Time to evolve a Siri-like CHATBOT

2016 is shaping up to be the year of the Chatbot. From Jarvis, Mark Zuckerberg’s Iron Man-inspired assistant, to Microsoft’s rather unfortunate Tay experience, chatbots have been making the news this year—although as of yet, nobody seems to have figured out a way of getting them to write it. So what are these exciting new digital automated friends doing to help where they are most needed, in the customer experience.

Automation in customer experience is all about making things faster, easier and more streamlined for customers—so automation can be said to deliver a more personalized experience, as we don’t have to repeat ourselves multiple times, and explain our problems to different agents every time we contact an organization.

Pretty much any organization today has some sort of customer experience process in place, and that process has evolved along with technology. From the traditional call center, with rows of agents handling multiple calls, we have moved on to the contact center, and multichannel communications, to the omnichannel experience. Customer experience professionals love the omnichannel. It allows them to shift their customer experience from a fragmented model (when you call the contact center 10 times, you get 10 different contact center agents, and you have to authenticate yourself and your problem 10 times too), to a seamless, or “smart” omnichannel experience (you make contact one time from any communication medium and enjoy a continuous conversation).

With a multichannel Contact Center, the goal in delivering an awesome customer experience is gluing the pieces together: linking the various knowledge and functional teams to customer service, delivering new capabilities and features that, eventually, enable us as customers to call one time, and see our problems solved. This first-touch resolution wasn’t possible before and vendors continue to bring new tools and technologies to achieve that. Customers however want more as they evolve as digital citizens.

At heart, many brands are still providing customer service the same way: you initiate communication with a person in the contact center, and they respond, albeit now that can be done via phone, e-mail, text or social media. And, let’s face it, people still don’t like contacting customer service. We are still really reluctant to make that initial contact—we don’t get the immersive experience we seek as consumers.

The promise of artificial intelligence to deliver the combined objectives of first-touch resolution and immersive experiences is almost complete. Avaya is leading this transformation with an upcoming evolution in its technology, where chatbots, amongst other modular analytics tools, are only the beginning of a brave new digital world. Our R&D and customer experience folks are perfecting that digital persona “who” is intelligent enough to learn from experiences, predict your preferences, and resolve your problems—almost before you know you have them.

So why stop there, I ask? I don’t want to talk to a robot, I want to see them, joke with them and maybe play a game together. The technology to allow that to happen is here, isn’t it? We have headsets, digital glasses—surely, whatever is coming can catch up with my dreams. Maybe. In the meantime, we have to live with Siri.

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CX Experts Agree Customer Journey Maps Help Build Relationships

I recently attended the 2017 MoNage conference, which focused on the Age of Messaging over the Net—a phrase coined by the founder Jeff Pulver. Jeff was a pioneer in the VoIP industry, having created the Voice over the Net conference, co-founding Vonage. He extends his vision that messaging is at the center of the digital transformation era. I wanted to explore some of the observations from the conference—especially those about contact center operators leveraging customer journey maps for serving customers effectively via chat, SMS and other messaging communiques.

Digital transformation has made the mobile device the preferred method for contacting businesses. The accessibility of compact smart phones has made them readily available to communicate at any time. Whether it is checking email during a TV commercial or when a player goes offside at a hockey game, we’re obsessed with interactions, many of which impact our relationships with companies.

The accessibility of devices has led to a preference for human-less customer services, including web commerce applications, chatbots for addressing basic questions like order status, and electronic updates via SMS for transactions like shipping notifications. Research shows that humans still prefer to communicate with humans for more complex transactions. According to Accenture’s 2016 study “Digital Disconnect in Customer Engagement” in 2016, 83% of customers prefer dealing with human beings over digital channels to solve customer services issues. Experienced travelers know using a friendly tone on a call to an airline representative is the most likely way to get an issue resolved.

The challenge for customers is they often must interact with a business’s numerous touch points before they finally can speak to a live agent. As Avaya’s Laura Bassett highlights in her blog “Winning the CX with Apps, Integrated Data Views, Custom Agent Desktops”—over 40 % of customers were already using up to seven different service channels including live chat, email, social media, SMS and traditional phone to engage with companies.

Imagine if the agent who answered your call had telepathic powers. Imagine that instead of hearing, “How can I help you?” you were given an answer before you even asked your question. The use of text chat is creating an expectation of immediate gratification with answers in seconds, not days—compared to the old-school way of sending an email knowing it will sit in a company for hours or days. When a customer contacts a company, they are contacting a company, not an agent. If they have sent an email, the last thing they want to do is to repeat what they have already told the company. To the customer, the agent is the company.

