A lesson in dogfooding  🐶

Last month we challenged ourselves to create a cool conversational experience for exhibitors and attendees at Enterprise Connect, one of the biggest tech conferences for enterprise communications.

The premise was simple: We wanted to showcase the power of messaging to as many people as possible. Attendees would chat with a bot and get free stuff at our booth. Exhibitors would chat with the same bot before being handed off to a human agent. Agents coordinated deliveries with runners on the floor, zipping between booths, dropping off candy, drinks, and swag.

The human agents exhibitors chatted with? Three Smoochies, staffing a makeshift contact center in Montreal in a meeting room named after a food emoji. 🍕

One of those real people was me.

Building the Chat Boutique

Here’s where things get technical. To showcase a host of different features, our team built the experience using our embeddable Web Messenger. Our Web Messenger is one of the richest on the market, supporting a ton of interactive features that we used to design a fun experience for exhibitors. In order to manage the onslaught of conversations at scale, we hooked it up to Front using our native integration. Exhibitor orders populated a Google Sheet, and we dispatched our runners using Slack. Easy as pie.

Once exhibitors picked what they wanted from a carousel, they confirmed their details in a form that we built using a Conversation Extension. Our Conversation Extensions work on any channel, and we were able to design a streamlined experience for people to give us their name and booth number. From there, they had the option to receive delivery updates on WhatsApp or SMS. Not only would they know when their order was on its way, they would also be able to carry on the conversation in their favourite messaging channel — with all the context from before.

We used our Channel Linking API to connect channels in the Conversation Extension, enabling users to link WhatsApp or mobile numbers to their profile. Our Web SDK supports channel transfers out of the box, but embedded at the top of the chat window. For Enterprise Connect, we decided to add channel transfers as part of the exhibitor’s check-out flow rather than prompting them to transfer at the beginning of a conversation. Our flexible APIs made testing and experimenting easy, and we found this to increase channel transfer usage from previous iterations of this experiment.

If looks could kill

While our team is working tirelessly on the next iteration of Web Messenger, we experimented with an early customization framework to give the chat frame a makeover. We wanted the messaging experience to have a killer look and match the Chat Boutique’s branding perfectly. This was an awesome chance for us to provide feedback to the engineering team, ensuring it was as powerful and easy to use as the version we’re turning over to our customers later this year.

Think of the agent

Integrating your enterprise software with Smooch? Simple. Being on the other side of the helpdesk? That’s a bit more complicated. Agent-side, it would have been helpful to have rich messaging features like typing indicators and read receipts. While agents had the ability to send shorthand and templated messages, features like carousels, GIFs and Conversation Extensions aren’t actually visible to the agent. We had no way of knowing if the GIFs we sent were working, for example.

Although we were able to deliver an enjoyable experience for exhibitors, we were quickly overwhelmed by high volumes of conversations, especially around lunch. Those of us acting as agents back in Montreal would call out which tickets we would take to each other. Some of us were faster than others (wink) and ended up with a higher volume of conversations. Admittedly not the worst problem to have, but taking on too many conversations probably lead to slower response times on our end and a less-than-pleasant experience for exhibitors. Sorry guys!

Knock your socks off

We gave participants the option of ordering socks, shirts, M&Ms, water bottles, Red Bull, Advil, and a hard copy of our State of Messaging report. Corporate swag famously lacks the effortless charm of indie streetwear brands and DIY graphic tees, despite being made in the same factories. This was absolutely not the case for our socks. Smooch socks are an elegant, timeless choice that can easily transition from day to night. It’s no surprise that they flew off the shelves. If we rebranded into a company that sold socks, we would probably be fine.

It’s actually really hard to tell somebody “no,” even during something as ephemeral as a pop-up exhibitor experience at a conference. We had to say no to plenty of requests — no, we don’t have sugar-free Red Bull. No, we don’t have coffee. No, we still don’t have socks. The experience was popular enough that we ran out of nearly everything by the end of the conference, but it would have been awesome if we didn’t leave anyone disappointed.

Who’s there?

You never know who you’ll strike up a conversation with. While looking up exhibitors at the show, we saw that one identified himself as a former contestant on the Bachelorette.

Yes, he was on season 7 almost 10 years ago. Yes he was eliminated with two other men with six weeks to go in the competition. Yes, we asked him about it when he popped in our inbox. Every time he came back to the conversation, we had the full conversation history and context to know who we were talking to, allowing us to tailor the experience on the ground. Customers don’t have to repeat themselves, agents can customize their service, and they’ll never forget about your brief stint on the Bachelorette.

Dog food for thought

The point of eating our own dog food was to get a feel for what our customers go through when they build their products on Smooch. We went through a bit of pain implementing channel linking inside the Conversation Extensions — but like we said, that’s new territory for us. From this, we were able to identify opportunities to reduce friction and give better out-of-the-box tools to add this feature to our customers’ own messaging experiences.

We also noticed that in prompting users to link their WhatsApp or phone numbers as part of the check-out flow, we drastically increased the number of users actually linking channels. Compared to earlier versions of this experience, over 50% of exhibitors opted-in to channel linking! We’ll be looking at ways to make it easier for you to add channel linking in form data capture flows.

It’s not all easy, though — we did run into some complications when it came to capturing international phone numbers, validating them and returning error messages for invalid numbers. Although we were able to identify and solve the issue rather quickly, it made us realize that we could make this easier for our customers to implement as well.

Lastly, we didn’t plan for the slow internet connection at the show. This slowed down our conversation flow, and had users leaving the conversation before any of the fun began. We think we can do better when it comes to offline mode, and we’re definitely more sensitive to that issue now.

You win some, you learn some

Talking to exhibitors was a lot of fun. People were really excited to chat, and loved the way we were able to tailor the conversational experience around them using GIFs, emojis, and cracking jokes. Even at peak periods, with dozens of active conversations, we were able to have fun. It makes sense — we live in an increasingly messaging-first world, and conversational commerce is asserting itself across a spectrum of industries. Of course, messaging isn’t a one-size-fits-all experience. We’re lucky to work with a product that’s easily customizable. Connecting to WhatsApp, SMS, and Front took no time at all, and it gave us the opportunity to go wild with making our Web Messenger the star of the show.

Running a pop-up messaging experience isn’t the easiest feat in the world, but we made it happen. If we do it again, let it be known that we will have more than enough socks for everyone.

And last of all...

I’ve heard the word “dogfooding” so many times this past week without knowing what it was. In my onboarding I was introduced to the expression “drinking our own champagne,” which I like more. I absolutely did not connect that to “dogfooding” until I googled it after the meeting.