Disruption is coming to customer service, care of the on-demand economy

From Uber challenging taxis to Airbnb testing the hotel industry, we’ve seen how technology and the on-demand economy can disrupt business. Automated, fast-paced technologies are fundamentally changing how businesses interact with their customers. And as messaging platforms and virtual assistants swiftly gain prominence and enter the mainstream, they promise intelligent, convenient self-service.
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Offering 24/7 automated self-service, virtual assistants could change the way businesses approach customer service.

Centered around providing instant, direct gratification, companies such as Uber and Airbnb are part of the “on-demand economy.” And as Ron Miller outlines in TechCrunch, these disruptors are completely changing both how companies and consumers conduct business. Uber went live in 2010, enabling users to submit a ride request through an app and be transported by a driver who uses their own car. Uber has since expanded and is currently available in nearly 450 cities worldwide, bringing tension to the transportation industry. Earlier this year, San Francisco’s largest taxi company filed for bankruptcy.

What happened? Uber disrupted the taxi industry, turning the transportation business model on its head. Just as Airbnb – the online marketplace connecting renters and travelers – disrupted the hotel industry.

So what industry will be disrupted next? All evidence points to customer service. Over the last several months, there has been a growing level of industry discussion – and testing – of the importance of messaging platforms and their chatbots. These chatbots allow consumers to communicate in a similar way to how they currently chat with other people. But importantly, these consumer-facing technologies are changing expectations for the enterprise. Consumers now expect and want these types of interactions when they do business. Research shows that in today’s mobile world, customers want to use technology more than they want to interact with others. Which is why the on-demand economy is so prominent. It’s based on the following premise: consumers are hungry for automated systems that are available 24/7. Intriguingly, with virtual assistants, businesses now have the technology to provide exactly that. So it begs the question: Are they destined to disrupt customer service?

On first glance, it’s easy to imagine the type of impact virtual assistants can have on customer service. They can deliver extreme business value by reducing costs, simplifying customer service operations, decreasing escalation to the call center, and increasing conversion rates. For the consumer, it’s a better customer experience because they get to communicate the way they want: quick, cross-channel, high quality communication via an automated self-service system.

Nuance has long evangelized the need to reinvent the relationship between people and technology and to enable a more human, conversational interface with technology. And virtual assistant technology is bringing us closer to that goal. Enterprises need to embrace this shift in consumer demand and deliver more conversational interfaces across every touchpoint with consumers – not just in messaging but also in IVR, web, and mobile.

The intelligence, automation and convenience that virtual assistants and other conversational technology provide fit precisely in with the proposition of the on-demand economy (which is seemingly here to stay). As Gartner predicts, “The smart machine era will be the most disruptive in the history of IT.” So when it comes to customer service – it might be best to disrupt, or risk getting disrupted.

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Will Cousins

About Will Cousins

Will Cousins, senior director of product management and strategy at Nuance Outbound, has more than 17 years of experience leading product management, engineering and marketing functions at Fortune 100 and early stage companies in the mobile and wireless, enterprise software, and utilities industries. He oversees product strategy and continued expansion of the Nuance Outbound platform for smartphone, voice, email and text-based customer interactions.