by Tobias Goebel on August 1st, 2014
For the longest time, we have looked at how to complement human labor in the contact center with computer programs – to reduce costs, provide 24×7 service, and offer quicker access to basic information. IVR systems are the prime example of technology that complements human service by pre-qualifying a caller through some simple questions and routing them to the right agent. What we have been finding until recently is that customers usually preferred the “human touch” over automation. The terms “automation,” “bots,” or ”IVR” tend to come with heavily negative connotations. TV ads have been mocking bad IVR systems and showing off with short wait times to get to live operators. Websites such as gethuman.com have been launched to show consumers how to quickest get to an operator.
As another example of how technology is complementing human labor, let’s look at the agent workplace itself. In the contact center, agents are equipped with Internet access, dedicated knowledge bases, document management systems, CRM systems, and more, to have the answer to the customer’s question ready as quickly as possible.
All of this, however, is slowly changing. Rather than having machines assist humans, we’re slowly entering the era of the reverse: algorithm-based customer service, assisted by humans to put the “finishing touches” on an otherwise increasingly impeccable experience. Virtual assistants on websites are recently gaining in popularity as they expose a more natural interface (conversational, “spoken language” style) to finding information vs. manual search. The younger demographic prefers texting to calling. The older ones seem to catch up and agree. We are now carefully sending a text first to check if it is OK to call. What a remarkable change in behavior and expectations!
Why is this change happening?
First and foremost: the mobility revolution. The introduction of the iPhone in 2007 has truly brought the mass consumer market to realize the power of computer technology if applied to their daily lives. For the first time ever did the Internet, an invention that in its current form came into being around 1989, find its way into a pocket-sized device without compromising the user experience. More and more people realized that with a mobile device of this form factor, they had the world of information and communication literally at their fingertips. It suddenly became cool to be a nerd – a person who understands and can program computers. Consumers now seem to shout ”give me an app, I can look this up quicker than your agents!” at any company they do business with.
Other enhancements came with the iPhone and Apple’s insistence on quality user experiences. Siri, Apple’s speech assistant, is only possible as general-purpose data connectivity and required bandwidths allowed overcoming the restrictions of the PSTN (public switched telephone network) in terms of what sound frequency ranges it submits. Sounds such as “s”, “f”, or “th” differ in frequency ranges that are simply cut off in normal telephony (above 8 kHz). Siri can submit the full range of an utterance recording in high definition, which improves speech recognition accuracy. Cloud computing does its share to quickly respond with a transcription of what was said, of which Siri then applies a semantic analysis to truly “understand” the user – at least to the extent that it can perform the operation the user asked for.
Big Data and today’s capability to automatically farm large quantities of data contribute to making systems such as Siri more and more perfect. The formula is simple: the more context you have, the better you can understand someone. While this is even more true for pragmatic context (i.e. dialog history and “world” knowledge), it is even important in the phonetic domain alone. As an example: try to understand a few words of a spoken conversation by only hearing a second or so of what was said. If you don’t have any context at all, you will realize it’s not that easy to do. However, if you heard the domain and topic the conversation is about, and heard what the immediately neighboring words were, your brain uses deduction and other mental techniques in addition to the pure “hearing”, to understand an utterance.
What does all of this have to do with customer service?
Recently, companies and technologies have emerged that invert the paradigm of machines helping humans become better. There are companies out there in the field of IVR technology that are running call centers of people that do nothing but listen to what people tell IVR systems. They never talk to the callers directly, they are merely jumping in if automated speech recognition cannot tell what a caller said, or isn’t confident enough it understood the caller properly (speech recognition engines always associate a likelihood with a recognition hypothesis). When hearing an utterance, they then either quickly type in what they heard, so that the IVR system can move forward, or they click on predefined data items (the so-called “semantic interpretation” of a verbatim utterance) that are expected in the current dialog step. This is a case of “human-assisted machine service” in the field of customer service that is an amazing testament to the change that is taking place.
