From choice to voice – the future of self-serve

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Alan Linter 25th July 2018 6 minute read

From choice to voice – the future of self-serve

The Institute of Customer Service recently published their latest piece of research, ‘The Heart of Artificial Intelligence’. Sponsored by Capita, this research gives insight into attitudes towards AI in the customer service industry, based on the survey responses of consumers, employees and organisations. In a recent edition of Intelligence, our Divisional Insight Director Alan Linter shared his thoughts on how artificial intelligence can be used to enhance the customer experience.

Self-serve enables customers to do a huge range of things very easily and very conveniently – but it has to be their choice. Increasingly, I think we’ll see motivation matter. If self-serve is about creating accessibility and enriching the customer experience in a way you couldn’t do in person, then fantastic.

But if it’s purely about cost saving and just pushing customers in a direction that’s easier for the organisation rather than easier for them… Well, consumers are smart and getting smarter. They’ll learn to spot that more and more, and unless self-serve is implemented in a way where there’s something in it for them, they’ll react against it.

The intervention of machine learning and AI will give us a much better opportunity to deliver a massively enriched and cognitive experience for customers, and inject personalisation and context.

But I think there’s more to do in joining up the cost and revenue lines before organisations get the full advantage. For example, you’ll see companies trying to shrink their cost base by driving customers who want to talk to them out of the contact centre into self-serve. Meanwhile on the outbound side of the business, they’re trying to contact the same customers to offer them a new product or service. Except now they’re doing it at a time when those customers don’t want to speak to them, rather than taking the opportunity to talk to them when they did. It’s just… odd. It’s exactly the area where we can help businesses think through the best way to make self-serve work for them.

We’ve moved from keyboard first (computers), to fingers first (phones), and now it’s going to be voice first. I don’t think it will be long before we see something hugely disruptive around voice assistants and self-serve and how we use them to interact with brands. The growth in Alexa and Google Home as well as Siri and Cortana has been huge. There are now more than 50 million voice assistant smart speakers in the US alone – that’s one in five adults with access to one.

But the catalyst will be in aggregation. Rather than having a different app for every organisation you deal with, someone will come up with a consistent way of aggregating them all – with an Alexa skill – so you can self-serve across all those organisations in one place, just with your voice.

You’ll have a single application that will keep you up to date with all your price changes, subscriptions, or whether you’re due an upgrade, and prompt you when you need to do something. You’ll be able to leave the house in the morning and say “Alexa, swap me to today’s cheapest electricity please”, and the layer of bots underneath it will have it done by the time you come home.

We’ve been developing an Alexa skill ourselves and it’s incredible how much of the contact centre you can replicate within it – routing, natural language, IVR… You can ask it to connect you to a client and it will put you through, tell you how long the queue is, give you an idea of how long you’ll be waiting, and arrange a call back if you don’t want to hang on. Absolutely massive potential.

Notionally you can self-serve almost anything; there aren’t many exceptions. But you’ll often see examples of organisations putting in a self-serve function such as track and trace, only to find it’s not being used.

The answer is usually that there’s something fundamentally wrong in how the platform has been designed. They’ve built it, but they haven’t assessed how easy it is to use. Customers are continuing to pick up the phone because it’s just simpler and quicker. They don’t want to remember yet another set of passwords or log on to yet another part of the site. It’s not sufficiently effortless.

In that sphere I think we’ll see AI, bots and machine learning ‘tune up’ those self-serve experiences and make them more workable, personalised and contextual. But, to go back to my first point, they still need to be a choice.

We’ve already had the banks advertising UK-only call centres because there was a customer backlash to poorly-implemented offshoring. If we don’t get self-serve right, how long before organisations start differentiating themselves by offering people-only call centres?

To learn more about ‘The Heart of Artificial Intelligence’, click here.

This article originally appeared in our edition of Intelligence titled ‘Customer Management and the Future of Customer Experience: Technology and Trends’ – find it on our Intelligence hub page.

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