Put down your phone and ask Alexa instead
Debra Maxwell, CEO of CRM Solutions at Arvato UK & Ireland discusses why virtual assistants are the future of customer service.
Ten years ago, if you asked anybody in the customer service game how consumers will interact with their favourite brands and businesses in the future, the lion’s share would have told you that actually having to speak to someone is going be unnecessary and uncommon – if not totally extinct.
Now it’s becoming clear the shift isn’t going to be as seismic, or sudden, as once predicted. When it comes to customer service, today’s consumers are rekindling their love of voice, albeit not their own. Automated text-based customer service, delivered through platforms such as webchat and WhatsApp, are still on the rise, but they aren’t dominating the conversation anymore. People are turning to devices like as the Amazon Echo and Google Home Hub for quick answers to simple questions – spoken, not typed.
A growing market
It’s part of the reason the market for this technology is expanding rapidly. Research from You Gov found between October 2017 and March 2018 the percentage of people in the UK that owned a smart speaker doubled from five per cent to ten per cent.
It’s an impressive spike, but the figures also show we’re still at the stage where tech savvy first adopters are leading the charge. This will change quickly though, as the technology becomes more sophisticated. Just last month, Google debuted Duplex, a voice controlled digital assistant that can make phone calls on behalf of users. During a live demo the platform called a real hairdresser and booked an appointment without any supervision or human involvement. Soon, devices that use this technology will cease to be novelty and become a preferred way for customers to communicate with businesses.
If leading brands are going to stay ahead of the competition, they need to quickly learn how to engage with customers using voice command technology in a meaningful way. To do this, they need to understand and leverage what underpins it – data analytics, machine learning and AI. This family of closely related innovations is already helping brands deliver responses to simple customer service queries 24 hours a day, through automated, text-based channels. And it’s here where the building blocks of voice command customer service can be found.
All automated customer service platforms work using the same basic principle. They process a question, crunch the relevant data and deliver a response. The big leap forward will come when advances in artificial intelligence accelerate the range of questions they can comprehend and make the responses they can deliver more personalised and, ultimately, more human. Investing in text-based channels now will give businesses the foundation they need to take advantage when this happens. Eventually, when voice command devices become the norm, they’ll be able to deliver customer service in a way tomorrow’s consumer will expect as standard.
An added dimension of this is, in practice, that the customer service industry is going have to re-evaluate how it resources itself. The role of a customer service representative is going to become more skilled. Our own research recently discovered in the next decade 69 per cent of all activities in a contact centre could be addressable by automation and AI. This means employees will work alongside AI-powered systems to handle complex, judgement-based tasks a robot can’t. So, as businesses prepare for the rise of voice command tech, they should also be tailoring their recruitment and training strategies to attract the right profile of people. This way, they’ll have a workforce ready to take their customer service into the future.
This article originally appeared in City A.M on the 19th July 2018.
Author: Editorial team Future. Customer.