True confession: I struggle with whether to get excited or grow more cynical about self-service. This industry has a long history of hope for reducing agent-handled volumes—via IVR, websites, mobile apps, and now bots and AI. But tempering that hope is another long history of falling short of goals: the volumes just keep going up, and integration into agent-handled contacts is often lacking.
Now we are on the cusp of great change with what technology can do for self-service (SS), and it’s not just the same old thing. So, I’m going with EXCITEMENT over cynicism! We need to approach it anew, with great enthusiasm, but perhaps most importantly, a laser focus on the customer experience.
So Much to Get Excited About
Here’s my list of game-changers that can transform a lackluster SS experience into a stellar one.
1. Natural language: Natural language improves the user interface, whether text-based or speech-based interactions. As this technology improves, it makes SS apps smarter about what is being said. In some cases, it even considers the emotions or mood of the speaker or writer. All that makes for a better overall “conversation.”
2. Tools for building and optimizing interactions: Whether a developer is diving in using Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) and Software Development Kits (SDKs), or a contact center user is configuring a work flow with a simple graphical user interface, things happen faster and easier than ever before. Buyers can tap a broad community of partners, developers and users for any given tool. They can build business rules and decision points, capture and use data on outcomes to optimize, and then adjust the flow and interactions. Everyone likes fast and easy!
3. Bots: No SS discussion these days is complete without talking about bots. Our “Future of the Contact Center” survey results (Tech Line, July 2019) showed great hope is being placed here. Bots could transform a variety of channels with well-built interfaces. Add in machine learning and it really gets exciting!
4. Knowledge Management: KM is changing with improvements that could enable better SS. Centers are no longer just talking about SharePoint and a bunch of documents and folders. KM structures information into bite-size pieces that can be accessed via a variety of channels—including self-service. AI can play a role here—optimizing information and finding it quickly. The power of good KM combined with better user interfaces makes me optimistic that self-service success rates may actually go up!
5. Everyday tools: The ongoing evolution of tools your customers use every day bodes well for SS success. Google (or other search engines) are often where customers start looking for answers; Google is incorporating more AI and “bot-izing” to help users find answers faster. So you need to imagine your customer starting there and think about how their journey evolves through that interface. Similarly, the increasing use of Siri and home devices like Alexa and Google Home present an interface that is all about convenience for the user. These tools leverage many of the things listed above, like better natural language, AI and access to KM.
6. Biometrics: Improvements in authentication make it easier to get into SS, whether through your fingerprint or visual ID on your mobile device, or your captured or “registered” voiceprint. The more customers grow accustomed to these technologies, the more they will expect them as they embark on a self-service journey. Companies that leverage them will win in the self-service game.
7. Artificial Intelligence: You may have noticed that AI is a recurring theme. As I’ve pointed out in other articles, AI is not a standalone “project.” It is something that can be done as part of many other things, perhaps the ultimate “enabling technology.” All the things that can be done in SS via business rules can be better with AI.
Plan with a Strategic Mindset
If you like the potential this list presents, your task is to start planning with a strategic mindset. This is where the focus on customer experience really happens, and it is the path to convert possibilities into projects.
Here’s the trick: The contact center must collaborate with other channel owners like digital channels, marketing and IT. The contact center focuses on IVR because they typically own it, but this effort needs to be broad, looking at the web and mobile, and the new things like bots, and even the entry points outside of the corporate boundaries. Many companies have a “digital transformation” or “digital strategy” initiative. Self-service planning presents the opportunity to synchronize that effort with the contact center—for all self-service channels and for scenarios where customer needs cross into assisted service.
Figure 1 outlines some steps to get you started.
Execute with Intent
Planning is fun, but execution is where things really happen. Define projects around the “Customer Experience” (or Journey). Don’t forget to tie in KM and AI as these broader capabilities can impact a variety of SS tools. Even as projects may be broken into sub-projects to address various user interfaces, don’t lose sight of the bigger picture and how these all work together.
“Fix” what needs fixing without overinvesting in things customers won’t use. For example, put the right apps in the right channels, get rid of apps that aren’t used, and don’t try to force use.
I’ve outlined some assignments (see “Your Mission”) that can help you get practical about your pursuit. You should also consider focus groups, pilots and rigorous user acceptance testing to ensure success. You may think you know, but chances are your customers know better!