Contact Center Solutions Featured Article

How the Smartphone Revolution is Changing Customer Service

February 15, 2011
By ContactCenterSolutionsWorld Special Guest
Roberto Pieraccini, Chief Technology Officer, SpeechCycle -

It’s no secret that when it comes to customer service, consumers want to get what they need when and how they want it. Technology and social media have made the customer that much more impatient. It’s the job of the service providers to develop technology that can serve their customers better without necessarily increasing their customer care costs. This is called self-service automation.      

The first examples of self-service automation started in the late 1980s with the advent of touch-tone signaling and the corresponding automation of some of the telephone services previously handled by live agents. Then speech recognition technology became ready for prime time, and some of the services moved from the “press-one-for-this-press-two-for-that” system to the modern “please tell me the reason you are calling,” which involves the most advanced natural language recognition technology. However, in spite of the dramatic technological advances, these systems still possess some glitches, especially when it relates to understanding foreign accents or speech in noisy conditions. In addition, there are only a few things you can do with a standard phone: push keys or speak. IVR (Interactive Voice Response) technology, to date, has tried to provide automation while coping with those limitations. But, with the development of smartphones, even IVR technology is having a difficult time keeping up with the display screens of more advanced devices. Smartphones require more than just speech interaction -- and new technology must leverage these devices for better customer interactions.

Smartphones are revolutionizing everything we do and how we do it, including the way people communicate. Today, people are doing much more than talking on these devices – they browse the Web, manage e-mails and send text messages. According to a survey conducted by the Wireless Association (CTIA), text messaging continues to grow at an unprecendented rate with almost five billion messages being sent and received per day at the end of 2009.Today, 25 percent of U.S. households do not have a landline telephone and rely exclusively on a mobile phone. Reports estimate that in 2009, 65 percent of consumers used their mobile phone to call customer care, and that 62 percent of users who bypass the automated IVR would like the opportunity to use their mobile phone screen for guidance and task completion. On top of that, 54.3 million smartphones were sold just in 1Q 2010, which is 17.3 percent of all mobile phones sold. A report from Gartner forecasts that the number of smartphones will grow from 179 million in 2009 to 525 million in 2012. Ever since smartphones came onto the scene, they have been revolutionizing everything we do and the way we do it.

Smartphones possess many capabilities for its users. Voice is no longer the only primary mode of communication; smartphones include text, touch and visual inputs and outputs. The array of applications provided by such mobile devices allow for customers to choose which mode of communication works best for them. The greatest advantage is that smartphones are mobile and always connected to the Internet, thus customers are able to stay connected and retrieve information when and where they need it.

The smartphone revolution is happening now and it’s happening fast. How will this change customer care? Let’s imagine for a moment, you need to solve a problem with your service provider. Instead of picking up the phone and dialing an 800 number to either wait in line for a live agent or to try to communicate your inquiry to a machine, you can now pick up your smartphone and find an icon on your screen with your service provider’s brand. Once the app is activated, you will be greeted by a menu of links that, when chosen, will bring you to where you can see your question answered. With the recent advances in mobile voice search, you can also speak your queries to your smartphone and get the answer you are looking for in a matter of seconds. And you can enter text or tap to navigate the menu. This natural interface provides us with friendly choices designed to ease and quicken our customer service. 

Such interactions with your smartphone device are seamless between channels, enabling multi-modal interactions. For instance, after you say or text “why is my bill so high?” and your bill appears on the front of your screen, you can then tap on the issue and resolve it immediately. With this system, you can even speak to a “real” human agent by tapping on a button on the display screen and receive a phone call from an agent in minutes. 

Unlike some of the telephone based automated systems of the past, smartphone device applications using touch, text and talk interaction are fast and easy to use. Rather than fighting with time, we can rest assured that with mobile customer service, time is on our side.  

Roberto Pieraccini is Chief Technology Officer at SpeechCycle, a global leader in Customer Experience Management solutions. He has been at the leading edge of spoken dialog technology for more than 25 years, both in research as well as in the development of commercial applications.                      

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Edited by Tammy Wolf