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Harnessing the Power of Voice for Customer Engagement

This story was originally published on Oct. 30, 2018, and is brought to you today as part of our Best of ECT News series.

Until fairly recently, industry pundits had all but written off voice as a customer engagement channel. Considering there were more than 100 billion inbound calls via mobile devices alone in 2018, the past year has proven them wrong.

There has been an incredible resurgence of voice as the new user interface of choice, and it remains the chief channel for complex customer inquiries and interactions. As a result, organizations have been getting serious about connecting their voice communications systems to their systems of action — deeply embedding voice in the fabric of customer relationship management systems.

While CRM and customer engagement management (CEM) have been a fixture in the enterprise for years, “there is still a great deal of time and effort needed to identify insights that can positively impact individual deals, or to create experiences that extend customer relationships,” according to CRM Essentials analyst Brent Leary. “And that is still causing folks not to get the most out using their CRM.”

Blurring of Lines

To date, voice has been the missing element in CRM systems. After all, there’s nothing quite like the power of a conversation to build a relationship, resolve an issue, or close a sale. Those conversations are also quite powerful because they are loaded with insights that can help organizations drive connected experiences, contextual actions, and continuous improvement in customer engagement — the three pillars of digital transformation.

The blurring of lines of the CRM system and the call center has been taking place for some time now. Expect this shift to move into hyperdrive in 2019, as companies must improve responsiveness in translating voice to action — transitioning from contact center to customer action center.

With the new year approaching, five overarching trends in and around CRM and voice in the enterprise have become evident:

  1. Companies will double-down on voice-to-action as the means to power digital transformation.
  2. Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning will continue to have a massive impact on CRM.
  3. A significant number of contact centers will move to the cloud to be more agile and support the shift from contact center to customer action center.
  4. Data mining and speech analytics will unlock valuable “dark data” for improved customer experience.
  5. Virtual assistant technology will become more prevalent in the contact center.

Following is a breakdown of some of the ramifications of these trends.

1. Companies Will Empower Their Teams

The time frame between when customers give voice to an issue and when organizations take action is out of step with today’s consumer expectations for immediate response. To this end, the contact center must transition to customer action center through timely voice capture and analysis, to transform insights into spoken word actions.

The ubiquity of the mobile phone will continue to drive billions of additional phone calls into enterprises. Advancements in voice technology, such as voice recognition and natural language understanding (NLU), will give organizations vital capabilities in this area.

This integration of technologies arms enterprises with strategic insights to empower their frontline communication teams to be a step ahead of the customer with guidance and recommendations — speeding actions and resolutions for greater customer satisfaction.

The emergence and increased adoption of several key technologies will ensure that data can be extracted from voice interactions and then fed to the CRM system for the mutual benefit of customers and businesses.

2. AI and ML Will Have an Enormous Impact

Artificial intelligence has been driving automated conversations in the contact center, which can result in cost savings. Voice bots, powered by natural language understanding, combine the best of both worlds: automation (cost savings) coupled with customer experience (human understanding).

Speech analytics and machine learning have been gaining traction in recent years to uncover insights from voice conversations that previously were hidden. In 2019, expect more enterprises to use predictive (AI) routing of conversations based on learning from past interactions and outcomes, fueled by these insights.

The importance of tightly integrating voice and CRM solutions cannot be overstated, as only a tight integration will allow proper mining of all data across platform, with resulting benefits in agent productivity and customer experience.

3. Contact Centers Will Migrate to the Cloud

The prominence and adoption of cloud contact center technology, as a viable alternative to on-premises and legacy systems, has accelerated significantly in the last few years.

Contact centers have been following in the footsteps of their peers in other departments, such as marketing/sales, and are finally adopting cloud-based solutions.

Additionally, the growing adoption of cloud-based solutions can be attributed to the combined impact of three trends:

  • the need for flexibility and more integrated offerings between systems of records (CRM, contact center, ERP, etc.);
  • the desire by organizations to retire the operational cost and risk of managing a legacy infrastructure (i.e. servers, employees, etc.) internally; and
  • the rapid evolution of speech-enabled technology (i.e. voice bots, intelligent IVR routing, speech analytics, etc.) that is easier to adopt rather than build when leveraging cloud-enabled platforms and environments.

As contact centers level up to take on a wide range of new capabilities to revolutionize sentiment analysis in the contact center/helpdesk — such as advanced speech analytics, artificial intelligence and machine learning — the cloud facilitates integration and scalability.

4. Data Mining and Speech Analytics Will Access ‘Dark Data’

A wealth of information on customer and agent sentiment lies within every voice conversation. This dark data has been inaccessible — until now. The advancement of speech analytics capabilities has made it possible for organizations to explore new ways to ingest, analyze, and derive insights from previously untapped and extremely valuable dark data.

Thanks to the industry emphasis on digital transformation and putting the customer first, organizations increasingly have been taking the necessary steps to unlock the valuable insights that reside in dark data.

Data mining of voice interactions to uncover critical “dark data” results in invaluable insights around customer pain points, sales and service best practices, and winning ways to issue resolution.

This in turn supports organizational improvements related to customer experience, sales and marketing, workforce productivity, and training, at a velocity never before achievable through near real-time analysis of customer interactions.

Organizations then can leverage capabilities such as predictive analytics to serve up proactive customer recommendations and “next best action” real-time guidance for agents.

5. Virtual Assistant Technology Adoption Will Increase

The advent and growing adoption of virtual assistants such as Amazon Alexa, Microsoft Cortana and Google Assistant also has significant implications for customer engagement. As consumers’ comfort level with these conversational AI products grows, and as we become conditioned to them in the home and in our daily lives, the expectation for businesses to employ them for customer support has been rising.

More than 23,000 AI voice assistants will be deployed for customer service applications between 2016 and 2022, based on a recent estimate.

This trend also will continue to further the mobile device as the “contact center juggernaut in the palm of one’s hand” by enriching interaction through messaging apps and enabling quick answers and speedy issue resolution.

Augmenting the work of customer service representatives with AI voice assistants will improve agent efficiency and the agent experience. For starters, touchless “capture” of call notes will automate and vastly improve the input/maintenance of CRM data.

Conversational interfaces also will play a vital role in automating the revelation of insights coming from interactions of all types coming into the enterprise — automatically surfacing information on contacts, accounts and opportunities, for example.

We’re entering an exciting time where voice is poised to be a dominant force in driving digital transformation and improving customer experience by aligning organizational efforts and customer needs. The opportunities are massive as we see a convergence in 2019 of voice, artificial intelligence and machine learning, continued cloud migration, data mining, and speech analytics.

Vikas Nehru is a technologist and market strategist with more than two decades of experience creating customer engagement solutions for Global 2000 companies. He is the Chief Technology Officer of 3CLogic, a cloud contact center solution vendor that offers solutions for the convergence of computer telephony integration and CRM.

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