Recent news that Watson, IBM’s (News - Alert) question-answering supercomputer, has now entered the customer engagement arena might come as a surprise to some. For others, including industry insiders, the Jeopardy-winning robot is a timely solution to an ongoing problem, the overall lackluster state of automated customer service.
Each year, according to IBM's GM of Watson Solutions Manoj Saxena, U.S. organizations spend roughly $112 billion on call center labor and software, yet half of the 270 billion customer service calls go unresolved. Let’s face it, reaching a live person is rare. That person on the other end actually knowing what they’re talking about is even more unlikely.
IBM is banking on Watson’s ability to "quickly address customers' questions, offer advice to guide their purchase decisions, and troubleshoot their problems." But even with Watson’s ability to process large amounts of data and information in natural language – and fast – something is missing.
At this year’s Annual Call Center Exhibition conference in Seattle, a global gathering for the contact center community, one of the emerging themes was the importance of becoming a customer company. While there was no shortage of new call center applications on display and new vendors entering the space, the question many left asking was: Are we customer centric enough?
Watson is but one example of new technology forces that are continuing to fundamentally impact the market’s landscape. And while these advancements are ultimately a good thing, it’s imperative that we not become so technology-centric that we lose site of the individuals who are using these tools as a means to reach out to and engage with us.
A 2013 study from the Economist Intelligence Unit called Voice of the customer: Whose job is it, anyway? claims that over the next three years, global organizations will make understanding and interacting with their customers their No. 1 priority. Of those surveyed, only 56 percent believe their companies clearly understand their customers, and just six in 10 viewed their companies as customer-centric. Just over half reported a clear understanding of customers' tastes and needs.
Given today’s access to big data and such sophisticated customer analytics, these are alarming numbers. Since most companies are built around products or geographies, many find it challenging to restructure their businesses around the customer. This is especially true in the world of contact centers where nearly every interaction between a customer and the contact center touches multiple systems across the enterprise.
A 2011 study by Ventana showed that “34 percent of enterprises must get data from six or more systems to produce their analytics. For half, collecting the data is a challenge, and for nearly that many the data used in preparing metrics is only somewhat accurate.”
Even if the data is accurate, so much of what we actually know about our customer is siloed. This makes it virtually impossible for companies to get a holistic view of their customers. What we need is to put this data into context.
Stitching all of this information together is no easy feat. To deliver a truly personalized and differentiated service, we have to connect these data dots and analyze who is in front of us. Today’s business software does not capture the true richness and complexity of customers. It captures data – not context.
Many would argue that the best lever for improving the customer experience is to invest more money in operations, or in bigger, faster systems like Watson. While this might provide faster service, it’s not going to provide customers with the personalized and individualized attention they ultimately desire. At the end of the day, we’re in the business of serving customers, or better put, individual people. Yes, technology is an important component of providing a smooth and seamless experience, but it’s only one piece of the customer engagement puzzle.
We can all do a better job of knowing our customers through analyzing the information we already have in front of us. This means not only stitching together the multiple interactions of a single customer engagement from multiple systems and channels, but also trying to better understand the overall customer journey through a more human, less Watson-like lens.
Edited by Stefania Viscusi