Technologies have evolved—business can now route interactions to agents with the best-matched attributes to serve individual customers’ needs. Agent selection criteria can include gender, age, location, language—tailored as needed for different industries. It’s not surprising to find a female agent is more successful upselling to a male customer buying flowers. But how do you empower the agent to serve that customer as if they are the only customer that matters? It starts by examining why customers contact a business in the first place.

Is Calling a Contact Center an Admission of Failure: Many People Believe It is

Many businesses often view a call to a contact center as a failure. It’s a failure because the customer could not serve themselves, and had to incur the most expensive resource in the company—human agents. If you examine the reasons people call a contact center, the most common reason is due to a previous event. In many cases, there is an attempt to resolve an issue by going on a website and trying to find information, or using a chatbot to get an update, or sending an SMS requesting an account status. Knowing what a customer has done prior to the agent receiving the transaction is the secret sauce of the customer journey.

Maintaining a View of the Customer Experience with Customer Journey Maps

Customer journey maps lay out a view of the entire customer experience so agents can add value to previous transactions and steps. By knowing what a customer has done, or what the customer tried to do, the agent can be one step ahead of them with a response. It’s like being a detective. If a customer chatted yesterday with an agent about an order and today places a phone call, it is likely to be about the same transaction. By presenting the history of most-recent transactions, the agent is able to have a full 360-degree view of the customer journey. A representative can know what information was exchanged with the last agent, so they can continue with the customer journey as if the journey never stopped. It’s a great way to reduce agent time requirements, while making the customer experience more personalized than ever before.

Avaya can help with the formulation of customer journey maps that capture all forms of communication, including SMS, email, website activity tracking, and more. For example, just last evening I booked a hotel for a trip. Early this morning, I received a message indicating my reservation had just changed, with an offer to chat with an agent. The agent informed me via chat that my preference for a high floor had been confirmed. The neat part was the agent knew I had used the college discount code on the web and wrote “enjoy visiting Arizona State University.” They totally know me. That’s what making a great customer experience is all about. The more you know about the journey your customer takes, the more you are likely to keep that customer on a journey with you for the long term. That customer might even tell their friends about the experience. I’ll definitely tweet about mine!

Customers Explain Why Chatbots Matter for Contact Centers

I recently attended Jeff Pulver’s 2017 MoNage conference to get the latest views on chatbot usage and expectations for serving customers. Jeff Pulver created the Voice over the Net Conference when voice over the internet was in its infancy. As a co-founder of Vonage and other companies, his vision helped drive the industry we all take for granted. He’s brought his vision to the world of chat with his 140-Character conferences and most recently the MoNage conference.

Jeff says that “as chatbots get better and better, there may be less of a need to visit a business website.” We may reach a point where chatbots connected to Facebook pages and voice services via Amazon’s Alexa become the main conduit for getting information.” He probably is right. There is no shortage of software and services companies, including Avaya, that are investing significantly in the field of chatbot technology for contact centers applications.

Industry analyst Jon Arnold says contact center operators need to ensure millennials have a chat experience that is fast and personal. The ability for an agent to leverage the full context of all of the previous transactions is at the heart of providing a personalized one-to-one customer experience.

Anyone with a teenager knows if you want to reach them, you text them—unless you like the nostalgia of hearing a voice mail greeting and leaving a message that may not be picked up for a week. Those millennials, who use chat over email, including chat applications at work, are the same ones raising the bar for businesses to serve them via chat. How long will it be before the response a millennial expects for a package status is an emoji?

The introduction of chatbots represents the re-birth of interactive voice response in textual self-service instead of voice prompts. Chatbots enable a customer to answer questions via text. They ask, “How can I help you?” The customer’s answer of “What is my account balance?” is the equivalent of speaking to a speech recognition application.

With chat, recent AI innovations interpret your sentence and provide a response that is best matched to the context of your question. This is similar to Amazon’s Alexa listening to your voice and providing a response. Many companies are working to perfect the ability to interpret chat sequences, often to assuage the customers who press 0 multiple times to reach an agent. Today, customers can have the same frustrating experience with chat that they’ve had with interactive voice—ultimately they want to talk with a live agent. The goal has always been to enable more automation and self-service methods to reduce costs, without having a negative impact on customer satisfaction. There is a critical need to get it right.

Requesting a live agent to assist with a chat session introduces major challenges for businesses. They must staff a contact center with agents who can respond appropriately to chat messages. This introduces the need for typing and grammar skills and new staffing level challenges for balancing voice and chat demand.

Businesses must ensure consistency in chat responses and, most importantly, ensure a positive experience with the live agent during a transaction. So agent skills must now include the ability to respond to SMS and text chat sessions from websites and mobile applications. This includes the ability to type clearly, and often handle multiple transactions simultaneously to fill the delays with customer responses. Many of us have experienced chat sessions with agents where there is a long delay due to agents serving other customers.