After great success on TV’s “Jeopardy,” IBM released Watson to developers to build applications that use Watson’s unique cognitive capabilities in creative new ways. A prime use case for Watson, however, is customer service. When done right, Watson can engage with customers, say through chat on a website, as if the customer was talking to a live person. Watson doesn’t merely bring up Web pages that seem to have the information you are asking for – it answers your question. Something that Google also increasingly does on their core search product (try searching for “who wrote Norwegian Wood,” and Google will answer your question – in addition to showing you relevant websites). Watson goes beyond Google, though, in that it can ask back to narrow down your question, to lead you to the right answer. It can deduce. It can learn. Like a child absorbing everything, or a very astute student. Most importantly: Watson learns from unstructured data, i.e. data expressed in human language such as English. That’s a new level of computing, beyond plain big data analysis.
With Watson, humans again take a step back from the spotlight, and operate “behind the scenes.” They need to feed Watson with information, constantly. Watson doesn’t go out by itself to learn. Watson needs to be fed product brochures, manuals, data sheets, research papers, books, etc. Anything that is relevant for the domain of knowledge Watson is operating in.
This is the emerging new role of humans in customer service: make sure that the data is accurate, but let machines do the “talking” and “serving.” Humans then also step in when that “human touch” is really needed: Not to answer the simple questions, but to mitigate in complex situations, to calm down angry customers, to provide a level of confidence and confidentiality when needed, e.g. in the domain of financial advising.
It’s going to be exciting to see what the limits are.
by Jim Freeze, SVP, CMO on July 30th, 2014
Customers are the backbone of every business, but every day we hear about people who believe they have been mistreated or pushed around by companies, sometimes even their favorite brands. On the bright side, you also hear stories about companies that have gone above and beyond to give a customer an amazing experience. I decided to take a look at two recent, notable customer service “wins and fails” to see what brands are doing right and wrong when it comes to delighting customers.
We all hate those trendy restaurants that don’t take reservations, and always seem to have hour-long waits – even on weekdays. Robb Myer, a Pittsburgh native, recently came up with the idea for a consumer-facing app called NoWait that allows diners to look up the next available open table at a restaurant and add their name to the waiting list before they physically need to be there. Restaurant giants including Buffalo Wild Wings, Chili’s and First Watch all subscribe to NoWait to make their diners’ experience more convenient and stress-free. While NoWait sounds similar to Open Table, the service is free for most restaurants and costs from $59 to $199 a month for the busiest restaurants.
What did we learn?
Smart devices have created a generation of hyper-connected, empowered consumers who are used to making their own rules and interacting with brands on their own terms. Finding a way to become the intermediary between restaurant and consumer, from a customer service perspective, this app brings both every day technology and innovation to the dining experience. For the companies who have been slow to respond to shifts in the customer-company relationship, where consumers want quick and seamless service via the devices and channels they already use, the growing trend of restaurants subscribing to NoWait is a positive sign that more food brands are realizing the importance of giving consumers back control.
Virgin Airlines has always been known as the “trendy” airline, and the brand certainly lived up to that image with this initiative. Virgin Atlantic recently announced a six-week Google Glass trial that has been immensely popular among customers. The airline uses the Google Glass technology to check in passengers, update their itineraries, supply them with weather forecasts of their destination, inform them of dietary restrictions and even help them translate phrases in different languages for international customers. Though this technology is only being used on Virgin’s first class lounge on international flights, this is still a great example of how Virgin has taken the customer experience to a whole new level by creating a truly unique, personalized and innovative experience for every passenger.
What did we learn?
Virgin took early advantage of a new, sought-after product, demonstrating the company’s ability to not only be ahead of the curve technologically, but also to be predictive and proactive in the most innovative of ways in addressing its customers flying needs. As technology and thus consumer expectations evolve, so does the customer experience and Virgin is doing just that.
