Contextual Customer Assistance From Online Apps For Better Customer Service

Art of the Customer Service

Contextual Customer Assistance From Online Apps For Better Customer Service

By Art Rosenberg  |  December 13, 2013

Visual online self-service applications will displace legacy IVR systems as more and more consumers use multi-modal smartphones and tablets instead of legacy telephones. Such applications will pay off to business organizations, as well as to their customers, since they reduce contact center staffing requirements and also make it easier for customers to get information and perform transactions directly, while avoiding the need for live assistance.

Online self-services are hugely better than legacy IVR applications in many ways. So, there are clear benefits for any size organization, as well as customers, in moving in this direction.

There is one caveat, however, that I have also emphasized for any self-service application. That is that it must always allow convenient and flexible access to live assistance whenever customers run into a problem with the application they are trying to use. This will typically occur when the interactive user interface is not understandable to the user, and that can easily happen all the time.

Get a 70% discount by booking an airline flight online?

The other day I personally experienced such a frustrating need when trying to book an airline flight online. My motivation was the drastic discount deal offered (around 70 percent) if I booked it myself online within the next two days.

It takes a while to look up and select the available flights, then enter passenger and payment information. In my case I had some refund credits to apply, and the user interface was very confusing to understand what would actually be billed to my credit card. So, rather than guess about it, I decided to place a quick call for assistance, since the airline website did not offer a click-to-chat option.

When I placed my phone call, I got the typical “all agents are busy” recording, but instead of being placed into the wait queue, I was offered a “virtual queue” option with an estimate of 4-8 minutes of wait time for a return call.

That was OK with me and, sure enough, I got a return call in about 9 minutes. In answer to my question to the agent, I was quickly reassured that everything will be accurate by simply clicking the “accept” option. So, while still on the phone with the agent, I turned back to my computer screen and, guess what? It had an error message saying that it had “timed out” and I would have to start all over in entering my booking data. The agent told me she couldn’t do anything else for me, because I would lose my big discount for booking it myself online.

When I got done doing all that again, I had spent over an hour doing something that shouldn’t have taken more than 20 minutes, including any quick chat exchange with an agent. Not only did I waste a lot of time, but I was also really frustrated and undelighted.

We need all customer interactions to be multi-modal and contextual

Obviously, the online application didn’t know that I was trying to get live assistance through a separate phone call and timed out, and, obviously, the airline agent was blocked from getting involved, even minimally. This would have been a perfect situation for contextual click-for-assistance to close the gap and avoid any customer frustration when there was confusion about the self-service application interface. Given that there are thousands of business interactions for consumers who will be using smartphones and tablets for e-commerce, the need to provide convenient, flexible, and contextual access to live assistance is going to be table stakes for cost-efficient customer satisfaction in the future.

In my case, if I could have initiated contact with a booking agent directly through the application online interface using something like WebRTC, instead of a separate, toll-free POTS phone call, I could have avoided the unnecessary application time-out and need to repeat all my previous data entry input. On the other side of the coin, the agent that I connected with, voice or chat, would have had complete access to my contextual status information and would have been able to quickly satisfy my needs in just a couple of minutes without jeopardizing the online discount I was getting for doing all the data entry chores.

So, that’s where I see lots of change coming to customer services.

Art Rosenberg (News - Alert) is The Unified-View/UCStrategies Expert (

Edited by Stefania Viscusi
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