Google Maps could help your business avoid angry late-night customers

Making sure your business' online details are accurate is set to get a lot easier thanks to an upgrade to Google Maps.

The company has outlined how it is using AI to spot any errors or issues with business listings on Maps, particularly concerning opening hours.

Google says its platform brings together information from several Maps and AI tools to predict what business hours are for most companies, and update the information accordingly, making sure potential customers aren't left lacking the details they need.

Google Maps AI

“Over the past few years, businesses have experienced a lot of change — including constantly updating operating hours based on changing pandemic-related restrictions,” Google Maps product managers Liam Bolling and Kristi Bohl wrote in a blog post

“To keep up with this pace of change, we developed a machine learning model that automatically identifies if business hours are likely wrong, then instantly updates them with AI-generated predictions.”

Along with the AI model, Google Maps also looks at when a business profile was last updated, meaning it's important to make sure your company stays on top of any changes. The platform also looks at the hours of other shops nearby, as well as noting the Popular Times data for the business in question. 

Popular Times pulls in anonymized data from users who have opted in to Google Location History to build up a profile of when a business is particularly busy, as well as offering predictions on wait times or the length of time a customer stays in a shop.

If it spots any anomalies – for example, the most popular shopping hours being around 1pm, despite a business saying it doesn't open until 5pm – then Google Maps will update opening hours accordingly.

Elsewhere, the other tools Google Maps uses range from the the obvious (checking the information on a shop's official website) to using Google Street View to spot an opening hours sign in the window. In addition, the company can also call on its local Google Maps community in certain countries to add in their expertise and verify any changes, or as a last resort, use its AI-powered Duplex conversational technology to actually call the store and ask.

“With this new AI-first approach, we’re on track to update the hours for over 20 million businesses around the globe in the next six months – helping you know exactly when your favorite store, restaurant or cafe is open for business ,” Bolling and Bohl note.

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Why desk phones are the missing ingredient for the work-from-anywhere business

With so much reliance on modern devices like smartphones and tablets, and the cloud-based communication services that power them, it’s easy to overlook the humble desk phone when it comes to speccing out a remote working strategy. For many small businesses, however, desk phones (and the telephony infrastructure that underpins them) are an essential part of their workflows.

This GoTo-sponsored article will explore why the functionality of desk phones is still needed in a modern organisation, and how a comms strategy which enables video conferencing, digital collaboration and traditional phone calls on an equal footing can unlock greater flexibility and more powerful hybrid working.

To say that the world of modern business has changed dramatically over the years would be something of an understatement; transplant an average worker from 1974 into a modern office, and they’d probably go into shock-induced catatonia. Our working lives have gradually been transformed, modernised and revolutionised, and almost all of these changes have been the result of a growing evolution in technology.

A series of innovations – first email, then the internet, followed by smartphones, video conferencing and the cloud – have made us more connected, more productive and more versatile. Even over the past two years, a pandemic-induced wave of remote working has driven tectonic shifts in our attitudes to business collaboration. Back in 2019, the idea of hybrid work being a widely accepted standard would have been all but unthinkable, but modern technology allowed us to make the jump without sacrificing our ability to connect with our colleagues.

A man in an office on a phone call.

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Don’t overlook the humble phone call

Despite the phenomenal leaps in technology that successive decades have delivered, there’s one element of professional communication that has remained a steadfast constant: the humble phone call. For more than a century, the telephone has been one of the most reliable methods for conducting business, maintaining relationships and reaching out to new clients and partners, and it doesn’t show any signs of fading from relevance.

There’s a good reason for this, too; a study by the University of Texas in 2020 found that talking on the phone made people feel far more comfortable and connected, and resulted in the formation of stronger bonds, than exchanging emails or chatting via text. Simply put, human beings are hard-wired to respond positively to the sound of each other’s voices in ways that other forms of communication simply can’t replicate.

