Much has been written about the need for an ‘omnichannel strategy’ to respond to the needs of ‘the multichannel customer’ who switches between channels and devices with ease and expects brands to reciprocate, but the industry is struggling to turn this vision into reality.
In addition to written communication overtaking verbal interaction, people are using the internet to ‘self serve’, simply finding information themselves or using communication channels like email, web chat and social media to communicate with businesses. Increasingly, people seem to prefer not to have to talk to another person.
In fact, as the world’s most powerful brands invest in systems that overcome some of the problems of voice recognition, the experience of talking to a device can be a delight. As an interfacing method, it can be almost magical, something that cannot be said about the keyboard, say, and certainly not the traditional IVR we encounter with contact centres.
With Apple’s Siri, Google Voice and Microsoft’s Kinect on the Xbox One, consumers see voice recognition that works, delivering fantastic interactive experiences. Meanwhile, Intel is developing a new mobile processor designed specifically with voice recognition in mind, the idea being that it will outperform Siri and Google Voice by not requiring an ‘always on’ internet connection to perform tasks.
In theory this preference for multichannel communication and self-service, together with advances in voice recognition, should be welcomed by the contact centre. Surely sophisticated technology can take the pressure off hard-pressed agents, where call waiting times suggest there are scarcely enough customer service representatives to manage customers’ most basic needs, let alone more complex enquiries?
In reality the evolution from call to contact centre is not so straightforward as it might seem from the outside.
Through no fault of their own, contact centres are still far too dependent on moribund technology that is just not capable of delivering the innovative experiences consumers are used to in other areas of their lives. While contact centre managers may be entirely familiar with the concept of ‘omnichannel’ the technology they use generally isn’t.
>See also: The 7 myths of cloud contact centres
The problem is that contact centres have added new communications channels one at a time, which means that they still operate in silos that don’t integrate well with each other and are prohibitively expensive to upgrade. Meanwhile their customers want communication to be ‘joined up’.
The self-service snag
Similarly self-service options in the contact centre currently fall well short of consumer expectations. Traditional IVR systems sometimes use an element of voice recognition to handle very simple transactions while acting as a filtering system for contact centre agents.
While this reduces queues and cuts costs, they are universally reviled by customers because they tend not to work very well. The problem lies not with the principle but in the execution.
The cloud could provide the answer to both of these challenges.
Today’s complicated communications environment requires applications that can rapidly process data from multiple sources, with sophisticated algorithms capable of understanding and emulating the complexity of human interaction.
The cost of this processing power is prohibitive for individual organisations to implement themselves, but not for cloud providers, who have already invested in the huge data centres that will be required.
As contact centres move to the cloud, the introduction of new self-service technologies, including automated blended multimedia agents becomes possible.
Next generation IVR (Interactive Voice Response) is just one example of how the huge computer power of the cloud can help contact centres offer self-service options that match the needs of their customers.
Just as Siri or Google Voice are cloud connected software applications, cloud-connected contact centre self-service systems will be capable of a new level of sophistication.
The computing power that lies behind the growing sophistication of voice recognition makes the futuristic vision of an interactive computer-driven agent entirely possible. And it is the cloud that will make it a reality, providing a shared platform to deliver the kind of innovation and processing power that most blue-chip organisations can only dream of.
The customer is already clamouring for the kind of customer experience that the computer-driven agent will provide. If the little device in your hand is able to do this stuff, why can’t a business?
Embracing the cloud
Of course, one of the biggest reasons for contact centres to embrace the cloud is that it promises to fulfil the omnichannel vision that legacy technology has so far failed to deliver.
The blended multimedia agent of the future will be fully integrated with a business’ CRM and become a highly effective part of the endeavour to interact seamlessly with customers across multiple channels, in real-time.
This said, there are issues to be faced. Will the consumer be accepting of next-generation self-service systems, or have years of bad experiences damaged perception beyond repair?
Even the likes of Amazon, having made a fortune from eliminating the ‘human’ element of transactions, understands that often there still is a need for person-to-person interaction, as exemplified by its recent announcement of the ‘Mayday’ live video agent.
More complex customer queries have always had to be handled by a human being, but inevitably as voice recognition and the computing behind it gets more advanced, fewer and fewer of these queries will need a person on the other end of the line.
Does that mean that there could come a point where a computer-driven agent really can offer a better customer service experience than a human customer service representative?
Magnetic North believes, in five years time, an interactive computer-driven agent will successfully manage 40% of transactions that today require a human – be that over voice only or via a multimedia integrated automated solution.
Initially this may be driven in the same way as web chat where human operators will drive the automated responses for multiple customers, but as the algorithms learn and become more intelligent, the possibilities for true omnichannel are limitless.
Sourced from David Ford, MD, Magnetic North