To sum it up
Looking back on the customer service stories we have seen over the past month, it’s clear that technology is driving the customer service revolution. New technologies are enabling companies to make the customer experience smarter and more personalized, which customers clearly appreciate. With smarter technology, it’s that much more important to have a proactive outreach strategy. Customers continue to expect more from brands, and companies will only keep pace with the rapid evolution of technology by being one step ahead of consumer needs and concerns. Have you had an amazing customer service experience recently that was driven by smarter technology and proactive outreach?
by Joe Gagnon, SVP & General Manager, Cloud Solutions on July 29th, 2014
Since my arrival this past May, I find it amazing how quickly my three months with Aspect have gone by. It is truly an exciting time for the company, and I am thrilled to be part of the team leading our Cloud efforts across the globe. Over my three months I have been to many of our offices including Chicago, London, Orlando, Liverpool, Chelmsford, and San Francisco. I also spoke at our Aspect Customer Experience event (ACE) in Miami and the UK. And along the way, I have met a lot of great Aspect teammates, interacted with an incredibly supportive partner network, and have had the pleasure of meeting many of our clients around the world. It is clear that I am just scratching the surface. The feedback is consistent – clients count on us to enable their contact center operations and they want us to do more for them going forward. The net of all of this is that it is even more obvious than ever that the traditional contact center market, like the rest of the software industry, is going through massive transformation, moving from traditional IT models characterized by:
- CAPEX-based economics
- Large investments in customers’ data centers
- Software that is challenging to update, integrate, and maintain
to a customer-centric business model that offers:
- OPEX economics
- Robust infrastructure deployments in the Cloud
- Contemporary Cloud architectures that allow for real time updates, multi-tenancy and designed-in DR
These software industry trends have brought the contact center space to an inflection point. Not only are our clients increasingly looking to contact center solution providers for Cloud software, they are looking for solutions that can help transform their contact center into a strategic asset and the epicenter of customer engagement going forward. One of the largest BPOs in the UK, for example is interested in engaging us to run an insight day workshop at which we would co-develop a road map for the next generation of customer contact solutions that we can bring to market with them. Another confirmation that times are changing and so is Aspect.
Today, the hosted contact center global market (hosted/Cloud-based ACD, IVR, outbound, chat and WFO) is over $3 billion, projected to grow at 12% per annum through 2017, and it is expected to be the fastest growing segment of the contact center market. To address how Aspect will play in the Cloud market we have, over the course of the past year, acquired and/or built an impressive set of Cloud-based solutions and global Cloud infrastructure. Moreover, while we have been busy building/acquiring capability, our two largest competitors have found themselves with no true SaaS customer engagement business applications – they rely exclusively on 3rd parties to host their traditional on-premises based products. And while a third competitor has been aggressive on the acquisition front, their efforts to integrate/segment their solutions and message to the market have been disjointed.
I’ve quickly come to realize that Aspect not only has the capabilities, but a window of opportunity to accelerate our Cloud efforts. The momentum is building for us. We have very healthy pipeline for our full Cloud contact center solution Zipwire, while Voxeo continues to grow in the market as an enabler of IVR self-service Cloud solutions, and our “sister” company LiveVox just signed up ten new logos in the 2nd quarter of 2014. All in all, Aspect is in a better position that I realized and I am excited and anxious to start achieving the true Cloud potential this company has.
Building on our ACE theme “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet,” we have a lot of exciting initiatives planned in the second half of 2014. These include more LiveVox co-marketing, the roll-out of customer modeling tool to aid customers with business-case value realization for all of our solutions including Cloud, launching of WFO Cloud, and deployment of Aspect Verify in the US market. Stay tuned for more updates in the second half of 2014 as we work diligently to meet our 2014 goals.
by Christine OBrien on July 28th, 2014
At Call Center Conference Week, Super Agent Erica reported in person where we had the chance to catch up with many of the attendees and have some great conversations about what goes into creating and delivering a remarkable customer experience. Some of of the things we wanted to know included:
What IS the ultimate customer experience?
What is one channel or function you’re looking to add to your call center?
What kind of “superhero” would it take to swoop in and save the day at your call center?
And let’s not forget: “Show me your dissatisfied customer face!”
