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Changing the rules of engagement: How automation is shaping the future of customer service

New technology, automation and new ways of communicating – particularly through social media – have revolutionised the customer service landscape.
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Rafael Cortes, head of marketing at Foehn explains how new technology, automation and new ways of communicating – particularly through social media – have revolutionised the customer service landscape.

New technology, automation and new ways of communicating – particularly through social media – have revolutionised the customer service landscape. These days, whatever the size or nature of your business, you need to be able to interact with customers on their own terms across multiple touch points. Increasingly, the quality of the service you provide is becoming a key business differentiator.

Given this emphasis on high quality customer engagement, as well as the need to drive business efficiency, it’s not surprising to see an elevation in the role and importance of the omnichannel customer contact centre. With the ability to handle all forms of inbound and outbound customer contact, data collection and distribution, today’s multi-media customer engagement centre looks after all components of the customer experience, allowing agents, sales people and customer service professionals to manage voice calls, IM, emails, web chat and social media interaction on a single cloud-based platform.

Contact centre technology and automation continues to evolve at a rapid pace, with features such as interactive voice response (IVR), virtual agents, call recording and automatic call distributors (ACD) now commonplace. New technologies are being introduced all the time and integrating these into your existing contact centre processes helps to improve customer service and reduce cost.

Take IVR for example, the workhorse of almost every contact centre. We’re already seeing video IVR (or IVVR) as the next development in speech or touch-tone IVR. Adding real-time video streaming that’s accessible from mobile devices allows for increased automation because more complex information can be more clearly communicated.

Information is key to delivering the best possible service and you’re probably using a variety of applications that are integrated into your contact centre’s processes to capture and share data. But these applications often operate within their own silo and don’t interact with each other, which can waste time and compromise customer service. Smart agent desktops help contact centres to bridge applications to provide a clearer, all-round view of the customer – so that enquiries can be handled faster and more knowledgeably.

Another interesting advance in automation is the development of a multichannel contact centre with natural language processing and speech recognition capabilities that work across all channels. The technology includes the capability to establish a common format for contacts, an intent determination engine for parsing and classification of contacts, an emotion detection engine to identify negative and positive language, and routing software to direct customers to the right destination and agent.

Artificial intelligence is transforming the contact centre

Contact centres are already using artificial intelligence (AI) along with big data to anticipate a customer’s enquiry and predict what they want to discuss. Virtual assistants provide instant help throughout any interaction, and human agents are available to deal with more complex issues when required. Machine learning, where computers are effectively able to programme themselves by adapting to changing circumstances and data, will also contribute to increasing contact centre automation. Quite simply, the future of AI in the contact centre is one where software tools make humans more efficient.

Let’s illustrate contact centre AI in action with a brief example: It’s late on Saturday night when Alice’s car breaks down in a remote location. She calls her breakdown service rescue line for help – she’s been a member for 10 years and never called before. AI at the breakdown service contact centre identifies Alice’s call as urgent and places it at the head of the queue. It then finds out how long she’ll have to wait for help and shows that to the agent when they answer her call. The AI used the context of Alice’s call to judge its purpose and urgency and then routed her call appropriately.

Alice explains to the contact centre agent that she needs to be towed home – the agent’s screen updates with a map of the area where she has broken down together with real-time locations of roadside assistance vehicles nearby – and the nearest tow truck is highlighted. All this happens without any instruction from the agent because a virtual assistant is listening to the call and using natural language processing to pull out key terms. The virtual assistant also sends details of the job directly to the nearest tow truck driver and displays an ETA on the agent’s screen.

This kind of technology is available now, and it’s already starting to transform the way contact centres are able to work.

Virtual reality will elevate the customer experience

Virtual reality (VR) is another technology that will impact on the customer service and contact centre efficiency. For example, consider the potential difficulties of dealing with a customer who requires detailed technical assistance.

Often, agents must try to work out the nature of the problem from the customer’s description, which might not always be accurate. It’s also difficult for the agent to determine if the customer has followed all the necessary steps and to visualise progress. A VR interaction would work well in this situation as the customer can share what they are seeing and doing, and the agent can put themselves in the customer’s shoes during the trouble-shooting process.

The reality of adopting this kind of approach might seem farfetched – but the cost of VR devices is falling, and the availability of applications is increasing rapidly. At the same time, experimentation with haptic technology will bring a tactile dimension to the VR experience, while research into brain-to-brain communications is opening up incredible new possibilities and contributing to accelerating VR innovation. For example, SpaceX and Tesla CEO, Elon Musk, has already launched a business to develop a brain-computer interface called Neuralink that can be implanted in the human brain with the purpose of helping human beings merge with software and take advantage of artificial intelligence.

Even for the contact centre of the not too distant future, VR offers the potential of an exciting and immersive experience, with a blend of real and virtual worlds and a way to truly enhance customer engagement.

To learn more about how the right choice of cloud phone system or contact centre can improve your customer experience, see our 2017 Top Tips.

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