Today’s customers and the way they choose to gather information and interact has changed dramatically.  The explosion of smartphones, social engagement and natural language assistants have permanently shifted consumer behavior and expectations.  Regardless of the channel, one thing is clear: organizations must be ready to serve a new, empowered and self-sufficient customer – The Now Consumer.

Consumers’ personal productivity is climbing steeply with the proliferation of smartphones and the growing number of highly specialized, powerful applications built for these devices.  Paying bills, finding directions, booking dinner reservations and tweeting about the service can be handled immediately from mobile devices.  This trend has awoken us all to the potential for immediate results, and the value of remaining in control of the most valuable commodity we have: our time.  The key to serving and retaining the Now Consumer depends on a company’s’ ability to offer personalized, simple and powerful service experiences that place premium value on customers’ time.

A big piece of this puzzle is meeting customers’ growing expectations of self-service.  We often hear that consumers don’t like self-service that they “…just want to talk to someone.”  The facts, however, tell a different story.  Here at Nuance, we recently studied consumer attitudes toward self-service and found that 76% find self-service can be more convenient than traditional channels. Additionally, 82% of Gen Y consumers stated that they preferred self-service to speaking to an agent.  This statistic holds if consumers believe they can achieve their desired outcome using self-service.  And they are being trained, through use of their smartphones and natural language, that powerful outcomes are the norm with self-service.

The trend toward self-service is impacting every industry, but none more so than travel.  According to the SITA-ATW Passenger Self-Service Survey, by the end of 2012 self-service kiosks will be the primary check-in method at 75% of airports.  At a recent Nuance customer meeting, one of our clients in the airline industry said that customers had turned the tables on them with regard to self-service, stating, “We can’t roll out automation fast enough to satisfy our customers.”

While the customer needs have changed, the objective has not.  Enterprises are tasked with developing ways to allow easy communication between consumers and the company.  This of course, is easier said than done.  At Nuance, we believe there are a few ways to go about this in an effective manner:

  • First, think about making channels simple and easy for customers to interact with.  In the case of speech, we have found adding a natural language capability can dramatically improve precision, accuracy and customer experience.
  • Second, work on evolving self-service channels to be as natural and “human” as possible.  There are good examples in the IVR channel of effective conversational interfaces that deliver excellent results. There are more and more mobile examples such as Dragon Go! and conversational personal assistants like Siri.
  • Third, remember the goal of the channel and the consumer.  Consumers choose self-service because they want accurate and fast results.  Dynamic self-service systems are capable of deciphering meaning and intent, intelligently conversing or routing inquiries, and making sense of unstructured data – all of which are critical because they help the customer conduct their transaction quickly and easily.

If properly implemented, organizations can see real benefit from their self-service channels.  A compelling self-service experience can reduce the burden on live agents, a more expensive customer care channel.  This will result in better transactional outcomes and better efficiency downstream, which translates into lower customer support costs and increased profitability. The long-term benefits can be more intangible, but equally important, and are reflected in ways such as increased loyalty and more durable relationships with the customer.  These short- and longer-term benefits will ultimately translate to better business outcomes.

The bottom line is that investing in the right technology in all self-service channels allows a company’s Now Consumers to retain control over transactions and complete their tasks in a quick and easy manner.  The result is a mutually beneficial outcome: efficiency for the customer, and in turn efficiency for the organization.

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About Andrea Mocherman

This was a contributed post by Andrea Mocherman. To see more content like this, visit the Customer experience section of our blog.