Your age says a lot about you, including how you interact with businesses. If you’re in your 60s, you likely call customer service when you have a question. If you’re thirty-something, you probably try a company’s website first and then call if you can’t find what you need online. If you’re a teenager or twenty-something, calling a company may not occur to you at all. You are more likely to start with their website, download their mobile app or even use social networking to get an answer from your friends.

This new reality is creating challenges for merchants, mobile operators, government agencies and other consumer-facing organizations. In the past, highly trained agents were often enough to ensure a great customer service experience. That strategy is losing its effectiveness as consumers increasingly choose self-service.

Organizations have responded to this challenge by deploying custom platforms for each channel, but that’s expensive. A more effective strategy – both in terms of cost and customer experience – is to serve all customers through a single multi-channel platform

Ideally, this platform will use advanced Natural Language Understanding (NLU). That might surprise you – many people perceive NLU as strictly for IVR applications – but NLU has proven to be highly effective when applied in other channels, too. Businesses and other organizations are increasingly extending NLU to their online customer care and mobile apps.

Advanced NLU that is capable of supporting Interactive Voice Response (IVR) dialogs brings tremendous value to other conversational mediums. Responding to questions with a long list of potential answers is rarely optimal from a user experience point of view. While the Web and mobile apps are better environments than IVR voice dialogs for providing a lengthy list of potential answers, many customers will opt out when faced with a litany of results that may contain the answer somewhere within.  Such a response doesn’t respect their time or their business. Extending powerful NLU to text-based channels makes even more sense when you consider that the current state of the art for web question answering currently provides the right answer – somewhere in a long list of titled links – only about 9 percent of the time, according to analysts.

Lacking the intelligence to understand the meaning and intent of everyday language, non-NLU platforms often frustrate users by providing a laundry list of potential answers instead of one – the right one. If those users are potential customers, the frustration may prompt them to seek a competitor. If they’re existing customers, they may call customer care, where they’ll have to start all over again, this time in an IVR or a live agent conversation.

Advanced NLU avoids that frustration along with all of the costs, churn and bad rep that comes with it. Only advanced NLU has the intelligence necessary to understand not only what customers are asking, but also the intent of those questions. Instead of collapsing when customers fail to use a rigid set of industry terms – such as “leaving” instead of “departure,” in the case of an interaction with an airline – NLU can figure it out and respond with the right answer right away.

According to recent research, 65% of consumers turn to products and services providers’ website first for answers about purchases and support. More than one out of three consumers make a phone call to the contact center after getting frustrated with the Web-site FAQ search experience. Companies are now taking advantage of NLU and advanced dialog management to deliver immediate, precise outcomes for their customers who prefer to use Web self-service.

Recently Nuance delivered a proof of concept to a computer retailor who was looking to improve their Web self-service customer experience. They were only seeing their system deliver the right answer 18% of the time with 33% accuracy. Nuance was able to deliver the right answer 81% of the time with 91% accuracy. This type of increased accuracy has a potential of cost savings of $9+ million annually.

Intrigued? For more information about how to implement NLU and the benefits it provides, download the Natural Language Understanding white paper: Learning to Speak Customer-ease.

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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.