Time to rethink our expectations of digital audio platforms
By Scott Klass, chief marketing officer of SoundStack
You can’t stop progress in terms of technology. But if you’re selling a human experience, you can’t pretend that a robot is doing that.
– Inside Radio
The above statement – specifically about the prospect of broadcasters using synthetic voices on the air – addresses only one of a million examples of the hot-button issue du jour: how much of our work should we leave to the efficiency of AI? You’re seeing it debated everywhere, from podcast advertising to the current writers strike in Hollywood.
For the most part, those debates hover around disciplines that are traditionally expected to be driven by humans. Julia Louis-Dreyfus reading her show’s podcast ads works because people tune in to hear her (and her amazing guests). No one expects the incredible dialogue in Succession to come from anything other than the show’s brilliant writing and acting.
But what about disciplines in which tech comes first? I’ll be Mr. Obvious for a second and say that if you’re buying a tech solution, your primary expectation is that you’re buying great technology – that it’s going to solve your problems and help you meet your goals, and do it really efficiently.
If, for example, you’re an audio publisher who decides to use a supply-side platform, you choose that SSP primarily for its ability to connect your inventory to a lot of great advertiser demand that will earn you more revenue. If you choose a particular hosting platform, you do it primarily for that platform’s ability to deliver your podcast or stream seamlessly, keep your listeners happy, and keep that audience growing.
But, perhaps because the AI issue is so all-consuming right now, there’s an aspect of working with technology platforms that seems to be getting lost: collaborating with, and servicing clients. We know because we’ve heard it from those clients. And this isn’t only about AI.
Validating the value of great service
The fact of the matter is, in most cases, no matter how great your technology is, you still need great people taking you through it. Many platforms are simple to use (we count our own among them), but media/ad tech solutions are inherently complex. And it’s not only about the technology itself. Things come up. Customer needs change. Other, third-party platforms get added to the daisy chain. The understanding and agility needed to navigate any of that (and more) adeptly can only come from humans.
“As the battle for loyalty intensifies, marketing, sales and services will need to work in parallel and operate seamlessly to reimagine interactions and deliver on a differentiated human experience…. It’s not enough for sellers to stand behind their products. They need to become partners in ensuring success for the individual buyer and the organization,” states a customer lead from Deloitte in Adweek.
Do tech companies get it? Their customers make the priority very clear.
75% of b2b vendor customers “expect companies to anticipate their needs, make relevant suggestions, and deliver the right level of engagement across the buying journey.” 78% of buyers say that they’d do business with a company again, even after an issue, if that company provides great service, according to Salesforce.
Maybe the converse point is even more eye-opening for tech companies: only 15% of buyers who qualify the service they received from a vendor as “very poor” are willing to forgive them.
Experiencing it first-hand with customers
The perspective is informed by more than market statistics alone – we hear from our own customers about the importance of great service all the time (so much so that we built a post-sales Publisher/Demand Enablement team).
“In my experience, a lot of media and ad-tech businesses put so much emphasis on the tech that they forget we as customers still need great personal consultation to really make complex platforms work for us, troubleshoot problems, and get the most out of the platform,” states Anna Devere, writer/host of National Day Podcast and president of Q1 Network.
How does that sort of personal consultation play out? Here’s an example. Another one of our customers, a major-market public broadcaster, has, like most NPR affiliates, its own member center to help address listener issues as they arise. As our two teams engaged more deeply, it became apparent that the broadcaster, while being adept at handling customer inquiries, didn’t have enough of the technical expertise needed to fully address certain issues. Realizing that, our frontline support team created resources and training materials – and even conducted training sessions for the member center employees – to help. The consultation not only rounded out the broadcaster’s service offering, it ultimately reduced the number of tickets submitted by station listeners.
Many more examples abound, and the point is always the same. This sort of custom engagement – the aforementioned “differentiated human experience” – can only come from smart, agile people engaging directly with each other. And it clearly makes a huge difference.
The new expectation of media/ad tech
New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd wrote last week that “AI is [technologists’] baby, hurtling toward the rebellious teenage years.” It’s an apt metaphor – lots of complexity, new developments coming fast, emotions running high (and again, not only with AI, but in tech more broadly).
Maybe, to play on her analogy, the customers of digital media/ad tech need to be reminded that – in responsible companies – there are “parents” (or really good friends of your parents, or aunts, uncles, etc.) who are there to provide calm, measured, smart guidance. They’re client service people, the humans that buyers should expect are there for them to navigate the complexity, so that technology solutions, including AI, can actually solve their problems.