In a business environment that relies on forming and reinforcing strong connections with customers, suppliers and partners, this makes phone calls a vital tool in any organisation’s arsenal. This is particularly true for small businesses, where outbound sales may form a significant part of their go-to-market strategy.

Why desk phones should be part of your hybrid work strategy

Interestingly, despite the importance of phone calls as a business enabler, telephony is often overlooked by organisations when planning their hybrid working strategy. While digital collaboration and video conferencing platforms are (rightly) highlighted as central components for supporting transformation projects, landlines and desk phones are often the first things to go when implementing flexible working, hot-desking or any other modern agility initiatives.

The logic behind this is reasonably straightforward – we all have a mobile phone which we constantly carry around with us, usually with a reasonably generous calling plan, so any phone calls that need to be made can be done using those. Some organisations will even pay for a company-provided device with its own dedicated contract and phone number. At first glance, this would appear to be enough, but businesses which don’t advance their telephony strategy beyond this risk missing out on a multitude of opportunities and advantages which a properly-integrated digital phone solution can offer.

For example, if a partner or prospective customer calls one of your salespeople on their personal mobile, but that salesperson is currently unavailable, then they’ll miss the call – at which point, the caller will either leave a voicemail message, or (more likely) will simply hang up and go on with their day. That employee will then need to call them back (hoping to catch them at a good time) before the transaction can proceed – and this process of telephone tag can go on for days, if not weeks.

A modern digital telephony platform like GoTo Connect, however, includes the ability to create detailed and customised call handling rules. This allows businesses to design their system so that if the target recipient of a phone call doesn’t pick up, it’s automatically transferred to another person, such as a colleague on the same team. You can also set up ring groups so that when someone calls an extension, multiple phones ring simultaneously, maximising the chances that someone will be able to answer in a timely manner.

GoToConnect

(Image credit: GoToConnect )

A seamless experience across devices

For small businesses, digital phone systems offer a range of tools which can help them replicate the customer experience one would expect from a much larger organisation. Digital receptionists can be used to route callers through to the appropriate department in a friendly and engaging way, while call queues ensure that a limited number of employees doesn’t result in missed calls and missed opportunities. If you inject some of your business’s personality into the process, you can even set custom hold music.

Crucially, this also doesn’t rely on remaining shackled to desk phones. Thanks to the flexibility of the cloud, platforms like GoTo Connect can offer a seamless experience across digital desk phones, mobile devices and desktop PCs, allowing staff to make and manage calls with the same level of flexibility and functionality whether they’re at home or in the office. In fact, you can even switch from one to the other in the middle of an active call.

GoToConnect Dashboard

(Image credit: GoTo)

In addition to this, GoTo’s all-in-one administrator portal allows businesses to oversee every aspect of their unified comms estate through a single-pane-of-glass cloud management dashboard. This makes troubleshooting and remediating issues significantly easier, and eliminates the headache of having to switch between multiple portals to manage individual on-premise comms systems. 

These capabilities put the power and versatility of enterprise-grade communication within reach of small businesses without requiring expensive investments in PBX infrastructure or SIP trunking. They’re especially transformational when rolled out as part of a unified strategy which places digital collaboration, video conferencing and cloud-based telephony on an equal footing. 

Phone calls are, and will remain, an essential vector for business communications, and investing in a properly architected digital phone platform can supercharge both your inbound and outbound relationships, allowing your staff to better connect with your customers and partners. The future is calling – don’t let it go to voicemail.

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Why desk phones are the missing ingredient for the work-from-anywhere business

With so much reliance on modern devices like smartphones and tablets, and the cloud-based communication services that power them, it’s easy to overlook the humble desk phone when it comes to speccing out a remote working strategy. For many small businesses, however, desk phones (and the telephony infrastructure that underpins them) are an essential part of their workflows.

This GoTo-sponsored article will explore why the functionality of desk phones is still needed in a modern organisation, and how a comms strategy which enables video conferencing, digital collaboration and traditional phone calls on an equal footing can unlock greater flexibility and more powerful hybrid working.

