A basic requirement for any customer service is to minimize customers’ time in getting their needs taken care of. We already know that customers prefer using self-service mechanisms rather than 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 percent of customers surveyed consider “valuing their time” as the most important aspect of customer service.
Similarly, the providers of customer service want to minimize the time that their customer-facing staff has to spend to deliver those services. That is why self-service is welcomed by everyone involved in customer service activities.
Before the consumer adopton 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 applications that relied on the legacy telephone user interface. The 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 their 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 & 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 we will start to see such interaction flexibility in self-service interfaces with mobile smartphones and tablets. The bottom line is that text or voice will be handled as natural language input that simplifies 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, better known as chat. Chat can also facilitate customer screen sharing and agent screen control.
One of the practical benefits for chat, as opposed to voice or video connections, is that an agent can multitask his or her 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.
So, the challenge for the future of mobile customer services will be:
• identifying key customer use cases that can be automated;
• developing mobile, online self-service applications for these use cases;
• making such applications able to understand natural language input;
• enabling these use cases to generate visual output for any type of device that a customer may be using at the moment;
• integrating these applications with flexible click-for-assistance options, possibly leveraging WebRTC;
• making these applications available to customers as cloud applications; and
• retraining customer-facing staff to accommodate the new neeeds of mobile customers.
This is the future for customer services, for both large and small organizations, that is rapidly evolving. While legacy contact center capabilities won’t disappear for a while, they will not be adequate for the new needs of mobile consumers.
Edited by Maurice Nagle