have a personality. The personality you would look for in a friend. I did not want it to sound like a bot, or someone who is reading out of a manual. I want my consumers to think of the bot as a friend — or at least a close version of that. Humor. That’s the trait I decided to go with. A bot that is helpful, conversational, and funny!
AND PSYCHOLOGY? HOW DOES THAT FIT IN?
Well. We needed someone to help us understand the flow, didn’t we? We had data (past consumer conversations), we will have more data as we launch the bot. We need someone to help us make sense of that data and help us figure out a better prediction model of the routes the conversation could take at each fork. That’s how you make a story better! We need someone who understands human behavior in different scenario.
Will it work? Is this the right way?
I would like to think so. But if you want to know for sure, just give me some time. I’ll let you know. And if you have any insights, do let us know. We are still building the team. Your insights could help us make a better one.