To say that the world of modern business has changed dramatically over the years would be something of an understatement; transplant an average worker from 1974 into a modern office, and they’d probably go into shock-induced catatonia. Our working lives have gradually been transformed, modernised and revolutionised, and almost all of these changes have been the result of a growing evolution in technology.

A series of innovations – first email, then the internet, followed by smartphones, video conferencing and the cloud – have made us more connected, more productive and more versatile. Even over the past two years, a pandemic-induced wave of remote working has driven tectonic shifts in our attitudes to business collaboration. Back in 2019, the idea of hybrid work being a widely accepted standard would have been all but unthinkable, but modern technology allowed us to make the jump without sacrificing our ability to connect with our colleagues.

A man in an office on a phone call.

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Don’t overlook the humble phone call

Despite the phenomenal leaps in technology that successive decades have delivered, there’s one element of professional communication that has remained a steadfast constant: the humble phone call. For more than a century, the telephone has been one of the most reliable methods for conducting business, maintaining relationships and reaching out to new clients and partners, and it doesn’t show any signs of fading from relevance.

There’s a good reason for this, too; a study by the University of Texas in 2020 found that talking on the phone made people feel far more comfortable and connected, and resulted in the formation of stronger bonds, than exchanging emails or chatting via text. Simply put, human beings are hard-wired to respond positively to the sound of each other’s voices in ways that other forms of communication simply can’t replicate.

In a business environment that relies on forming and reinforcing strong connections with customers, suppliers and partners, this makes phone calls a vital tool in any organisation’s arsenal. This is particularly true for small businesses, where outbound sales may form a significant part of their go-to-market strategy.

Why desk phones should be part of your hybrid work strategy

Interestingly, despite the importance of phone calls as a business enabler, telephony is often overlooked by organisations when planning their hybrid working strategy. While digital collaboration and video conferencing platforms are (rightly) highlighted as central components for supporting transformation projects, landlines and desk phones are often the first things to go when implementing flexible working, hot-desking or any other modern agility initiatives.

The logic behind this is reasonably straightforward – we all have a mobile phone which we constantly carry around with us, usually with a reasonably generous calling plan, so any phone calls that need to be made can be done using those. Some organisations will even pay for a company-provided device with its own dedicated contract and phone number. At first glance, this would appear to be enough, but businesses which don’t advance their telephony strategy beyond this risk missing out on a multitude of opportunities and advantages which a properly-integrated digital phone solution can offer.

For example, if a partner or prospective customer calls one of your salespeople on their personal mobile, but that salesperson is currently unavailable, then they’ll miss the call – at which point, the caller will either leave a voicemail message, or (more likely) will simply hang up and go on with their day. That employee will then need to call them back (hoping to catch them at a good time) before the transaction can proceed – and this process of telephone tag can go on for days, if not weeks.

A modern digital telephony platform like GoTo Connect, however, includes the ability to create detailed and customised call handling rules. This allows businesses to design their system so that if the target recipient of a phone call doesn’t pick up, it’s automatically transferred to another person, such as a colleague on the same team. You can also set up ring groups so that when someone calls an extension, multiple phones ring simultaneously, maximising the chances that someone will be able to answer in a timely manner.

GoToConnect

(Image credit: GoToConnect )

A seamless experience across devices

For small businesses, digital phone systems offer a range of tools which can help them replicate the customer experience one would expect from a much larger organisation. Digital receptionists can be used to route callers through to the appropriate department in a friendly and engaging way, while call queues ensure that a limited number of employees doesn’t result in missed calls and missed opportunities. If you inject some of your business’s personality into the process, you can even set custom hold music.

Crucially, this also doesn’t rely on remaining shackled to desk phones. Thanks to the flexibility of the cloud, platforms like GoTo Connect can offer a seamless experience across digital desk phones, mobile devices and desktop PCs, allowing staff to make and manage calls with the same level of flexibility and functionality whether they’re at home or in the office. In fact, you can even switch from one to the other in the middle of an active call.

