It Takes a Robot to Fight the Robots
The same thing happens every time you contact a company by phone, email or chat. Did you notice? A robot answers and tries to figure out if it’s worthwhile to connect you to a human.
It’s time to turn the tables. When they call, text or email you, they should get your robot, who decides if it’s worthwhile to connect them through to a real person — you. Their marketing emails, robo-texts and sales calls should hit the same brick wall that ordinary people hit when contacting a company.
The same technology that’s used to run modern automated contact centers also makes it possible to set up an effective, low-cost Assistant that everyone can afford. Your “Robot Assistant” will be a piece of software running on your device, or in the cloud.
A Robot Assistant is your ticket to being easy to reach for the real people in your life, and impossible to reach for unwanted marketers, spammers and robo-callers.
Open Networks are Hacked
Most phone calls and emails today are simply robots trying to get the attention of humans. A computer server placed the call or sent the email, which allows them to write a short piece of information to your memory.
That’s right -a computer is writing something to your (human) memory, changing the inputs to your behavior so the outputs will change. Any hacker can understand it.
It’s not safe to have a human on the other end of an open API. You need your own robot, playing defense.
Big Company Tools At Your Disposal
Imaging having a screened phone number or email that’s safe to give out.
Calls, text messages, and emails that arrive will be processed by a cloud application exactly like the ones that big-company contact centers are using. It’s powered by the same cloud services, like Twilio and SendGrid.
When a call, text or email comes in, your Robot Assistant will look up the sender in your existing Conversations list. If it’s a person who’s allowed to call, text or email you the communication goes straight through.
It could be forwarded to your regular phone number or email address; or you could get a push notification and take the call in a Robot Assistant App on your smartphone. But how does it handle unknown callers?
The same AI used to route calls in the modern contact center can also be used to figure out the edge cases. Why shouldn’t your Robot Assistant ask a few questions and make a decision on whether you want to talk to the caller? That’s exactly what every big company is doing when you call them.
Ultimately, your Robot Assistant should route any questionable phone calls, emails and text messages to your Junk folder. It’s true that a few real people will be routed to the Junk folder — but that’s OK because your Robot Assistant can give them another option to get through.
My Public Link
It’s called a Public Link. I can post my Public Link on LinkedIn, Twitter and my website. It might look like this: http://ContactLink.com/jesse-hercules
You want to get in touch with me, so you click the link. On that page, my virtual assistant asks the same kinds of questions that a human assistant would ask.
It asks for your real name and organization. Asks what the purpose of your call is. It asks for your phone and email, so I have the chance to call you back if I’m not available. It validates your identity, using the same tools used elsewhere in the digital and gig economies. It checks its memory to see what reputation you have accumulated in prior dealings with me or anyone else.
You Get a Unique Conversation Address
If you pass the test, then you get a unique conversation URL, an address for your conversation with me. It’s not an email address I hand out to 1000 people. It’s a unique address per recipient. Something like this: http://ContactLink.com/qw4r8qfur
On that page, you can call, text or email me — or get on my calendar. You don’t need my phone number or email address. Just click.
I get a chance to rate you. Were you telling the truth about your purpose in contacting me? Was it a positive interaction, or a cheap sales call? Do I want to upgrade your access? Perhaps I only let new people text and email, but now I add phone call access for you.
Or do I want to block you forever? You never had my email address and phone number. My assistant got your verified identity, so you can’t just come back under another email address. If I block you, you’re blocked for good.
Real Identities and Shared Assistants
Getting a real identity online starts with validating email addresses and phone numbers. Another instant, low cost approach is asking someone to connect existing accounts like Facebook, LinkedIn, or Google. The robustness and quality of data in these accounts, as well as the content, is a good signal of a real identity.
New tools are also available in the Gig Economy that turbocharge identity validation at low cost. Services from AirBnB to Lyft to TaskRabbit need tools quickly determine people’s identity and check their reputation before onboarding them as service providers. All without seeing them in-person. This is a capability that gets better, faster, and cheaper every day.
Ultimately, people will determine how much validation they’re willing to undergo in order to reach me. I will set a reputation or validation cutoff they have to pass. It’s a balance, a market process that seeks equilibrium. Some people will set the bar high, others will set the bar lower.
It’s the same process every executive goes through when they hire a new Assistant and train them.
There’s a strong set of network effects to a Robot Assistant. The initial market leader will find it easy to grow and dominate the market for years to come. And maintain a premium price. Here’s why:
You only need to prove your identity to each Robot Assistant once (and set up a cookie, credential or password). If I am using the market leading Assistant, then most people I give my contact information to are already authenticated there. It’s low friction for them to contact me.
Reputation and network effects go hand in hand. The bigger the network, the more valuable a good reputation can be. If I use the market-leading Assistant, I am building up a more valuable reputation than if I use a smaller Assistant. A good reputation lets me connect to 100 million people, not 100,000.
A market-leading Assistant will find it easier to police the bad guys. The bigger the network, the more devastating it would be to accumulate a bad reputation. I might refuse to take a job because I’d risk my permanent reputation by reaching out with a cheap sales pitch. A job doesn’t last forever, but your reputation does.
It’s also a matter of personal branding. People pay extra for Coca-Cola and serve it to their guests — even though Sam’s Choice Cola is less expensive. People will want to be associated with the name-brand Robot Assistant, even if there’s a cheaper option. The market leader can maintain high margins.
A Race To The Top
We’ve seen the reasons why an anonymous communication networks with single addresses are doomed to fail. And why a unique address per conversation, monitored by a Robot Assistant, can provide a solution. It creates a race to the top, where people who are valuable when they reach out to others accumulate a reputation that lets them reach anyone they want to.
The only serious difficulty is the problem of getting consumers to pay for anything in the world of online services. A Robot Assistant is designed to protect customers from advertising, so it can’t really be done as a free and ad-supported service.
It’s time for us to demand better contact information — and it only works if we put our money where our mouth is.