Make Them An Offer They Can’t Refuse

Thanks to the proliferation of connected devices – PCs, phones, smartphones, tablets, games consoles – consumers across all demographics now share a common trait: they are empowered. They now have the freedom to choose how they interact with companies, brands and each other. They readily switch between platforms and devices, tailoring their experiences to suit their needs.

The impact on business is profound. A new report titled “A Biometric Day in the Life“, commissioned by Time, Inc. and conducted by Innerscope Research, already has alarm bells ringing in boardrooms across the world.

The report found that people who grew up with the Internet, “Digital Natives”, switch their attention between media platforms (TVs, magazines, tablets, smartphones or channels within platforms) 27 times per hour, or about every other minute. The dizzying array of device choices has effectively created a new appetite for multi-screen multi-tasking. As a result, “Digital Natives” increasingly demand everything (information, content, advertising) in bite-size, digestible chunks.

At the other end of the spectrum, “Digital Immigrants” (a group that includes everyone born before 1982) also want simple experiences – but for a host of different reasons. These time-crunched slightly older consumers look to their devices to help them manage their daily lives and provide them easy and instant access to the information they want, the way they want it.

Connect the dots, and these trends – the demand for simplicity and the requirement for convenience, has obvious consequence for business, where bottom line depends on grabbing the attention of people whose attention is being pulled in multiple directions. But it doesn’t stop there. The emergence of these empowered, yet time-constrained consumers turns up the pressure to deliver customer service that is not only more flexible, but also more convenient and personal.

Voice evolves

Consumers across every demographic expect customer service on their terms.  Each interaction must be convenient and effective. Mobile devices play a central role in people’s daily lives. Natural Language Understanding (NLU) is becoming widely expected, with apps like Siri educating consumers on the power and simplicity of voice for getting answers.  The mobile app explosion and mobile voice assistants are having considerable influence on customer service strategy.

This is 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 and MobileGroove, Meisel suggests that the rise of personal smart assistants like Siri turns up the pressure on all companies everywhere to harness natural language understanding to deliver similar services. As Meisel put it: “A lot of enterprises are going to realize they need a smart [mobile] personal assistant – and that people are going to expect that.”

As services like Siri demonstrate, speech recognition and natural language understanding are a powerful combination. They also add another technology to the toolbox of capabilities companies need to meet and exceed consumer requirements for quality customer service.

Apps advance

There’s no single best answer when it comes to consumer preferences.  Some want to speak with a call center agent; others want to perform self-service tasks using a mobile app. And a significant and growing group of consumers want it both ways. They want to perform self-service tasks on an app and connect to an agent (without having to hold) when an issue can’t be resolved using other channels.

To validate consumer preferences across all demographics – not just “Digital Natives” -Vocalabs conducted a survey of 900 smartphone owners on behalf of Nuance Communications. Mobile apps were rated as an important part of the self-service mix that define excellent customer service.

Almost half (45 percent) of consumers surveyed said they like to use customer service apps because they are convenient. Another 40 percent like the always-on nature of mobile apps, and the fact that they are “always available.”

Another Nuance study found that 67 percent of consumers prefer self-service over speaking to a person for customer service inquiries, further reinforcing that customer’s appetite and appreciation for self-service is growing nearly as fast as technology is evolving.

When it comes to customer service inquiries, a whopping 75 percent said they find self-service to be more convenient. Furthermore, if the self-service experience is positive, the majority of participants said it triggers a perspective that the company they’re doing business with is customer-focused and innovative.

Services get smarter

Clearly, customers want results – fast. The experience is even better (and faster) if the company builds self-service to perform as an electronic concierge, equipped with the technology and intelligence to be proactive, personal and predict what the customer wants before they ask for it.

To intelligently handle their 18 million customer service calls yearly, US Airways has deployed just that. Their new Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system uses the newest innovations in conversational speech recognition. It also includes countless other innovations, including personalized call handling, automatic caller identification, proactive and predictive information delivery, and automated collection of trip information to shorten hold time.

In practice, US Airways callers get what they want the way they want it -using the words they are most comfortable with, not responses dictated by the technology. Even more impressive, the system automatically uses customer preferences and information about the flights they have booked to deliver a tailored, streamlined caller experience that includes a personal greeting and relevant updates about their trip without the caller needing to ask for it. The system can anticipate the reason a customer is calling, thus saving callers the time and hassle of stating it explicitly. For example, a customer placing a call well in advance of the actual flight is likely looking to change a reservation. A call placed just hours before the flight is a sure sign the customer is checking upgrade status and whether the flight is scheduled to depart on time.

How do we give the customers what they want? The proliferation of devices and the rise of empowered consumers who demand flexible, fast and fiercely personal customer service makes this harder than ever. Mobile apps, intelligent self-service IVR systems, services powered by cutting-edge speech recognition technology and natural language understanding – or all of the above?

The data shows the way.  You must give customers choices and with options that are in tune with their lifestyles and life stages,  and built to deliver the fast, personal, and convenient customer service that they genuinely appreciate.

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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.