GoToConnect Dashboard

(Image credit: GoTo)

In addition to this, GoTo’s all-in-one administrator portal allows businesses to oversee every aspect of their unified comms estate through a single-pane-of-glass cloud management dashboard. This makes troubleshooting and remediating issues significantly easier, and eliminates the headache of having to switch between multiple portals to manage individual on-premise comms systems. 

These capabilities put the power and versatility of enterprise-grade communication within reach of small businesses without requiring expensive investments in PBX infrastructure or SIP trunking. They’re especially transformational when rolled out as part of a unified strategy which places digital collaboration, video conferencing and cloud-based telephony on an equal footing. 

Phone calls are, and will remain, an essential vector for business communications, and investing in a properly architected digital phone platform can supercharge both your inbound and outbound relationships, allowing your staff to better connect with your customers and partners. The future is calling – don’t let it go to voicemail.

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How technology advancements are disrupting the business of photography

Technology innovations in the camera began disrupting the photography industry 20 years ago with the advent of digital sensors replacing film. 

Advanced post-production software brought even more innovation over the past decade. 

Today, sophisticated workflow automation technology powered by artificial intelligence and machine learning is disrupting the way photographers run their business, enabling greater productivity behind the scenes.

The photography business in a time of instant expectations

While many technology advancements in photography have been about camera, editing and printing improvements, there is a new emphasis on the business side of the industry. In the same way that digital images delivered instantaneous results bypassing film processing, new business solutions for discovery, scheduling and payment are now available right in the palm of their hand to help photographers succeed.

Photography pros and clients alike are smartphone-equipped, mobile-optimized, and social-media enabled. The photography business ecosystem must be able to deliver sleek, easy-to-use business experiences to stay ahead of clients’ rapidly evolving expectations for instant gratification.

As a business partner (and SaaS developer) for photographers, it is imperative to help customers deal with the challenges of today and plan for the needs of tomorrow. Photographers need and expect a comprehensive technology platform that helps them stay ahead of the curve. 

A photography business suite of tools should deliver technology solutions for:

– Elegant portfolio presentation
– Effective discovery methods to attract clients
– Streamlined, automated scheduling and payment
– Easy post-shoot client proofing and image selection
– Hands-off print/product sales and delivery to clients
– Ongoing, automated marketing and sales incentives

Technology to help clients find and hire a photographer

Traditionally, a client seeking professional photography services relied on recommendations by friends or was forced to choose between photographers who had hired a professional website coder/builder and those using rather inflexible “vanilla” site templates.

Now, drag-and-drop website building technology empowers photographers to present their work by creating unlimited online portfolio variations, branded in their own style to set them apart from others – without writing a single line of code. 

Using extremely intuitive starter templates, a photographer can design a beautiful portfolio site in minutes by simply dragging and dropping content blocks into place, uploading their images and writing the stories they want prospective customers to read. 

An animated image of a woman looking at a photo file

(Image credit: Zenfolio)

A good business technology partner will take it steps further by providing tools to optimize the site content for maximum exposure to search-engines to help their website get discovered, optimize image upload and download speeds, and ensure the security of images from the nefarious threats of the web-based world.

It’s Business 101 – attracting clients, doing the work, collecting revenue. By listening to clients and working to understand their challenges, we realized that while many other industries had moved to an online back-end business environment, photographers were still managing bookings and payments manually. Or at the very least, they were using multiple online tools from multiple companies to make it all happen. 

The required back-and-forth calls and emails with clients took time away from completing more photoshoots and selling images. 

Photographer portfolio availability

Completely automated scheduling disrupts this experience by evolving from a pen and paper calendar, beyond Excel and Google calendar entries, to an end-to-end suite of tools automating an entire client experience prior to the shoot. 

Consider how a resource like a fully automated booking tool takes over the process after a client finds a photographer, not only automating the entire scheduling, invoicing and payment process, but also enabling a photographer to fulfil pre-orders that they might have sold as part of the service at the time of booking.

