The Cloud is the one to watch, with surveys and reports ranking it high in the list of 2012 mega-trends. But the real story isn’t about the unlimited storage the Cloud offers companies and consumers to stockpile their digital stuff. The Cloud is moving up the business agenda because it facilitates the easy deployment of advanced services and software. At one level, organizations are guaranteed access to the capabilities they need to function and thrive. More importantly, cloud-based services allow companies and vendors to share knowledge and know-how, in both directions. What better way to stay in step with the breakneck pace of technology and advances in mobile? Dena Skrbina, Senior Director, On-Demand Solutions Marketing, walks through the reasons why companies struggling to stay on top of their game — and keep pace with the fast and furious rate of technology change — should move to the Cloud for their contact center solutions.

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The Cloud is much more than a place for consumers to socialize and store data; it’s also a valuable tool for business.  The Cloud allows companies to take advantage of critical infrastructure and complex software they might not otherwise have the expertise, funding or time to procure and deploy.  Companies can now tap into the Cloud for what they need: computing power, software applications — and much more.

Clearly, sharing infrastructure and software via the Cloud frees resources and allows enterprises to focus on the business at hand. However, the advance of mobile devices and the requirement of today’s always-on consumers for instant responses to their customer service requests highlights a new and pressing reason why enterprises must connect to the Cloud: it allows them to keep pace with technology change, rather than be crushed by it.

Business agility

It’s a given that companies must go where their customers are. Today those customers are increasingly mobile, reaching to their smartphones throughout their daily routine for advice, information and answers.

The enterprise must think mobile, particularly when it comes to delivering contact center solutions. However, the massive investments in technology, software and know-how necessary to keep up with the breakneck pace of technology change in mobile is a more than most enterprises can manage. This is where cloud-based services add tremendous value.

Quite simply, the Cloud is the perfect delivery mechanism for rapidly evolving technology like mobile. It leaves the heavy lifting — the work of scaling hardware, integrating software and working through all the potential issues at the intersection of cross-media (IVR, mobile, Web) and customer care —to the company sharing its services and software via the Cloud.

The benefits to the enterprises that ‘plug’ into the Cloud are significant. They are free to focus their attention on improving their business agility and adding value to their offers, the key capabilities that distinguish industry leaders from also-rans today and tomorrow.

Improving IVR

Take the example of the Nuance On Demand service, a cloud-based service where the infrastructure and the software is shared across enterprise customers. Each customer uses the shared infrastructure plus the up-to-date software Nuance On Demand offers to assemble their unique IVR (Interactive Voice Response) application. IVR effectively automates interactions between the enterprise and telephone callers.

Say a new version of the speech recognition engine version is released. Every enterprise customer of the Nuance On Demand service has immediate access to the new version.

In practice, Nuance On Demand enterprise customers receive automatic updates with the hottest natural language, newest text to speech and audio advancements, personalization tools, and mobile self-service innovations.  Because Nuance is expert at using these technologies, customers get immediate benefit — often a full 12+ months earlier than with any other provider.

As a result, everyone shares and everyone benefits from Nuance innovation and learnings. It’s also a great way to aggregate feedback —in both directions — creating a virtuous cycle where innovation and experience ensure constant and continuous improvements to the technology.

If we consider that Nuance On Demand is processing 2 billion incoming phone calls translating to nearly 10 billion caller interactions, Nuance has deep insights into what consumers demand and how they interact. This data feeds back into the speech recognition engine, making the technology better and smarter.

Invest once, benefit often

Tapping into the Cloud allows enterprises to deliver improved IVR services ensuring that the contact center solution is up-to-date and in sync with customer requirements. But the story doesn’t end there.

Nuance On Demand extends the benefits as enterprises sharpen their focus on mobile and solutions to serve their connected customers.

No need to ask (or answer) the tough questions: When are my customers going to stop using IVR? Might the popularity of applications like Siri raise expectations for customer care services? What role does text messaging have in the mix? Nuance On Demand takes the guesswork out of it planning because the contact center solution evolves based on real customer behavior.

Using Nuance On Demand means enterprises can take their investment in phone self-service and push it back into their mobile apps. This equips the enterprise to develop an application that understands natural language, and then leverage it across other channels, including mobile.

And natural interactions aren’t purely about customers using voice. The experience (and context) can be extended to the website, where customers type, not talk. Great customer service is truly about delivering customers what they want on their terms: interaction that is convenient, effective and accepts the central role that mobile devices are beginning to play in their daily lives.

This is also the view of Bill Meisel, founder of TMA Associates, an independent consultancy providing insights and supporting companies that want to incorporate speech technologies into their offer, or improve their own enterprise efficiency. In a recent interview with m-pulse, a weekly vodcast produced by Untether.tv and MobileGroove, Meisel argued that the rise of personal smart assistants have whet our appetite for Siri-like services that take the heavy-lifting out of dealing with customer service issues. “A lot of enterprises are going to realize they need a smart [mobile] personal assistant — and that people are going to expect that.”

When worlds combine

Moving ahead, it’s clear the advance of smartphones and tablets, and the phenomenal popularity of apps play in favor of the Cloud and cloud-based contact center solutions. What can we expect?

From a customer perspective, popular natural language apps like DragonGo! and Siri are blurring the line between IVR and mobile.  They’re also training consumers to interact naturally with a device rather than a human.  And, they’re resetting expectations for convenience and getting answers fast.  Businesses need to examine how consumers are interacting with their mobile devices, and incorporate the same friendly, intelligent, personalized interaction into their IVR as well as their mobile customer care.

Look for a seismic shift in self-service technologies as the barriers between IVR and mobile break down. Against this backdrop, being able to leverage investments across the critical customer touch points (IVR, mobile, Web) is a key capability, and belonging to a Cloud community —where technology and innovation is shared and improved to deliver positive results for everyone — is essential.

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Dena Skrbina

About Dena Skrbina

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