Fifty years ago, it would have been unthinkable that the telephone would decline as a preferred method of communication. Twenty years ago, it would have been unthinkable that email would be on the decline. (And let’s not even talk about fax.) Today, Americans – like many people on earth – are in love with messaging on their smartphones.
Texting, once reserved for teenagers, has become a primary channel of communications. A study by Pew (News - Alert) Research has found that an astonishing 97 percent of Americans use text messaging at least once a day, which means that texting has become a preferred communication channel in all demographic groups. We send more text messages than we make telephone calls: about five times as many. It’s not a surprise, then, that Americans expect to be able to do more than hold personal conversations via SMS or channels like Facebook (News - Alert) Messenger. They also expect to be able to do business with companies. This shouldn’t be a source of fear for customer-centric companies: it should be celebrated as an opportunity. Answering phone calls for routine inquiries costs a lot of money. Text messaging, whether via a live agent or an automated system, does not. (Particularly the latter option, which can escalate a chat session to a live agent if it’s warranted.)
According to a recent blog post by Maddy Hubbard of Aspect (News - Alert), messaging automation is gaining critical mass. This automation relies on applications like interactive text response (ITR) and technologies such as natural language understanding (NLU) to offer customers personalized, conversational text interactions with an automated system.
“As a customer service tool, Facebook Messenger can improve brand engagement, service and support levels as well as strengthen the voice of the customer,” wrote Hubbard. “Messenger can even be used to deliver automated, proactive notifications and announcements with the potential for two-way chatbot dialogues.”
“Users [can] suddenly speak using natural language voice commands to perform actions such as sending messages, placing calls and setting reminders,” wrote Hubbard. “Over the past five years, these nearly ubiquitous assistants have proved that human-to-machine interactions can be easy, convenient and increasingly accurate.”
As customers get more used to them, they will be willing to interact more often with intelligent virtual assistants. At the same time, natural language understanding technology improves all the time, making more and more possible with automated “bots.” This, writes Hubbard, will open the door to a new breed of self-service applications that give customers a conversational, human-like experience that is entirely automated.
Is the phone going away anytime soon? Of course not: it’s still the channel of choice for confusing or complex customer interactions. But most customer queries are neither confusing nor complicated and are ready to be handled by a smart virtual assistant. That leaves your phone agents free to focus their efforts on the calls that can’t be resolved without a personal and human touch.