An animated image of a man looking at a calendar

(Image credit: Zenfolio)

BookMe is auto-synced with a photographer’s calendar enabling a client to instantly see their availability and get immediate transparent pricing. Once booked, a new private client gallery is auto-generated, ready to accept uploaded images after the shoot for clients to review, comment on, and select. 

Print and photo gift orders can be placed by the client right in the user interface, right on the spot. Orders go directly to the lab, get processed and shipped directly to the client. 

Automated booking, scheduling and direct payment saves photographers an average of more than 40 hours every month by streamlining the client on-boarding experience. Better yet, it increases bookings and revenue. Photographers are able to reallocate time usually spent on administrative tasks to ones that bring in more revenue.

Technology to support the post-shoot process

Technology advancements beyond the automated booking and payment process expedite the post-shoot experience by not taxing a photographer’s online resources.

Uploading that doesn’t result in downtime

If the image uploading process ties up a photographer’s online bandwidth, it can cripple their ability to do other things during the time they are waiting around for photos to upload. 

Zenfolio, for example, engineered a multi-threaded, non-blocking uploader enabling photographers to upload multiple galleries simultaneously as they work on their website or refine the price list for their online shop. 

An animated image of a woman sitting on a cloud with an arrow pointing up with three images below

(Image credit: Zenfolio)

Eliminating the need for a photographer to configure each client gallery individually is another way to save time and get images to clients faster. Zenfolio's gallery preset feature lets a photographer define presets while uploading a new gallery. The preset automatically applies layouts, prices, privacy and access settings, and many other configurations.

Facial recognition technology to easily find a face in a crowd

A good photography business technology partner  – and SaaS provider – pays close attention to business trends and emerging genre specializations. Event photography is growing in popularity to join established wedding and sports genres. 

A photographer or client can spend giant chunks of time inspecting a gallery full of people to find specific faces and manually tag or share those photos. Why not apply the latest facial recognition technology used in other industries to expedite this process?

A simple and effective facial filter tool enables a photographer to locate faces and organize hundreds of images in a matter of seconds. Originally intended as a photographer-only tool, the Facial Filter can be enabled for client use. 

Let’s face it – most brides are probably more interested in looking at photos of themselves and their new spouse than browsing pictures of their uncle “getting low” on the dance floor. 

Technology that improves the proofing process

Proofing typically requires quite a bit of back and forth between a photographer and their client, and this is often complicated by the fact that you and your client might not be referring to the same photo. 

The best way to automate your workflow is to enable your clients to interact with you directly on the specific image they’re looking at.

A suite of technology tools should enable a client to select an image as a “favorite” and add a comment or editing direction right on the image. Photographers see every comment as they edit the galleries and photos. 

The comments even flow through to their favorite editing tool, and edited photos can be replaced without losing the metadata or original comments.

Technology to automate marketing to clients

The pandemic brought the photography industry to its knees for months. Unable to rely on income from upcoming work, photographers had to earn passive income from past shoots.  

Automated ecommerce campaigns that reintroduced past images to clients with an incentive to make a purchase helped photographers bring in revenue and survive the challenging period.  The pandemic also revealed an interesting fact – clients stuck at home enjoyed reliving photo memories and ordering prints on their devices. 

Automated client campaigns

Zenfolio created and launched the only automated Client Campaigns feature in the photography industry. 

A photographer can opt into predefined seasonal marketing campaigns designed for Mother’s/Father’s Day, July 4th, and other secular and religious holidays. 

Select galleries can be attached to each campaign and the rest just happens on auto-pilot – clients order, the lab processes and ships directly to the clients. 

An email coming out of an evelope

(Image credit: Zenfolio)

And more revenue opportunities are available from coupon-based campaigns that are implemented on gallery banners and emails to clients. 

These cool marketing features leverage both the workflow automation platform and relationships with leading print labs to help photographers sell thousands of products on their websites and client galleries – all without lifting a finger.

