About a month ago, we had our 2015 Nuance Customer Experience Summit in New Orleans. More than 125 customer service leaders from more than 60 companies assembled to discuss the profound impact technology and rising customer expectations are having on their businesses. Disruption was a major theme throughout those discussions. In my remarks, I pointed to a recent article in The Washington Post about what keeps CEOs up at night. Top executives are concerned about being “Uber-ized” – or said differently, they are concerned about unexpected disruptive technologies that might upend their company in the same way that Uber has upended the taxi industry. Within the technology world, Gartner predicted this year that “the smart machine era will be the most disruptive in the history of IT.” A study by Bank of America Merrill Lynch picks up on that theme saying,
“We are facing a paradigm shift which will change the way we live and work. The pace of disruptive technological innovation has gone from linear to parabolic in recent years. Penetration of robots and artificial intelligence has hit every industry sector, and has become an integral part of our daily lives.”
Despite fits and starts in the past, artificial intelligence is here to stay and intelligent self-service solutions powered by artificial intelligence are profoundly changing the way companies deliver service to their customers.
At the beginning of 2015, I made the following three predictions for the year to come:
- Conversational IVR would become the new standard for automated phone experiences
- Reactive virtual assistants would become proactive virtual advisors
- Self-service and assisted service would converge
As the year comes to a close, let’s take a look back at how I did. (Spoiler alert: I was right on all counts but I knew that going into the year since Nuance was working hard in all of these areas and, as Alan Kay said, “the best way to predict the future is to invent it”.)
1. Conversational IVR became the new standard for automated phone experiences
Many years ago, Nuance and other speech providers catalyzed the market shift from touchtone IVR systems to directed dialogue speech-based IVR as a way to better satisfy customer requests and drive self-service automation. While these systems drove significant business benefits for customers, traditional speech-based IVR systems now struggle when faced with the wider diversity of requests from end users (often as the result of escalation from other channels) and the heightened expectations of consumers for conversational interfaces. In 2015, we reached a tipping point where companies now recognize that their customers don’t want “vanilla” IVRs anymore and that investments in new, more modern conversational IVRs are needed. To see the benefits of conversational IVRs, you need to look no further than the steps that Manulife has taken to dramatically improve its IVR experience in both English and French and the connected conversation that Delta Airlines has created between its inbound IVR systems and its outbound notification systems. You can also look at the shocking results of using the Nuance Conversation Engine in IVR systems.
2. Reactive virtual assistants became proactive virtual advisors
Virtual assistants have consistently demonstrated their ability to increase revenue, reduce operating costs, and improve brand perception and have solidified their position as an important element of a cross-channel customer service strategy. In 2015, we saw the next logical step whereby reactive virtual assistants became proactive virtual advisors. Not surprisingly, USAA (our first customer for the Nina virtual assistant product) led the way in this next chapter in the technology’s progression. In July, USAA and Nuance introduced a Savings Coach app to help millennials save money. Along with other innovative features, the app leveraged gaming features to turn what’s otherwise an intimidating task for many people into an enjoyable game that one USAA member referred to as “genius”.
3. Self-service and assisted service converged
Within customer service, seamless handoffs from self-service to assisted service have long existed – whether using CTI technology as part of call transfers from an IVR to a live agent or passing an interaction record from a web virtual assistant to a live chat agent. In an omnichannel world, however, self-service and assisted service are increasingly converging into a single fabric of functionality. Just a few weeks ago, Nuance and TouchCommerce announced a partnership to deliver innovative customer engagement offerings that blend live and AI-powered conversations. The partnership will deliver digital self-service solutions to large enterprise customers looking to increase customer satisfaction and agent efficiency, and to maximize the effectiveness of their investments in digital and IVR self-service capabilities. After hearing the news and spending some time discussing it with the Nuance and TouchCommerce teams, one leading industry analyst captured his thoughts in a single word: “Bravo!”
2015 was quite a year for Nuance and for the industry as a whole. But 2016 is shaping up to be even better. More on that soon. In the meantime, happy holidays to you and your family!