By Brian Atkinson, Vice President and General Manager EMEA at Five9
As we leave the last 18 months of uncertainty and accelerated change behind, what next for customer engagement? Where will the momentum of innovation take us, and how can businesses ensure they don’t get left behind? Read on for five predictions that will help you stay ahead of customer expectations this year.
Out with the old tech, in with the new
2022 must see the complete uprooting of the ‘press 1’ tree of frustration that is interactive voice response (IVR). With accelerated investment across channels such as webchat, SMS and WhatsApp, investment in voice and call experiences is sorely lacking. Reliance on mazes of IVR routing continues to waste customers’ precious time and often fails to provide the solutions they need.
This needs to change, and we are already seeing forward-thinking organisations enhancing the voice experience through next-level IVA (intelligent virtual agents) technologies that shift away from poor, legacy IVR technology and into a natural language, conversational experience underpinned by artificial intelligence (AI). It’s time to embrace seamless customer experiences powered by modern technologies and consign frustrating IVR experiences, bogged down in obsolete technology, to the bin.
Proliferation of the digital workforce
AI has been slow to realise its potential while organisations have been asking what it can actually deliver in the CX arena, and how. The confusion is now lifting as we are seeing how AI capabilities can holistically impact the entire customer journey. We’re now at a point where we can entrust a ’digital workforce’ of intelligent virtual agents, underpinned by AI to deliver experiences for us.
With practical AI beginning to crystallise, we’ll see customer service increasingly powered not only by humans who have rich data and insight at hand, but by digital agents that can also respond to many requests intelligently.
With more AI deployments coming to life in the next 12 months, this interest will turn from curiosity to action. We will see more organisations seeking to harness AI to enable a digital workforce of intelligent automation while empowering ‘real-life’ customer experience agents to deliver that ever-vital human touch.
An end to siloed customer data
We’ve been talking about silos for many years but are now truly starting to see those break down, especially in the large enterprise. In the next 12 months, organisations that want to exercise innovation must focus on ending data silos and embracing boundaryless and secure access to data across their systems. Opportunities for automation, AI, machine learning – and even some of the most basic insights are being lost due to continued siloing of data.
This can even go beyond stamping out internal silos, to embracing a decentralised data link approach, leveraging technologies like blockchain, and using cloud-based AI services by vendors such as Google or IBM Watson. Here, third-party services can anonymously analyse millions of customer interactions to help train natural language processing systems, for example. This feeds back into application innovation for all. For example, the development of automated dashboards for agents, who can gain amazing insight into the customer, immediately, at the right time and the right place.
Without boundaryless data, this type of innovation cannot be realised.
Empathy amidst disruption
With supply chain issues rolling forward into this year, there must be a continued focus on empathy as part of the customer experience. While organisations may not be able to exert control over many of the variables affecting the supply chain – chip shortages and port blockages, for example – they can return to the six pillars of customer experience, in particular empathy, personalisation, and effort.
This means clear and regular communication, flexibility and understanding. At its most basic, sticking to rigid returns policies at a time like this won’t serve anyone. Levelling up, this can mean offering customers personalised options when disruption does hit. For example, if a customer has ordered a new car and we know that chip delays will delay delivery, can they be contacted in advance to choose whether the cruise control option they selected is essential, or just a nice to have? If not, perhaps they would be happy to accept a different model sooner?
Resolving frustrations and ensuring that customers feel heard and valued will have higher stakes than ever. For example, our recent research shows that nearly half (47%) of surveyed consumers said they are likely to share negative experiences from online shopping on social media platforms. This proves that retailers are just one bad interaction away from a social storm, threatening brand loyalty across the board.
It’s not about delivering the impossible, but about having the data and tools we need to be able to communicate empathically and provide options and flexibility. Technology can help identify these opportunities and then deliver feedback on how that flexibility was received by the customer, helping to power the next experience, for the next customer. As such, technology will open more doors for companies to deliver empathy-driven, personalised experiences that engender loyalty even in the face of disruption.
Cloud ubiquity to drive innovation
Without widespread cloud adoption, none of the previous innovations will be realised. Innovative organisations know that, and 2022 will see the continuing march towards cloud ubiquity enabling smarter, more powerfully personalised customer experiences. The benefits of cloud adoption are myriad: flexibility, reliability, agility. Testament to that, around 75% of organisations are now taking a cloud-based approach to customer experience.
Both smaller organisations and large enterprises are moving to cloud models to take advantage of the latest technologies powering application development, such as Kubernetes and Docket Containers. When it comes to novel adoption of AI, of NLP and IVAs, cloud is the enabler. It allows organisations to take advantage of third-party innovation, layering of APIs, and access to capabilities way beyond the capabilities of on-premises. In the next 12 months, there is no question that the cloud will dominate customer experience conversations, and those that are still wavering are set to get left behind.