Technology to analyze business data

Any smart business platform should provide actionable data, which means it exists to help photographers learn and run their business. Key insights about how photos are getting viewed, favorited and downloaded should be available at the gallery level. 

Apps to maximize success

The widget dashboard must be an easy-to-use user interface that offers a quick way to see how many visitors a photographer is driving to their site, to see upcoming bookings and how print and digital sales are working. 

The app also guides them on what they should focus on next to become more successful. Like every aspect of a photography business platform, the technology must be built with a razor-sharp focus on usability, simplicity and efficiency.

What's next for photography innovation

By automating key workflows, photographers can spend more time behind the lens, interacting with their customers and working their unique brand of magic on creating photos – and less time doing administrative and marketing work.

Technology advancements will continue to disrupt the photography business in the best of ways on both sides of the camera. Photography customers experience automation, streamlining and convenience from other industries in their everyday lives. 

They expect it from their favorite photographer as well. And the photographer’s business technology partner is here to help them meet those expectations, along with a few new tricks.

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Zoom is getting into the customer service business

Zoom has announced an expansion into customer service with a new expansion on its Zoom Video Engagement Center offering. 

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Zoom Contact Center is still built around video conferencing calls, letting companies quickly interact with customers but it's not limited to it. 

The goal is to streamline everything that goes into customer service into one tool, easily accessible and usable by operators and mangers alike, with customers able to integrate Contact Center directly into their current workflows. 

Zoom Contact Center

At launch, Contact Center will have over 100 features for every involved, including agents, supervisors, and administrators. Zoom is also planning a bevvy of future updates, including deeper support for CRM tools. 

Zoom Contact Center is launching in the US and Canada first with unspecified international markets to follow later in 2022. 

“Previously, contact center infrastructure was complex to deploy, expensive to operate, and time-intensive to upgrade. Zoom Contact Center was carefully designed to meet the needs of the modern agent and end customer, both of which expect a personalized, digital, and effective contact center experience,” said Zoom's Oded Gal.

Zoom was a clear winner from the pandemic, which forced workforces across the globe into working from home. 

The company's stock started 2020 at around $ 73 before reaching a record high of $ 559 on October 12. Now, Zoom trades at around $ 126, far below its record high, as people return to offices. 

Zoom has also been under intense pressure from Microsoft, which moved quickly to expand Teams to companies across the globe, many (or maybe all) of which have a pre-existing relationship with Microsoft. 

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Twitter just sold its mobile ad business for more than a billion dollars

Twitter has officially completed the sale of its mobile ads platform MoPub to AppLovin, netting the company a cool $ 1.05 billion.

MoPub helped Twitter generate around $ 190 million in revenue during 2020, but the company felt that having the platform was impacting its ability to execute in other areas, such as catering to SMBs and e-commerce, both of which are areas of strength for Meta (formerly Facebook). 

The deal was originally announced in October 2021.

Out with the old

“With the sale of MoPub completed, we continue to concentrate our efforts on enhancing ads across our platform,” Twitter GM of Revenue Products Bruce Falck said. “Our goal is to deliver faster growth in key areas and accelerate our product development.” 

At the time of the deal, AppLovin said that MoPub was being used by 45,000 apps to monetize, reaching 1.5 billion addressable users around the world. 

“Developers benefit from more features to help drive higher monetization opportunities and streamline workflows, leading to increased revenue for their businesses. We believe the power of this unified platform will be unparalleled in today’s market,” said AppLovin CEO Adam Foroughi. 

“We are excited to execute on this strategic acquisition with our sights set on operating the largest and most robust in-app advertising platform that enhances the growth of the broader mobile app ecosystem.”

According to Twitter, many MoPub features will sunset on March 31, 2022, although the MoPub Dashboard and Reporting will remain live until April 8, 2022. 

While Twitter has outsized influence, its finances are generally much weaker than its rivals, leading to an ambitious plan to double revenues to $ 7.5 billion per year (or more) by 2023. 

