On SpeechTek's First Day, Cross-Channel Integration Is King
NEW YORK—The last five years have seen an explosion in business contact channels, particularly mobile ones. For the first year ever, the Pew Research Center's Internet and American Life Project reports that a majority (56 percent) of Americans are using smartphones. Twitter, one might add, is now also more commonly used in reference to the social media site than to describe the hearts of young teens in love or tweaked-out coffee drinks as it was not so many years ago.
In a presentation at SpeechTek 2013, Aberdeen Group analyst Omer Minkara shared a recent finding from his firm that 65 percent of all contact centers are handling traffic over no less than six channels. Given that statistic, it's no wonder that the prevailing theme of the conference's opening day of discussions on driving customer satisfaction seemed to be focused in some way or another on how to develop consistency between all of a business' channels.
Consumers are engaging with companies over SMS, chat, voice, mobile Web, etc., and expect to be able to move between the channels seamlessly. Contact centers haven't, as of yet, been able to provide that kind of experience consistently, though. Many channels, such as interactive voice response (IVR) and, say, mobile Web, are built and designed by entirely different teams, thinking only of their channel. Often third-party contractors, they may have no awareness of practices in other channels and aren't focused on integration.
"One of the common things I see is there's a 'Contact Me' tab in the app," says RJ Auburn, chief technology officer of Voxeo. "If you call in, why doesn't the call center know who you are? The technology is there."
"You need to think of these things as a single platform," adds Dena Skrbina, senior director of hosted solutions for Nuance Communications.
Skrbina argues that a big component in driving consumer satisfaction in the future is going to be being able to have channels share not only information but also best practices.
"A lot has been invested into tuning your IVR. What if you could leverage that and use it on your mobile device?" she asks.
This kind of cross-channel sharing has implications beyond customer satisfaction. In her opening keynote, "Earn Your Customers' Rave," Jeanne Bliss founder of Customerbliss.com, argues that data siloed in different channels "exhausts the front line." As frustrating as a clunky and repetitive process is for a customer, it's many times more monotonous for an agent who must repeat it over and over, many times a day. As one might expect, this can degrade performance as well as lead to higher turnover and have financial consequences in terms of rehiring and retraining.
A bad consumer experience, moreover, can reverberate in social media.
"Memory creation is the currency of your brand," said Bliss in her keynote remarks. "If you aren't doing things that are building your brand, you are vanilla. You're being shopped on by price alone."
Real, long-term customer value is built at an emotional level, she argues.
The rise of smartphone usage has also had major implications for speech technology broadly.
"In the last three years, people have learned what speech recognition is," SpeechTek panelist and chief executive officer of iSpeech Heath Ahrens argues. "If you'd asked someone pre-Siri, they would have looked at you with bewildered eyes."
Now, however, he argues that expectations are rising around not only what is possible but also what is presupposed.
The argument coalescing on the conference's first day seems to be that, across the board, customers want easier access to information and service, and that businesses going forward would be wise to deliver.
Mobile devices are now expected to "know" their users.