Technology Worth Following

FROM THE AUGUST 2017 ISSUE

Contact Center Technology Worth Following
Illustration by Justin Putnam

OK, let’s set the ground rules. We are interested in defining contact center technology that is worth following today. That doesn’t mean we want things that customers expect you to have today (hello, text chat), nor are we going to comment on applications that you should have installed yesterday (yes, screen pops are a safe bet). Our focus for this article is on those items that belong on our “watch list.” We are not ready yet to take out our wallets, but we will find out who the key vendors are, watch a demo or two, and spend a little time (but not too much) chatting with key people in the organization about the possibilities. In short, we are window shopping.

Time will tell if our outlook hits the mark. But in order to get the most from the best technology, you have to be ready for it when the time is right. So let’s take a look at three applications that deserve some attention.

Video Chat

Yes, it is starting to get implemented, and the early adopters are easy to predict: it’s where the visual element adds a key benefit to the interaction. So yes to health care, where a nurse can see if that wound needs stitches or not. And yes to interior design, where you can show the consultant the space you need to fill and he or she can give an informed opinion.

But what about other industries, like insurance, banking or tech support? While the need may not be obvious, there are two considerations regarding video chat that impact everyone. First, while it might not make up the bulk of the volume, you likely do have some transactions that will benefit from the visual element. I recently got a mortgage, and it would have been infinitely easier if I could have shown someone the paperwork I was about to send to make sure it was what they really needed. Scan your list of call reasons, and you will likely find a few of these cases.

More importantly, take a look around. Personal video usage is becoming more and more commonplace. Whether using FaceTime or a similar app in place of a traditional voice-only call, or you are live-streaming your latest exploits via FaceTime, video in our everyday lives continues to migrate from “special event” to the norm. And that’s what puts this squarely on the watch list. You can’t fight changes in customer behavior, and as their expectations change we either keep pace or lose customers.

Voice Biometrics

If you are not familiar with it, voice biometrics is a way to authenticate callers by using the unique characteristics of an individual’s voice. It is comparable to fingerprint or retinal scan technology, but unlike them, it offers an approach that can be used in contact centers. Today’s usage is generally limited to contact centers that have a controlled audience, such as an internal corporate help desk. The big question for voice biometrics is whether or not it can cross that chasm and become commonplace in contact centers serving consumers.

There are hurdles, to be sure. The most critical one right now is “why bother”? Why would a consumer want to put a recording of their voice on file with a company and use that as authentication, rather than going a different route that does not require any upfront work? That’s a fair question, and is a key reason why voice biometrics has not yet taken off in contact centers. And while it may continue to stall progress for the foreseeable future, there is one very good reason to keep it on your watch list: the status quo is not very good either. Customers are frustrated by all the exercises they must go through to authenticate, and the extra work is literally costing the economy billions of dollars. Any technology that can improve such a significant lose-lose proposition should not be ignored.

Natural Language, Round 2

I know, I know—you’re thinking that I’m breaking the rules I set out at the top of the article. Natural language speech recognition likely falls into that category of things most contact centers should have implemented yesterday. In this case, yesterday is so much different than today we need to explore the possibilities all over again.

It is difficult to explain the very bizarre current situation regarding natural language. Fortunately, one minute of watching television the other night helped to succinctly define it. The first 30 seconds featured a commercial from a company touting their personal approach to customer service, and in so doing they made fun of a mythical competitor’s contact center that uses poorly designed speech recognition. The next 30 seconds was a commercial for Amazon’s Alexa application, and showed all the wonderful ways that this natural language tool will change your life. One minute, the same technology, and two diametrically opposed views.

What happened here? Contact centers got out in front of natural language, and we took all the hits that come with trying to change public behavior—in this case, asking people to actually converse with a machine. A few years later, the initial uproar has calmed down to the point that people are talking to their phones and are actually buying devices for their home because they are natural language enabled.

And that means it is time for Round 2 for natural language in contact centers. This round includes better speech processors, more intuitive design and creative approaches for limiting voice errors. The potential is huge, as better applications can arrive at the same time that customer perception is changing for the positive. Whether you implemented natural language during Round 1 or not, we all need to circle back and take a fresh look.

Summary

Times change. Sometimes advances in technology set the course, and other times the changing attitudes of the customer is the driver. Whatever the case, we need to be ready to respond or we risk being left behind.

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