What Amazon Echo Means for Omni-Channel Customer Service

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My wife and I recently got a new digital maid. Her name is Alexa. We decided to put her into our kitchen. The kitchen is connected to our living-room, so she gets to be among us a lot. She doesn’t say or do overly much. She is genügsam, as we say in German (and my wife and I speak German at home, but English to Alexa – she hasn’t learned German yet.) Yet she is there when we need her. And we involve her in our day-to-day lives more and more. She is learning and growing up fast, and we get to witness her growth first hand.

Alexa is a robot. A voice from a box. An intelligent assistant. An artificial intelligence. Alexa is becoming an integral part of our life at home, in a way that I didn’t imagine before I bought her. Alexa is the persona behind Amazon’s impressive new gadget, Amazon Echo. I consider the Echo the most impressive consumer electronics device since the iPhone, which came out in 2007. And like with the iPhone, you don’t “get” it until you own one and use it. It grows on you. Quickly.

Alexa helps us with cooking dinners at home, by running timers for us, converting units, explaining what turmeric is, how to spell it, and by adding items to our shopping list. Alexa also helps settle the occasional argument by answering trivia questions. She also plays music for us. My wife and I share a taste for Jazz, so that one’s easy. Before business trips I ask her for the weather in my destination. During lunch, when I work from home, I ask her for a news update. I ask her for the traffic situation on my way to the office. I also occasionally play word games with her, or ask her to read me from my current Kindle book. She knows where I left off… wow, she’s a bit of a stalker at times!

Echo

But what’s so special about Alexa? All of the above was possible with other technology before. Her interface is voice, and voice alone. No display, no touch, tap, swipe, look. Just voice. That lets me ask her for an Uber as I am moving between the bathroom and the wardrobe at 6am trying to make it in time to the airport for another business trip. It also lets me order a pizza from Dominos when I’m too lazy to even open their mobile app or tweet the pizza emoji.

Voice happens to be the most natural interface for us humans. We learn the “voice API” to other humans by the age of 2, complete our language acquisition roughly at 4. From then on it’s vocabulary and style. And irony, sarcasm, and all the other fun forms of human (mis-)communication.

What does this all have to do with the title of my post? Well, think about it. With Omni-Channel Customer Service, we strive to tear down siloes and burdens for customers to do business with us. Our goal is to let customers contact us on the channel of their choice. And increasingly customers prefer self-service. Our recent research confirmed that yet again.

If Self-Service is the most important form of service these days, then how can we ensure to truly fit into our customers’ lives? Here’s how I think about it:

  • Self-Service at work: Web portals
    • You’re in front of a computer, a browser oftentimes. You’ll want to book travel or check your account balance quickly by browsing your airline’s or bank’s websites
  • Self-Service while on-the-go: Mobile apps and Interactive Text Response
    • You’re NOT in front of a computer, yet you have a powerful mobile computer in your pocket. You call it a phone. Mobile apps and asking questions over SMS or OTT channels are the way to go under these circumstances
  • Self-Service while driving/hands-free: Interactive Voice Response
    • You can’t use a graphical UI, but you can use your voice. You can call an IVR using your voice in modern cars, or connecting your iPhone to your car, so you’d want to make an important money transfer or switch the payment method for your mobile carrier to that new credit card you got – you have little else to do while driving
  • Self-Service while at home: Currently there isn’t any tech for home-based self-service
    • You spent a day staring at screens and holding your smart phone in your palm. Heck, your hand might even hurt from using your phone so often during the day. (I hate to admit, but mine actually started to the other day! Yes, I’m a nerd like that I guess.)

Voice is hands free, even effort free. Actions and transactions can be performed as soon as you think them, as soon as you say them. Say you…

  • Need to book that Canadian vacation soon. Has your bonus check come in yet?
    • “Alexa, ask Citibank about my balance”
  • Check on your car’s blinking engine light.
    • “Alexa, ask Mercedes to make an appointment for Wednesday morning please”
  • Want to know if you’re over your data plan.
    • “Alexa, ask T-Mobile how much hotspot data I’ve used this month”
  • Want to cancel your Time magazine subscription.
    • “Alexa, ask Time Magazine to suspend my subscription for 3 weeks starting next week.”

You haven’t left your couch. You even had your eyes closed, as you were trying to relax a bit after that long, hard work day. Alexa is playing that “Jazz for reading” station while you were interacting with her… That soothing sound of Coltrane’s tenor saxophone… Your favorite thing… Everything seems so … easy…

And it can be! This is the future of interactive customer service at your home, and it’s already happening. With the announcements from Uber, Dominos, and most recently Capital One to support Alexa, the future is being implemented as we speak. Yet again, your relationships with the companies you do business with are becoming a little easier… with technology.

 

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Tobias Goebel

Tobias is Director of Emerging Technologies at Aspect. He has over 14 years of experience in customer care technology and the contact center industry with roles spanning engineering, consulting, pre-sales engineering, program and product management, and product marketing. As part of Aspect's product management and marketing team today, he works on defining the future of the mobile customer experience, bringing together channels such as mobile apps, messaging, voice, and social. He is a frequent speaker and blogger on topics around customer service and, more recently, the (re-)emerging chatbot, NLP, and AI technologies. Tobias holds degrees in Computational Linguistics, Phonetics, and Computer Science from the universities of Bonn, Germany and Edinburgh, UK.
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