Waking Up to the Contact Center Technology Revolution
By Keith R. McFarlane, and CTO & VP of Engineering,
An event occurred last year that really brought the power of big data and the Internet of Things (IoT) home to me. One night in August, a major earthquake awoke many across the Bay Area at around 3:20am. How do we know this? Legions of wrist-borne Jawbone UP sleep trackers recorded the event en-masse, as reported in a post on the Jawbone site. The charts in this post provide a glimpse into the power of big data analytics; just by measuring instantaneous sleep pattern disruption, it was possible to detect earthquakes almost as quickly and accurately as the USGS.
Customer experience professionals are slowly waking up to the power of streaming and big data analytics; to the importance of reacting with value in real-time to the events Gartner calls “business moments;” and to the emergence of an ever-broadening customer experience "surface” composed not only of traditional contact channels, but also of a widening field of devices presented by the Internet of Things. As is typical in the contact center industry, the pace of this realization has been slow, but as these and other technologies mature, they will drastically affect the customer experience.
Opening your Eyes: Video’s New Legitimacy
In the contact center industry have struggled with the expansion of customer communication channels for decades, and that struggle continues. As new social networks burst onto the scene and consumers take to their mobile devices as their primary support channel, the problem only gains in complexity. Questions and complaints come from not only voice, video, email, and chat, but also fly in via SMS, Twitter, and Facebook. And now, as consumers begin to expect a more integrated customer experience, mobile applications are beginning to embed contact channels for support in context.
Video in particular is an interesting case. Ask any contact center industry insider about the true impact of video in our industry and you are likely to be met with at a bit of cynicism (maybe even a smirk). Why is this? Because video has been a part of the customer service conversation since the 1990s, but there has never been a practical way to implement it to the end customer’s benefit. This, I’m happy to say, is finally changing.
With the advent of ubiquitous video capabilities in web browsers and on mobile devices via technologies like WebRTC, consumers (particularly millennials) are becoming very comfortable with video as a contact channel.
The Sun Rises Upon the Internet of Things
Of course, customer touch points are not restricted to the voice, video and textual channels we commonly discuss in the contact center industry; as the IoT expands, we are seeing an exponential increase in the data generated by consumer devices like Apple Watch and the Jawbone UP mentioned above. There are many potential applications for the data generated by this explosion, but few will be as impactful as those in the customer service domain.
Consider the new generation of consumer pill dispensers. These devices typically monitor the medications taken by users, and can prevent people from taking the wrong pills via a locking mechanism. Further, they are often coupled with a monitoring service in a contact center whose agents reach out personally to users or family members in case of a problem (missed a day, medication not re-loaded, etc.). This is all fantastic, but the customer experience possibilities only expand from this point:
Upon calling in for support, family members could immediately be informed via IVR that a loved one has not taken the correct medication, or has taken it at the wrong time;
An agent could proactively reach out to the consumer and verify in real time that the consumer takes the right medication;
For older users, a simple “help” button could be built into the device that launches either a callback to the home or a live voice call streamed from the device itself using embedded WebRTC technology.
Awake and Aware: Big Data and Artificial Intelligence in the Contact Center
Reporting and analytics in the contact center space has always been one its most formidable challenges; from real-time dashboards to daily agent schedule adherence reports, no single contact center vendor has managed to provide a complete, consistent view of customer and agent experiences using the volumes of data collected from their system (although many have tried, and some have come close).
“Ask any contact center industry insider about the true impact of video in our industry and you are likely to be met with at a bit of cynicism”
This problem becomes increasingly complex in the face of the escalating data volume that customer service technologies will produce, and contact center professionals will need to apply a new generation of techniques and technologies to manage and master all of this latent potential. Take the Jawbone UP incident cited above as an example; while it’s interesting to see this effect in chart form where a human can recognize it, it would be more useful to apply machine learning (ML) techniques to this stream of data. Detecting an anomalous condition in near-real-time can provide opportunities to increase revenue, and even save lives.
Natural Language Processing (NLP) and targeted Artificial Intelligence (AI) applications are also getting their day in the sun, and will begin to have a drastic impact on the contact center, especially for certain well-understood problem domains. An excellent example is the AI-driven calendar service developed by x.ai (https://x.ai/). This impressively accurate scheduling service, capable of pulling very busy and geographically dispersed people together for a meeting using natural-language email conversations, represents the potential future of customer service – intelligent virtual agents. These agents, instructed in a given domain, might drive many of the most basic customer service interactions in next generation contact centers.
The Future is Here: Wake Up!
In the face of all this change, one can imagine ever-broadening customer experiences coming to the fore: telepresence via drones to robotic helping hands for remote inspection to simple task execution by qualified contact center agents, as well as ML-driven technical support conversations and support instrumentation embedded into most devices. In short, the possibilities are endless, the opportunities are huge, and the most successful contact centers are already evolving to take advantage.