An online lesson that will teach me how to infuse vodka with jellybeans so I can make that perfect party drink? Sign me up! Wait ... there's another video that will teach me how to play the ukulele? Finally! And what about my lifelong desire to be able to stencil a wall? Done! These are just a few of the "how-to" videos you can find on Curious.com, a young company founded and run by Justin Kitch, formerly of Intuit Corp.
Curious, which was named one of Time Magazine's 50 best Web sites of 2013, received $7.5 million in venture financing this past year. But the money wasn't spent on jellybean-infused vodka. Investors are jumping on board companies like Curious.com and other video-based online technologies that are changing the way accounting firms, big and small, and their clients are providing services to their customers. And attracting new ones.
What's powering this enormous trend? Hundreds of millions of devices now being used by viewers who have adapted to watching everything from TV shows to movies on them. The proliferation of wireless Internet availability just about anywhere, and faster bandwidth powered by wireless service providers. More powerful and smaller processors that are able to handle the requirements of video. Higher-capacity memory chips to hold and deliver content locally while downloading additional gigabytes of data to maximize the user experience (how often do you suffer from "buffering" like you did just a few years ago?). All of these technologies are creating an environment for a faster, better and more powerful video experience from startups and established brands that are quickly changing the way we serve our clients. Here are just five examples:
Curious.com. A platform for teachers to create their own lessons and share their knowledge with subscribers from around the world ... for a cut of the profits. Here your business could create its own content -- training, customer service demonstrations, how-to's, certification lessons - and enable your paying customers to get the information delivered to them via video whenever they choose to see it. "Part of our 'leaning back' process is that there are questions during the lesson to keep you involved," Kitch explains. "Teachers decompose their lessons into bite-sized chunks. You're interacting at your speed." Curious.com's future plans include more live interaction between students and teachers and a push into the higher education market. "We now have 3,000 lessons as compared to 500 just a few months ago." Kitch said.
Google Helpouts. Recently introduced by Google, Helpouts is a community of experts who are standing by to help you solve problems in real time ... or if they're sleeping, you can schedule a future session. You pay for the service by the minute or by the hour, although some experts offer their lessons for free.
Want to learn how to read a financial statement? Need some QuickBooks training? Need immediate tech support from a computer guy? Want to try a few corrective exercises for your knee pain? Is it time to learn how to play guitar? Here's where your business can drive its customers to sign up and receive specialized help for the products or services you provide. No technical requirements needed and no infrastructure investment required. And you can get paid.
Google + Hangouts On Air. Want to really go live? Then set up a recurring Hangouts On Air session and see how many viewers you can attract. This service enables any individual or business to create their own TV show and broadcast it to the world ... for free. Interview employees, show off that new piece of equipment, visit a customer, bring in an expert ... think up whatever content you want to share with your community. And when the broadcast is over you'll be able to automatically save it to your YouTube channel so that people who missed it can catch it and you can repurpose the content in your social marketing activities. Check out how the Huffington Post uses Hangouts On Air as the backbone for their HuffPost Live channel.
Amazon's Mayday. You've seen the commercials by now where that married guy has that creepy infatuation with the Amazon service rep who's standing by to immediately help him with his Kindle Fire? That's where customer service is heading. Immediate help delivered live via video (and don't worry, in Amazon's case the service rep can't see you but you can see them).
If Amazon is successful in scaling this technology, look for many of the industry leaders that provide online help tools like LogMeIn, GoToMyPC and Skype to jump on the train. Many of these services already do offer Web- and video-based chat support as part of their offerings, and Amazon's promotion will only increase awareness, attract more funding and help you expand your use of this technology.
SundaySky. Another enormous trend is how video technology will change how we find new customers. For example, a growing number of small, venture-backed companies are using video to get personal. For example, SundaySky enables personalized video ads to be immediately delivered based on information that it picks up online about the viewer. For example, say there's an Open Table visitor looking at vegetarian dinner options -- SundaySky's platform would recognize this and deliver a specific video about a restaurant's delicious vegetarian dishes. If the next user is a steak-and-potatoes guy, that same ad is customized just a little to show off some red meat options. It's not as tough as you think. "The process is more challenging with actors, of course," said Comcast Venture's Andrew Cleland, a SundaySky investor. "But where there are human voiceovers, textual displays, graphics and slides, the variations of the video can be unlimited."
The infrastructure has matured. The dollars are there. And investors are plowing money into these latest video tools. And these are only five examples. With highly visible companies like Google and Amazon leading the way, it will only be a short time before we see more of these technologies adopted mainstream. If you're looking for the latest ways to better serve your customers (and find a few new ones), or if you're merely interested in infusing jellybeans with vodka at your next party, I hope this article has been helpful!
Gene Marks, CPA, is the owner of the Marks Group, which sells customer relationship, service, and financial management tools to small and midsized businesses. Besides Accounting Today, he writes for Forbes, The New York Times and Inc.com.
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