The Customer Moved My Cheese

NEW YORK (SpeechTEK) - While a lot of companies are interested in moving from single-modality customer service to multimodal interactions, industry experts at the SpeechTEK conference suggested a basic premise that bears repeating: know your customers.

Multimodal is no longer just about the caller or Web surfer, it's about the consumer who wants customer service regardless of the device he's using or his physical location. Customer satisfaction is no longer evaluated based on one channel; consumers are looking at all channels when interacting with a company and deciding how satisfied they are.

"The consumer is changing because the devices that they use now are so much more capable than what they were using a few years ago, and expectations are changing rapidly," said Samrat Baul, senior manager of application design for speech analytics at [24] 7. 

For instance, consumers don't want to be in one place and access service via a landline or cell phone, Baul said. "What they expect is a unified experience irrespective of the device that they're using to access customer service regardless of location." 

People will choose modalities based on their environment; people in cars, for example, might prefer speech, pointed out Jim Milroy, director of user experience at West Interactive. 

"People have adapted to that fairly well it seems. We're not actually changing people, we're just giving them another channel, another avenue to get there," Milroy said. "One thing is don't lose sight of who's actually using a smartphone. Don't lose sight of the fact that we're not changing the reasons they call; we're hopefully making it easier for them."

It's also crucial to understand a customer's intent: getting an issue resolved as fast and efficiently as possible. 

"You can build all the technology you want, you can build a hot, sexy GUI, even a nice fancy VUI, but if it has nothing to do with a customer's needs or their intent, then there's really no need for that," Milroy said.

Another basic premise is that customers don't want to work at getting their problems fixed, and they really don't care how it's done.

"Customers want you to do something for them, and they're not conscious of how it has to be done. They're not calling up and saying, ‘boy, I really hope this is a natural language thing,'" Milroy said.

Are these challenges or opportunities? In Baul's mind, these are opportunities to provide successful customer interactions.

"It kind of reminds me of that book, Who Moved My Cheese," Baul says. "Somebody moved our cheese, and it was the caller who started expecting more. Whatever we designed five years ago, three years ago, is actually a broken experience. It no longer works; people who liked those services actually started complaining about it. Somewhere something got broken based on just one modality we were using to provide customer service, and we needed to fix that. We needed to make it available all the time. We want the consumer to be in control and find which way was easiest for them to interact with us."

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