Mobile Customers Need Visual Self-Services and UC
If you have been watching the announcements from the big telephony vendors, they are all moving as fast as they can to accommodate mobile, multimodal end users from outside of an organization, i.e., business partners and consumer/customers. Industry leaders like Avaya have even moved beyond talking about "communications" and "collaboration," to terms like "engagement," to reflect the merging of all people contacts and interactive applications within key business processes. New offerings like Unify’s "Circuit" and Cisco’s "Project Squared" are describing business communications as persistent and flexible "conversations," that include all types of messaging exchanges and phone/video calls as context for ongoing business process interactions.
When it comes to high-value business communications, interactions with customers have always been rated as critical for bottom-line business performance, because that is where the revenue comes from. A basic requirement for good customer service is to minimize the customer’s time in getting their needs taken care of. We already know that customers prefer self-services to being dependent upon having to wait for a live person to give them information or to perform simple transactions. This is especially true for online applications, where 77% of customers in a recent survey consider "valuing their time" as most important for customer service.
Similarly, the providers of customer services want to minimize the labor time that their customer-facing staff have to spend to deliver those services. That is why self-services will be welcomed by everyone involved in customer service activities.
"Mobile First" for Customers Will be Multimodal
Before the consumer adoption of smartphones, customer service typically meant having call center agents answer incoming phones calls from customers. It also included a limited form of self-service implemented as Interactive Voice Response (IVR) applications that relied on the legacy Telephone User Interface (TUI). Bottom line is that such traditional, voice-only customer service has always been limited, inefficient, expensive to implement, and often resulted in low customer satisfaction.
With mobile customers carrying personal smartphones, they now have convenient, direct self-service access to information, simple transactions, and, when needed, to live assistance in the customer’s choice of interaction mode. It is obvious that the limitations of legacy voice-only telephony customer interactions will be minimized in several ways, that will drive mobile customers, in particular, to demand the many benefits of UC and visual interfaces. Rather than just deliver verbal information, text, pictures, and videos can be used to more efficiently deliver such information.
"Virtual Agents" for Self-Services Plus "Click-for-Live Assistance"
Self-service applications can be implemented simply as dialogue between the customer and the self-service application. Such dialogue is typically either in voice or text, but I expect that, because it is faster to speak input, but faster to read text or see graphic or video output, that we will start to see both options becoming available for interaction flexibility in self-service interfaces with mobile smartphones and tablets. Bottom line is that text or voice will be handled as "natural language" input that simplify the customer’s input effort.
In terms of the online application involved, it can optionally provide a visual or voice persona to act as if the customer is dealing with a person. This can be useful to help brand the service in the customer’s mind, but is not always really necessary. It is really the application process that will need the intelligence to understand the customer situation and control the self-service options, including selective access to live assistance.
Because information exchange is more efficient and effective visually, it will be practical to maintain the visual interface when providing live assistance. The most practical form of visual live assistance in real-time is already being heavily exploited by online customer self-service applications, i.e., instant messaging (IM), better known as "Chat." Chat can also facilitate customer screen sharing and agent screen control.
One of the practical benefits for IM chat, as opposed to real-time voice or video connections, is that an agent can multitask their time with several customers concurrently, usually up to three at a time. With UC capabilities, it is also possible to easily escalate from chat to a voice or video connection if necessary, without placing a separate call. In addition, such real-time contacts can use "virtual queuing" responses, i.e., a callback, rather than waiting for an agent to become available.
The business challenges for the future of mobile customer services will include:
- Identify key customer "use cases" that can be automated
- Develop mobile, online self-service applications for these "use cases"
- Make such applications able to understand "natural language" input (speech, text)
- Enable these use cases to generate visual output for any type of device that a customer may be using at the moment
- Integrate these self-service applications with flexible "click-for-assistance" options, e.g., with WebRTC
- Make these self-service applications available to customers as public or private cloud applications
- Retrain customer-facing staff to handle all multimodal contacts with mobile customers
"Mobile First" customer services are rapidly evolving for both large and small organizations. While legacy call/contact center capabilities won’t disappear for a while, they won’t satisfy the new self-service needs of mobile consumers.