Everyone we spoke with not only delivered some really entertaining facial expressions, but they also had insightful answers and ideas about trends in the contact center space. Many thanks to all who stopped by to say hi to Erica and all of us with Aspect. We loved seeing you!
by Tobias Goebel on July 25th, 2014
While we at Aspect are known for providing technology solutions to improve the customer experience and make it easy for businesses to engage with their customers, we are also known for innovation. When we planned our annual customer summit, Aspect Customer Experience (ACE), a little while ago, we put our heads together and thought of new and exciting ways to put our automation technology to use: IVR, SMS, mobile Web, Twitter, our cloud…
We came up with the idea of creating a live voting service, where members of the audience could answer a question posed by the speaker on stage. So we gathered our cloud services team and hacked away…
Using Voxeo CXP, we built an application that can take votes over the following channels:
- IVR, using both speech recognition and DTMF
- Mobile Web
- Twitter, using a special hashtag to determine that a public tweet was meant as a vote at the conference
While this could be built in a matter of a few hours, using our cloud platform that supports instant provisioning of SMS and voice telephone numbers, the next challenge was how to visualize the results. In the Voxeo cloud, we use a powerful log indexing solution to farm through the roughly 1TB of logging data that our IVR cloud produces every day (!). This solution also supports visualizing the data through charts. We quickly decided to use this component to produce a graphical, browser-based dashboard that updates live, as votes are streaming in.
We have since replicated this for a number of other conferences with fantastic results. Collecting opinions from the audience while presenting live on stage and showing the results to a live-updating dashboard simply blows people away. The speed at which we could implement this innovative service – didn’t blow us away. We know the technology we have and how easy it is to put it to good use.
Here’s how the dashboard looked for a recent event we customized the solution for. The question for the audience was: “Where would you like to see the next event take place?” - this is the result. Click the image to see an animated version showing how the results slowly build up:
by Guy Cooper, GM Qivox on July 22nd, 2014
Earlier this month, another attempted resurgence of the infamous GameOver Zeus and CryptoLocker viruses, which have infected over 200,000 computers worldwide since April, reminded consumers not to let their guard down when it comes to safeguarding personal information online.
Criminals use viruses to gain access to personal data through phishing emails – emails dressed up to look as though they’ve been sent by a reputable bank or other trusted institution – taking control of computer files that have banking and financial information. If that fails, the virus encrypts all the files on a target’s computer and demands the user pay a specific fee to unlock the file. They can have a devastating effect on people’s finances and personal files and businesses – specifically banks. GameOver Zeus and CryptoLocker are two of the most vicious threats to customer security seen to date.
Banks need to be ready to protect both themselves and their customers from attacks like these, as the response to each strain of malware only represents a temporary respite until fraudsters work around the measures by developing alternative strains that circumvent anti-virus detection.
One of the biggest challenges facing financial services organizations and banks is to ensure that customer engagement processes are as secure as possible without compromising freedom to move between contact channels, or ease of doing business. The modern consumer expects to be able to deal with problems they have quickly and effectively, whenever and wherever they are, without disrupting their day. Smart devices make this possible. While consumers love the convenience this provides, it also poses new security challenges as banks try to meet these new demands.
For instance, if a bank sends a customer account information over SMS, this may make life easier for the customer but it is very insecure. A virus such as GameOver Zeus thrives on such insecurities, and would be able to access this information with minimal difficulty. As a result, this type of activity puts the customer’s account and finances in danger.
However, we cannot solely blame banks for inefficient security; banking is a highly competitive market, especially since switching accounts cannot legally take longer than seven days. If banks do not provide these quick and simple solutions for customers and require long-winded processes in order to access their accounts or perform banking services, they could risk losing these customers to rivals who don’t create this hassle.
This is a pivotal moment in both customer service and customer protection, because when the next generation of GameOver Zeus and Cryptolocker attack, everyone will need to be prepared. Making customers aware of the danger and how to protect themselves, in addition to enacting secure, common-sense security measures, may be the perfect balance to strike in the battle against fraud.
by Tim Dreyer on July 18th, 2014
It’s amazing how much more productive you can be when you’re happy. Distractions and bad moods have a way of breaking your focus and keeping you away from tasks you need to get done. It’s really no different for customer service agents. A recent article in DestinationCRM noted that research has shown that an agent’s perceived happiness directly affects the satisfaction of the customer they are talking to. Two thirds of those customers surveyed said that their experience with a customer service agent significantly affects how they feel about the brand.
