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Sunday, May 27, 2018

Intelligent Self-Service Answers the Call

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“Hey, Siri. Tell me a joke.”

Remember those early iPhone commercials with celebrities conversing with Siri as if she were human? How little did I, and most others I suspect, know how that entertaining bit of commercial nonsense was about to change our expectations of customer self-service.

Today’s customer service is driven in large part by the expectations of the Millennial generation, which represents the largest living generation. The majority of today’s consumers grew up in a mobile digital world where dynamic interactions with various devices and technologies set the standard for communications of all descriptions. For the majority of today’s consumers, the thought of being led through a menu-driven interactive voice response (IVR) system is as foreign as the thought of being led to their seat at the movie theater by a uniformed usher with a flashlight.

Customer expectations are changing, and the successful contact center will change with them. That means delivering a self-service customer experience that parallels the customers’ expectations of that experience—dynamic, intelligent and conversational. The contact center that can’t provide this kind of experience soon will likely become just a fading memory of the way things used to be.

The early answer to this evolving contact center self-service customer requirement has been the chatbot. While clearly conversational and dynamic, chatbots have a limited scope that restricts their ability to help the customer only within a narrowly defined domain. By definition, chatbots do one thing really well, responding to key words and conversing with users within a given area of expertise. If the customer strays outside of the chatbot’s domain of expertise, it generally means another chatbot with different expertise is called in, or the customer is transferred to a live agent for additional help.

The next generation of intelligent self-service is the Intelligent Virtual Agent (IVA). The IVA differs from the chatbot in its ability to understand concepts rather than just key words, which allows the IVA to better understand the customer’s intent and what the customer wishes to accomplish. As an artificial intelligence (AI)-driven platform, the IVA continues to learn over time and improves with each interaction. Given its understanding of customer intent, the IVA is able to jump in and out of a conversational flow in order to address a customer inquiry that is related to, but not necessarily resident in, a given domain.

The focus of self-service in today’s contact center should be to help the customer to the next best action, whether that action is getting them to the right resources via an automated assistance path or getting them to live help when necessary. And, of course, all the activity that has transpired during the course of the automated self-service experience should accompany the customer to the live agent as well. For employees, IVA self-service can help them solve customer needs faster with a single source of information delivered through a conversational engagement and integrated with enterprise systems, providing a streamlined way to be empowered and efficient.

When I was young and got my first apartment, the pride of the place was my stereo system.  Lots of knobs, gauges, needles and an analog tuner that I could fiddle around with until I found music I wanted to listen to. My Millennial daughter doesn’t have a stereo in her apartment. She has Google Home. When she wants to hear a certain kind of music, she just says, “Hey Google, play some country music.” It’s intelligent, conversational and part of her daily life in a myriad of ways. As a potential consumer for the next 50 or 60-plus years, her expectations of self-service are already established.

Customer interaction dynamics are changing and the industry must get onboard. The time for thinking about making the transformation to intelligent, assisted self-service is past. Intelligent virtual agents are the contact center self-service future, and the future is here

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