Omni-Channel Customer Engagement Article

Virtual Assistants Can Offer Customers a Mix of Convenient Self-Service and Personalized Attention

February 17, 2016

Once upon a time, customers used to shop based on product quality. Since there wasn’t a lot of competition and variety in our great-grandparents’ day and people were often forced to shop locally, earning and maintaining customer loyalty was a pretty easy job. Customizing the customer experience was also a pretty easy job, since chances were good that the buyer and the seller knew one another. Today, this personalized neighborhood shopping experience is a remnant from old movies and television shows for most people.

Mass marketing and big box retail entered our consciousness in the 70s and 80s, and was followed by the Internet, e-commerce and digital marketing in the 1990s and the twenty-first century. Customers began to shop entirely on price, comparing and contrasting the deals they could get on this side of town compared to the discounts they might get over in the next town. Shopping online exploded the idea of personalization and customer loyalty, and shopping became a wholly nameless, faceless experience in which customers were simply a transaction number and a digital credit card receipt.

While most of us enjoy the choice and convenience e-commerce gives us, we’re NOT so enamored to play the part of the anonymous customer who must wait a long time to receive even the most rudimentary anonymous customer service. We long for a time when companies knew us and anticipated our needs, and singled us out as “special.” So companies are asking themselves, “Is it possible to mix personalization and digital purchasing and customer support in pursuit of omni-channel customer engagement?”

In a recent blog post, Aspect’s (News - Alert) Ayesha Borker writes that one of the efforts companies seeking to create omni-channel customer engagement can make to repersonalize the customer experience is by adding a little Siri – or something just like her – to the contact center. Virtual assistance work on our phones, in our browsing and even for the navigation of our home entertainment systems, why not in the contact center?

“Interactive text response or natural language processing may sound like complex terms to a layman’s mind,” wrote Borker. “But their utilization is not a far-fetched reality. How about using these concepts to develop an application over SMS and publishing a universal number for self-service? Allow customers to do a one-time authentication and lo, they have their own text assistant to solve any of their queries! All they could do is type in what they want, e.g.: In a banking scenario they could ask, “What are the loan schemes you provide?” or “Can I get a new check book?” Connecting these applications to the correct backend systems can easily have these queries processed.”

Self-service has become quite popular in the contact center for many reasons. Customers like helping themselves because they believe it to be faster and easier. Companies like it because it saves them money. Self-service is not, however, usually known for the personal touch it provides. Siri-like virtual assistants who could find answers and remain with the customer until a satisfactory resolution is provided (or the customer is routed to a human agent for a complex problem) can offer the best of both worlds: self-directed service that still feels like there is someone at the other end who cares. 

Edited by Maurice Nagle
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