Erica’s infographic below has some great stats that confirm: happy agents mean happy customers — and who better to talk about agent happiness than our very own “super agent?”
by Guy Cooper, GM Qivox on July 17th, 2014
The financial services sector has encountered many changes over recent years, making it hard to keep up with ever-evolving customer needs while patching new technology on top of existing legacy systems. However, providers in this sector cannot be dismissed as being behind the times, and they certainly cannot be accused of not trying.
Keeping up with demand is not easy, and the financial services sector – particularly banking – has generally embraced the changes of customer contact and engagement by offering multiple channels to satisfy customer needs. It’s not enough though, banks are desperately trying to hold on to customer loyalty – something that the sector could once be proud of – but is becoming less abundant with a new generation of customers who are not afraid to switch providers, and do so with increasing ease. Banks are therefore determined to offer customers the best possible service in order to keep this loyalty, and retain customers. But, along with this evolution in customer service, banks must also consider the security implications and ensure that they implement relevant technologies, and strategies, to safeguard sensitive customer information.
One recent innovation of note is Paym, a new mobile, peer-to-peer banking solution launched this year in the UK that enables users to quickly send money to anyone else with a mobile number and a Paym account. As of April of this year, most well-known banks and building societies have signed on to support the Paym launch. The few notable exceptions include the Royal Bank of Scotland and NatWest, and Nationwide, all of which are planning later adoptions. This type of mobile banking platform aims to make the process of sending protected payments without disclosing account details as easy as sending an SMS. There are many existing ways of making payments using a mobile phone, however the Payments Council initiative provides the first collaborative effort to link every bank account with a mobile phone number.
A technological and strategic initiative of this magnitude will present inherent risks to both the bank and the consumer, and will provide an opportunity for fraudsters to target this emerging and fast growing remote banking channel with new and inventive methods of deception. Already widespread, fraud factories’ numbers continue to swell, focused primarily on the theft of account holders’ identities.
One of the main challenges banks will need to overcome is making sure that customers have trust in both them and the security of the new payment method. A few things to consider:
- Customers have become used to having to jump through hoops to access their online banking, and by removing this, there is bound to be doubt in the customer’s mind that it is secure.
- The inconvenience of having a card blocked, or a legitimate card transaction being declined (thus causing the customer embarrassment), highlights the importance of getting this service right.
- While banks recognize the opportunity for an additional revenue stream for mobile and remote banking, without the correct security safeguards, a false positive detection could lead to a hampering of revenue streams and consequent reputational damage.
- Banks must ensure that they implement a solution to support a robust security process while remaining transparent to the customer through their payment process. Essentially, the less intrusive the process, the better it is.
The introduction of Paym will no doubt cause a stir for both banks and customers alike as this new paradigm struggles to take hold. It’s inevitable that there will be some mishaps due to the large-scale implementation across all banks over a short period of time, but those who have the foresight to ensure that their security is up to par will thrive. Paym will be the latest application to demonstrate which banks are taking their customers’ security seriously and which may need to up their game.
by Alyx Kaczuwka on July 15th, 2014
By now you’ve probably read the Craigslist post from a restaurateur who compared old and new video footage of patrons in his or her restaurant in an attempt to understand why his service wasn’t being regarded as highly as it had been. (It was flagged on Craigslist, but numerous copies of it have been reposted to the blogosphere. If you haven’t seen it yet, check it out.)
From this empirical data, the author drew this conclusion: the restaurant’s staff was behaving as he expected, but customer behaviors had changed dramatically. The customers were making more demands, such as being re-seated at a preferable table, or getting assistance with connecting to the wi-fi and group photos; they lingered after finishing their meal before requesting a check; and ultimately they were spending nearly twice as long in the restaurant.