Chat sessions are often emailed to customers at the end, creating a document that customers can use for many purposes: tweeting about what an agent just wrote, or using what an agent just wrote to get improper discounts or advantages from errors. To guard against such customer behavior, agents must have fast access to standard, consistent answers to common questions and ensure responses conform to company policies.

Customers Communicate with Companies—Not Agents

Customers expect a business that can communicate via live chat to ensure the agent understands their situation. The last thing they want is to send a lengthy email describing a situation, and then be offered a live chat with someone who doesn’t have access to the email. Internal information silos require the customer to ask if it is worth starting over again and again. They expect the agent to have the full context of all their interactions. The effort to serve the customer by chat can result in a negative experience even if the agent tried everything they could to serve them.

Agents Need Contextual Information

Chatbots start with an attempt to serve a customer via automation. Costs are avoided when customers serve themselves, just like they deposit a check by taking a photo instead of having a bank employee process it. Contact center managers must enable their agents to access the full context of the chat dialog, any emails, and CRM records so they can serve the customer without asking what they should already know.

Chat Introduces a New Opportunity to Leverage Agent Attributes

Once you make the move to introducing live agent chat, you need to determine which agents have the proper attributes for handling chat, including multiple simultaneous chat sessions. You’ll need to train employees how to properly respond, including how to deliver recommended standard responses. In addition, you’ll have to evaluate how many multiple chats an agent can handle, which will vary based on individual abilities. Selecting agents based on these skills can make all the difference in customer satisfaction results.

Agent Attribute Models Increase Contact Center Operational Efficiency

There is a tremendous opportunity to increase contact center operations by having agents with the attributes for handling voice and chat and SMS sessions. Did you know 250+250=450. Here’s why: the workload of 250 voice-only agents plus 250 chat-only agents can be served by 450 agents who can do both. The result is a higher utilization level than with individual silos. Evaluating agent availability by their individual attributes and operating your contact center at higher utilization levels significantly reduces your most costly resource—your contact center agent labor expenses.

Interested in learning more about defining and leveraging agent attribute modeling? Get more info in this Avaya blog from Laura Bassett: “Get out of the Queue: Drive your CX with Attribute Matching?” And talk with Avaya Experts—we’re here to help you serve your customers like never before. We can help you match agents with the best attributes for each individual customer. The ultimate win for all. Contact us. Let’s chat!

Has WhatsApp Video Missed a Trick?

In today’s mobile-led world, there is no doubt that messaging apps are becoming the preferred means to communicate with friends, family, and even work colleagues. So the announcement that WhatsApp Video is here has been met with mass excitement.

But while the ability to have WhatsApp video conversations with family and friends is a huge benefit—there really is nothing like seeing your loved ones live—it’s not so clear what effect this is going to have on the business community. Is Facebook presenting an offer that businesses can’t refuse? The short answer is no.

WhatsApp users are surpassing the 1 billion mark, that’s almost 15% of the world’s population that businesses could target. Today, many businesses are integrating social media platforms into their customer experience and this trend will soon be the norm. Businesses are striving to deliver seamless, contextual and pleasurable experiences for their customers—based on their favorite apps.

Key to driving this trend is how open these social apps are and how easy it is for businesses and the developer community to integrate them. That means not only with other social platforms but also with business applications that enterprises use such as the contact center, CRM system, and many others.

While WhatsApp is still closed, the most highly-used social apps in Asia are taking a different approach. WeChat in China and LINE in Japan—which are used by another 15% of the global population—have taken the “open innovation” path, and delivered a platform upon which businesses and developers can innovate new solutions and applications, and integrate with other software vendors.

We at Avaya have long decided to take the “open innovation” approach, where we’ve not only opened up our tool box for our partners and customers to innovate on, but we also partnered with growing social media apps, including LINE and WeChat, to find new ways for businesses to integrate within these channels.

So a large BPO in Japan can offer a fully integrated customer experience solution that gives a true edge in customer engagement. Taking this a bit further, when social media apps are open, and present a platform for innovation, transforming experiences to include virtual assistance, automated chatbots, and artificial intelligence becomes easy and fast and the competitive landscape becomes more exciting, dynamic and relevant.

Whatsapp had announced their intention to integrate into enterprise in August of this year, but as yet has not progressed very far. On the other hand, sister app Facebook Messenger has taken a leap ahead by not only integrating into the enterprise, but providing Chatbot integration for customer services as well.

The question is when will Mark Zuckerberg actually merge the two applications together, bring the best of all worlds under one App, and provide a phenomenal customer Omni-Channel experience linked into AI tools such as Speechbots (like Amelia), chatbots, and business intelligence tools at the same time?

Mr Zuckerburg we are waiting!