The customer endpoint of the hotline is an inbox – the email or SMS clients on the mobile or desktop, or WhatsApp. That’s where the brand messages come. The hotline is about making the messages interactive and incentivised to enable not just content consumption and conversation but commerce. The email and SMS inboxes are the repository for these messages. It has not changed much through the years when it comes to brand messages; the only innovation has been the creation of multiple folders to route messages algorithmically to reduce spam and clutter.
WhatsApp brought about a big change in our lives some years ago. Instead of texting or emailing each other and each new communication spawning a new message, it threaded conversations together based on individuals or groups. It made for a cleaner interface. Network effects took over and we all moved our person-to-person and communications to WhatsApp. The same has not happened with brands, even though some brands are now trying to shift engagement to WhatsApp. A big barrier is the cost of a WhatsApp session – 25-50 times that of an email and 4 times that of an SMS (in India). This doesn’t scale well. Besides, WhatsApp is the arbiter of what constitutes fair communications so there is always a ‘Big Brother’ fear of being blocked.
What is needed is a new kind of inbox for hotline-type engagement and interaction between brands and customers. This is the idea I call “Micronbox.” Here is what I wrote in a previous essay imagining a future where we are all using micronboxes. (Think of microns in the writing below as Email 2.0 messages – emails with support for AMP and Atomic Rewards.)
Each of us has a micronbox. It is built on email so it doesn’t necessarily need a new app or identity. This new inbox collates all the microns from our Gmail inbox and organises them better. No microns from a brand which we have not subscribed to make it through. Only a single email from a brand is present – older, unread mails get layered together into that single email. Thus, the micronbox only has as many emails as brands we subscribe to.
… Microns are interactive. So, instead of just a static one-way communication, microns become dynamic and engaging. One can buy a book right from the micron itself, expand a new story to read more, provide feedback or answer questions – right from the inbox, without having to click through to the website. (The magic which makes this possible with emails is AMP.)
… An element of gamification makes it fun. Customers/subscribers earn points for opening and engaging with microns. The more the continuing engagement, the better the rewards. (This is similar to what credit card companies offer – the more you spend, the more you earn. Basically, loyalty and discipline is being rewarded.) They also earn points by sharing information about themselves with brands so the communication they get is more personalised creating a mutual win-win. They can control what personal info they share with different brands. All this helps in increasing the signal-to-noise ratio in the inbox.
… The micronbox is clutter-free. Instead of a ‘delete’ mindset when dealing with emails, there is a ‘delight’ feeling as we scan it. Brands have become friends whose messages are never ignored, read promptly and always acted on. Brands provide us useful info which make daily life better. They offer us what we need rather than what they want. They learn from our actions to make the relationship better daily with every interaction.
Sounds familiar?! While I did not recognise it then, what I was really describing was the idea of a hotline between brands and customers.
The Micronbox completes the picture: a hotline is thus a 2-way connection between brands and customers, built using messages with AMP and Atomic Rewards, expanded to supporting omnichannel engagement. The micronbox becomes a repository of all these messages (microns) and conversations – just like WhatsApp today for our 1:1 and small group chats. Together, they can help drive brands to profitability by eliminating the AdWaste and enabling the 4 Rs of retention, repetition, referrals and reactivation.