But why? The video suggested it was all because of their mobile devices. Connecting to wi-fi, reviewing table and entree recommendations on Yelp, taking food photos for Instagram and group photos for Facebook, and catching up on email and news after dinner are all typical behaviors for your mobile customer. Instead of using this data as a means to look for ways to improve the customer experience, at the end of the post, there was an unfortunate request to the customers: “[C]an you please be a bit more considerate?”
I would encourage this restaurateur to think of the simple ways the restaurant, instead, can be more in step with its customers’ mobile lifestyles. Small details like finding out which tables were getting a bad rap on social media for being too loud and close together and rearranging the floor plan, printing cards with the wi-fi password and situating them at tables or in menus, or determining if a higher or lower level of lighting might reduce the number of group photo re–takes, are all obvious actions to keep these customers satisfied and coming back. Mobile devices are here to stay, and ingrained in the lifestyles of customers in all industries. In the contact center world, we’d never request that our customers “be a bit more considerate” if our agents’ live chat volume went up or if calls were taking twice as long to resolve. We’d delve into our channel utilization, contact resolution and agent scoring dashboards to find out if the reasons were related to staffing levels, agent education or changes in customer preferences, and optimize our processes to ensure happy customers.
by Tobias Goebel on July 14th, 2014
IVR applications are the necessary evil of customer service. Without the pre-qualification of callers or the self-service features of IVR systems, contact centers would be too costly to run while maintaining acceptable hold times, sacrificing the customer experience in the end. But often, IVR applications are more painful than need be.
Omni-channel service has the promise of improving the experience for the demanding mobile consumer. It ensures that regardless of the channel used, and whether I am talking to an application or a person, the full history of my interactions as well as my complete customer records are always accessible, and the information is used intelligently to guide me throughout my customer journey. You could almost formulate this mantra of customer service: I shall never have to repeat or explain myself, ever.
Apple Inc. recently picked up this principle when they introduced us to what they call “continuity” in iOS 8. As they say: “Handoff lets you pick up right where you left off.” Their concept will remove the barriers between devices. Going further, they will even allow Mac’s or iPads to take phone calls. Doing this will work towards the vision of a seamless experience in ANYTHING we do, not only when interacting with businesses.
Applied to IVR, the omni-channel concept can empower highly personalized experiences. The key, however, is to also maintain “state” beyond the current call. This becomes particularly important when things don’t go as smoothly as expected. Who among us cannot relate to the frustrations felt when navigating through an IVR for many long minutes to complete a transaction, only to end up…
- …in a queue with wait times of 20 minutes or more
- …being told that you are calling outside of business hours and to please call again the next morning
- …experiencing a dropped call from your carrier
Needless to say, most IVR systems deployed today do very little in the way of allowing me to continue a conversation where I left off the next time I call. They treat me as if they know nothing about me and my recent struggles.
Furthermore, frustrations arise when starting a self-service transaction in one channel…
- … and not being able to complete it in another
- … and having to repeat myself when transferred
- … and not being able to continue the conversation with an agent while staying on the same channel
Luckily, omni-channel platforms exist, like Voxeo CXP and the Aspect Interaction Management product line that can help you build smarter solutions. Listen to the following IVR interaction of Max, who calls his mobile carrier, Prime Telecom, to update the expiration date of his credit card:
As you could hear, the call ended in a disconnect. Max’ call probably got dropped by Prime Telecom. He needs to call in again. He expects to have to go through the same menu structure again. To his surprise, though, the IVR remembers him. Listen in to his experience:
Instead of calling in again, Max could have decided to turn to Prime Telecom’s mobile Web app. This, too, knows his recent call and offers to resume the unfinished transaction:
Now THAT is a pleasant experience. Max feels that his mobile provider really cares about him and builds its self-service solutions with omni-channel care in mind.
This is clearly the type of interaction customers are hoping to have, and providers who can solve the challenges associated with IVRs will not only benefit from heightened customer satisfaction but also smoother and more efficient processes on the contact center side.
If you have an IVR system in place today and wish to improve it, reach out to us to learn how to sprinkle this extra bit of omni-channel dust onto your self-service experience.