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WhatsApp doubles down on business searches within the app itself

In a big thrust into e-commerce and business, WhatsApp is rolling out a feature to let users search for nearby businesses, right within the app. The feature, when it becomes fully mainstream, will help the messaging platform to make an impact in one area where it has not made much headway – business & commerce segment. 

According to the ever reliable team at WABetainfo, WhatsApp had made available a nifty business directory to users in Sao Paulo a couple of months back. And the new search option for nearby businesses is an extension of that. “When you search for something within WhatsApp, there will be a new section called “Businesses Nearby”: when you select the category, the results of business accounts will be filtered based on your choice,” the report said.

Businesses will be happy with the putative feature as it will allow them to become more visible, directly from inside WhatsApp.

Business directory may come first

The new business search option within WA

The new business nearby search options within WA.  (Image credit: WABetainfo)

So, soon you can basically search for things like hotels, eateries, groceries or clothing, without leaving the app. This useful tool will be available to both iOS and Android users.  

This feature has been made available to some users in Sao Paulo but is not available yet for all. But it is likely that WhatsApp will first roll out the aforesaid business directory feature and then follow it up with the search tool. But it is something that would be worth the wait.

Once users are allowed to search for products and services nearby it will be only a matter of time before they can place orders for the same.

It is clear that the folks at WhatsApp are doubling down on business and commerce segment for future growth of the platform.  WhatsApp recently introduced a redesigned page for Business Info.

WhatsApp is also planning to redesign the page for Contact Info, in that it will have a search shortcut.

In-app shopping possibilities have grown across the social media platform’s apps. WhatsApp now also features shopping tools including product catalogs and shopping cart options for businesses to use.

Meta has announced new shopping and discovery tools, including Shops on WhatsApp.

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Why a contact center could be key to your business success

With the pandemic forcing much of the world away from their offices and back home, the way we stay in contact with businesses has gone through a significant shift.

One perhaps unexpected beneficiary of these changes has been the much-maligned contact center. With shoppers unable to carry out returns or even ask a question as high street stores closed across the world, contact centers took on a whole new level of importance.

Amazon Web Services (AWS) has long been a strong supporter of the work done by contact centers, with the company’s Amazon Connect platform helping power such facilities for companies across the globe. 

Going remote

Although it was initially launched before the pandemic, Amazon Connect has really come into its own in the last two years, Pasquale DeMaio, General Manager of Amazon Connect, told us at the recent AWS re:Invent conference in Las Vegas. 

“Amazon Connect was built to allow for agents to be remote,” he said. “Connect was a little ahead of its time, [as] from day one we were designed to be fully cloud multi-tenant and also an enabled remote workforce.”

Following the initial spate of lockdown and shutdown orders across the globe, the company leapt into action to help its customers deal with the unprecedented change.

DeMaio says that 5,000 contact centers were set up using Amazon Connect in just March and April 2020, some in just a few hours.

“That was unheard of, to take a production workload in a single day,” he explained. “Historically you would have to hire very bespoke, professional services to build those types of things. And you would have to give a huge upfront commitments to it.”

“Instead, now you're in control and that brings that time down to weeks or months.” 

Amazon Web Services logo

(Image credit: Future / Mike Moore)

Amazon Connect saw a number of useful upgrades announced at AWS re:Invent 2021, perhaps the most intriguing being Amazon Lex Automated Chatbot Designer, a new capability that reduces bot design from weeks to hours, simplifying design with advanced natural language understanding.

DeMaio highlighted how using this new platform shows the importance of automation, as the tool can condense much of the contact center set-up experience, taking out time-consuming tasks and cutting out the most challenging issue for customers.

“This is giving you a massive jump,” he said, “you're getting up and running really fast and you can continue to innovate on it too because you're not stuck with just what you did. You keep learning and keep going and building these out and that innovation has been really compelling to folks who use Connect.”

