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Got These On Your 2016-2019 Service Roadmap?

Right now I can see three genuinely transformational technologies on offer for forward-thinking contact centres.

The first is Interaction Analytics which provides credible evidence of what goes on day in day out. Its range of application is impressive – 100 per cent compliance management, advisor dashboards for self-development, a key input to Voice of the Customer initiatives and customer journey mapping. And finally it’s a forensic bloodhound able to sniff out demand failure.

The second is Visual IVR. Smartphone addicted customers increasingly use their ‘third hand’ for all engagement touch points including customer service. Visual IVR becomes the GUI of choice: delivering omni-channel fluency together with an infinitely more intuitive way of engaging with service options, relative to its audio equivalent. More importantly it heals the false divide between so called digital and voice services with click-to-anything functionality.

The third is Intelligent Assistance – a hybrid experience for customers that sits between live assistance and self-service. Service access becomes instant which conforms to expectation. It is also smart enough to feel easy to use. It’s the way we will navigate our digital day-in-the-life-of. Finding stuff, buying stuff, fixing stuff. Personal assistants continually engaging with enterprise assistants will become the new version of letting ‘my people talk with your people’.

Blend all that together and we can glimpse how contact centres will be reinventing themselves over the next few years.

I’ve been a long term evangelist for the interaction analytics cause. Everyone now knows it is out there and budgets are being increasingly earmarked. Thankfully perceptions of what industrial strength solutions can deliver are also taking over from initial disappointment that it was all too tough and a bit underwhelming. It’s still going to take some time but voice and text analytics in a world preaching big data and proactive engagement has to eventually stick.

Visual IVR is a newer proposition. It still has wow factor as people witness it for the first time. Once seen it just makes sense. Most vendors have found a way to white label it and so POCs are starting to roll out. As a way of orchestrating self-help and live assistance for digitally minded customers I think it’s a winner. I’m sure it will be seen as a milestone competency for brands once reached. I expect we shall be experiencing some generation 1.0 versions before the summer is over.

Intelligent assistants are just as exciting and even newer at least from a European perspective. The rest of this post is a scene setter for why they matter.

Putting Intelligent Assistance On The Radar
Here’s my soapbox on why you should now tune into the topic and start figuring out what they mean in the context of your engagement strategy.

In April 2016, there is the first chance for UK service leaders to become fully immersed in the intelligent assistance opportunity. Dan Miller and his team from Opus Research are bringing over their hugely successful conference on the topic which is already in its third year stateside. It’s on the 26/27th. You can check the details out here.

I’ve tracked the previous two conferences and been updating my omni-channel master classes with the use cases as soon as they were published. So when I heard they were London bound I leapt at the opportunity to join in and make sure everyone knew and had freed up their diaries to attend.

As a topic, intelligent assistants are relevant for many reasons. I’ll be talking more about them in further posts. But for starters, two reasons stand out for me.

First they make a lot more sense for contact centres than the current conversation about robots. For sure considering robots in your retail channel is valid since stores are physical touch points. I can imagine robots scooting up and down the shop floor or greeting travellers arriving in a Tokyo hotel reception. In fact both of those scenarios are already real world examples.

But I can’t quite imagine the Amazon resource planners introducing robots for their Mayday service as yet. Even in a drone crazy culture.

Contact centres are not physical touch points. Instead a different type of interface connects customers and organisations. These days it can be any combination of voice, text or video, pretty much on the device of your choosing.

Intelligent assistants have equivalent communication dexterity with or without an avatar as part of their presence. Even then they remain a two dimensional experience. Although in time VR (virtual reality) will no doubt make that distinction redundant.

So we should be very clear, before getting too star struck with all the post Davos 4th Industrial Revolution hype about AI and robots, what this stuff really means for the contact centre touch point.

You won’t be running inductions and academies for robots. More realistically, you will be integrating and managing a service interface that is now capable of self-learning.

But that does not sound quite as exciting. I get that. So I’m guessing we are still likely to hear the ‘robots in contact centres’ topic for a while yet. They are just too good a media topic to sober up on. They can be cute, scary or just plain intriguing depending how the journalist wants to spin their story.

Even better they can still generate headline interest with unsubstantiated claims that they are somehow going to somehow beat us, take our jobs and threaten our position as top of the food chain.

Silicon life forms 10 – Carbon life forms 0
We can even be suckers for confusing robots and aliens. Maybe all this is an understandable leap of imagination. We are still in the very early stages of any co-existence, so our imaginations are yet to be calibrated by any real world value and impact of ‘us and robots’. What we think we know about them is more likely Hollywood than home based.

OK enough of the robots. I’ve got side-tracked as well! But consider yourself warned. Ignore the robot storyline and know that back in the real world, the contact centre and equivalent online touch point need to be getting acquainted with Intelligent Assistants instead.

Intelligent Assistants & Digital Service Strategy
The value of intelligent assistants lies in the relevance they are going to have in one of our greatest ongoing debates.

How do we engage with customers in a digital world?
I know many brands right now that are trying to make sense of their digital service strategy. Unfortunately the debate is often reduced to a game of trying to substitute voice for whatever is arbitrarily judged as a ‘digital’ channel.

A deeper look says the new service ecosystems are going be much more than a simple channel switch!

In a mobile first, cloud delivered set of service workflows that can become contextually smarter as the flow of data between consumer and brand increases, there still needs to be an anchor experience for the user. Something to fall back on without slowing you down.

A service point we return to since we trust its ability to help us. Something that can absorb any frustration or confusion we are having and put us back on the right track. Maybe even something we can delegate the detail to and sort stuff on our behalf. Some of that is 2016 capability. Some remains on the roadmap. But all of it is in the domain and value proposition of intelligent assistants. As far as customer service is concerned:

They can understand us, provide answers, find stuff, complete tasks and escalate to live assistance if all else fails.

This is why they matter right now. They offer a fast track to slimming down live assistance (voice/text) to its optimised size.

Article written by Martin Hill-Wilson

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