Today’s comms-savvy generation expect communication to be easy, instant, efficient, rich and partly asynchronous. This has been driven by the pervasiveness of the Internet and new Internet-enabled voice, text, video and social media, apps and mobile devices, all of which are used extensively in social contexts. This is spilling into the business world as people expect to engage with brands and services in the same way. This means businesses are having to adapt their customer services and provide different communications channels to support retention, loyalty and advocacy.
Apart from the addition of a headset and video chat, the first wave of Internet real-time communication didn’t make any meaningful impact. But now businesses are beginning to take advantage of technology to create rich, real-time, integrated communications that puts voice, text and video capabilities inside an application, website or device. This is the idea of ‘contextual communications’. It enables rich interactions that allow people to communicate seamlessly with each other *and* an application. And it’s this technology that holds the potential to have a significant impact on customer experiences and an agent’s ability to deal with customer contact effectively and proactively.
So how is contextual communication being embedded into the contact centre now, and what advantages are being realised?
Streamlining diagnosis / enquiries
One type of contextual communication sees voice, video, messaging, file transfer and desktop sharing tools embedded into a web page, application or even IoT or mobile platform, allowing businesses to communicate in a variety of different ways, depending on the customer preference. For example, some agents can now use real time video to quickly and easily assess damage to a product, whether it is covered under warranty, or guide a customer on how to do something, simply because they can see it in a video, without any technical or process heavy- headaches (the customer doesn’t need to download an application, they just click a link to share their video). This concept was originally used as a proof of concept for emergency services, where embedded video could provide “eyes on the scene” to operators via any smartphone. Now, the same technology is being used for customer engagements from support centres to returns departments.
Improved customer engagement
Contextual communication also gives service agents a means to quickly and easily predict or pre-empt why a customer is contacting them. For example, an agent can quickly see which web page a customer is on before they hit the ‘click to call’ button, and how they got there, and what other services they use. This puts the agent in a much stronger position to deal with the call quickly and efficiently. Additional context such as the customer’s previous contact history or profile information can also set the stage for more meaningful interactions.
A good example, is one housing customer is now providing services that ensure the safety and wellbeing of vulnerable residents via a daily check-in service. Even small details like knowing if it’s a resident’s birthday on the day they speak with them, or whether they’ve recently been on holiday can make a service, which could seem intrusive, feel more like a trusted friend with their best interests at heart. But, the real gains come from analysing contact history and highlighting deviations from the norm, making it possible to predict when the needs of an individual are changing – allowing them to reactively, or in some cases proactively, make sure that that customer is OK.
Automated transcription for improved efficiency and engagement
Many contact centres rely on recordings of customer calls to deal with more complex enquiries and for agent training, but this often means hours of listening and manually transcribing conversations, which can be fraught with human error. Contextual communication enables automatic and accurate transcription of customer calls, including voice analysis to gain insight into tone and other customer behaviours. This provides real value to many contact centres because they’re better able to understand customer reactions, trigger points, and even what makes a customer feel happy. For example, automatic transcription and tone analysis of a new test script, can quickly indicate at which point in the conversation a customer became aggrieved or where they reacted positively so that changes can be made, if needed.
Automation of storage, categorisation and retrieval processes also create efficiencies and help meet regulatory compliance with keyword searches on transcriptions. Automatic transcription is a massive time saver, not just of man hours, but also because it allows for faster analysis of performance and identification of where efficiencies may be gained. It may seem like science fiction, but we’re already seeing the first examples of these techniques being developed to analyse customer interactions and improve processes, for example in the mystery shopping market.
A shortcut to making AI more human?
The best contextual communications applications mesh together all the information needed to effectively deal with a customer enquiry via any channel they choose (be it via a web video, a chat box, or through a mobile app). This makes customers feel more valued, and have better and more meaningful experiences when they interact with brands. Contextual communications are smart, timely, and personalised and we’re just starting to see the possibilities.
The natural progression for contextual communications is to make use of other innovations like machine learning, bots and AI in contact centres. As with contextual communications, we’re starting to seeing this trend emerge in the consumer realm with Siri or Alexa, where people can interact verbally with machines. But in a business context, the combination of AI or robots and contextual communications could have enormous potential, especially where there are high volumes of customer interactions.
In some contact centres, chatbots are already starting to deal with the most common queries, complaints, requests or questions and can make suggestions according to what’s in their database, freeing up agents to tackle more complex enquiries. Some councils, for example, are already using a form of AI as a virtual agent that can deal with front line requests from residents and businesses. As time goes by, robots like this will learn from their interactions to continually improve the service they provide.
Beyond this comes cognitive interactions where robots understand accents, sentiment and context, giving the ability to handle communications in a more natural, human way. Far from the frustrating automated services we’re used to today, these technologies are beginning to understand different accents and tones – much like the transcription technologies already discussed – and ask questions, and resolve queries quickly and accurately.
The real-time enterprise of the future will be able to communicate with its employees and customers in context — at the right time, with the right people, in the right application. This is the future of enterprise communications. It will ultimately ‘hide’ communication as it becomes integral and inherent within applications; we won’t even think about communication as a distinct, stand-alone, friction-bearing operation. Rather, it’ll simply be something that happens as we move in and out of the collaboration or communication. And for customer engagement this brings huge productivity and efficiency gains, a far better and more natural experience and ultimately improved customer retention and loyalty.
This article was originally written for Engage Customer magazine.