Call center

(Image credit: Future)

So it seems that if you truly want your business to meet as many customers as possible, a contact center powered by Amazon Connect could be a vital tool.

DeMaio predicts that the increasing use of AI in the contact center industry is only set to grow, and that his platform can help spur on a revolution in customer relationships.

“The nature of customer service was already changing,” he noted. “The reality is people are just demanding better customer service – and this was certainly true during the pandemic – it changed their expectations about how the customer service would be delivered.”

“I think there is a revolution happening right now, with the AI and in the cloud-based technology that Connect offers,” added DeMaio. “This radically changes the way people can deliver the quality of customer service they had and it certainly made a practical point [to companies] that it might be the right time to make those investments.”

“They recognize that the power of a great outcome is really meaningful to people because sadly they've had other bad experiences in the past. A big part of what we're doing with Amazon Connect is taking these these capabilities, making it super simple to use, streamline the experience, and fitting it into exactly what they're doing.”

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Microsoft Teams update will eliminate a common business bottleneck

Getting your next big project or idea approved by your manager or boss can often slow down productivity which is why Microsoft launched its new Approvals app in Microsoft Teams earlier this year.

The Approvals app can be accessed from any chat or channel conversation or by using the dedicated app entry point in the left navigation bar in Teams.

With the app open, all you have to do is fill in the details of the approval like the title, description and the users who need to approve it and hit 'Send'. However, you can also add attachments from Microsoft's office software or custom responses to tailor the request to your business needs.

Once submitted, the approvers are notified within Teams and can act on an approval request either from the chat directly using the Approvals card or from within the Personal app. They can also quickly review the details of the approval right within Teams before making a decision to approve or reject it.

Microsoft 365 groups as approvers

After launching in January of last year, Microsoft is now working on a new feature for the Teams Approval App that is slated to roll out next month.

According to a new post in the Microsoft 365 Roadmap, the software giant is adding the ability to select Microsoft 365 groups as approvers when creating a new approval request within Teams.

For those unfamiliar, Groups in Microsoft 365 let you choose a set of people that you wish to collaborate with and easily set up a collection of resources for those people to share. These resources may include a shared Outlook inbox, shared calendar or a document library in OneDrive for collaboration on files.

When this new feature becomes available, Teams users will be able to send approval requests to their Microsoft 365 groups which could be useful if approvers aren't using the company's video conferencing software and online collaboration tool.

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Twitter might be taking on Slack by introducing business DMs

Twitter has announced that it has acquired the business messaging service Quill in a move that could enable it to take on Slack.

After raising around $ 16m in funding, Quill exited beta earlier this year as an alternative to Slack available on Windows, macOS, Linus, Android and iOS.

In a new report, TechCrunch points out that the company was founded by the former creative director of Stripe, Ludwig Pettersson who is well known and admired by many in the startup community.

While neither Twitter nor Quill disclosed the terms of the deal, Quill did put out an announcement in which it informed users of its business messaging service that they will have until December 11 to export their team message data. Surprisingly though, Quill has created a Python script that allows users to transform their data into the CSV format so it can be imported into Slack.

Business DMs

As part of the acquisition, Quill's staff will be joining Twitter's Experience organization to help work on the social network's messaging tools and direct messages while Pettersson will become a product manager reporting to the Conversations team.

Since its launch in 2006, Twitter's direct messages or DMs have grown in popularity as a way to communicate quickly with others online and as a result, many have wondered whether the company would try to turn them into a standalone product or even a paid service for businesses.

Online collaboration tools have become essential for businesses during the pandemic as being able to communicate with co-workers is especially important when working from home. Now that Slack is part of Salesforce, organizations may be looking for an alternative business messaging service and by purchasing Quill, Twitter is in the perfect position to offer its own solution.

We'll have to wait and see what happens as a result of Twitter's Quill acquisition but with a new CEO at the helm who is actively trying to diversify its business, business DMs could be a very real possibility.

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Via TechCrunch

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