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Strategic Predictions for 2016

February 4, 2016

Late last year Gartner published their report “Top Strategic Predictions for 2016 and Beyond: The Future is a Digital Thing.” The report is packed with insight and observations relevant across industries and applications. We thought it would be interesting to put these in context on the contact center.

Of the 10 strategic planning assumptions, a few jumped out as clearly impacting the contact center:

  • “By 2018, 20% of all business content will be authored by machines.” Are you ready to have your self-service content built this way?
  • “By 2018, 6 billion connected things will be requesting support.” Are you working on your Internet of Things strategy?
  • “By 2020, smart agents will facilitate 40% of mobile interactions, and the post-app era will begin to dominate.” Have you started to move in the direction of automated processes?

Machine-authored content

Given enough basic data, machines are already capable of generating new content. Marketing campaigns are personalized with your name and based on your buying preferences. Google a product and an ad for that product is likely to show up on your Facebook timeline. Gartner gives examples of reports generated today using structured templates, like fantasy football newsletters and near real-time earthquake dispatches.
For the contact center, machines can generate the script for each call, tailored to what is already known about the caller and basic demographic data. Calls can be routed for a personalized experience.

Look for these basic capabilities to grow into more content-rich areas. Support pages and FAQs are great prospects for machine-led improvement. It is common now for self-help pages to conclude with a rating scale and question on how well the page answered the question. Feedback from the visitor can be used by a machine to pull additional data into the page or create new pages to address the specifics that the visitor desired. Making this a real-time process is within our grasp.

One of the cool ‘next up’ concepts is contextualizing the content based on location, activities and device. This will, we hope, lead to smarter ad placement and content than today’s rather brute force approach (you searched for it so you must want to buy it). This contextualization is reminiscent of the scenario in the movie Minority Report, where personalized advertising appeared in public spaces as the character came within close proximity of each sign. Maybe this kind of contextualization will make the video programming at the local gas station more appealing than its seemingly random play today.

For the contact center, begin to consider where customized, contextualized, automated content could be best deployed. Many contact centers already leverage pre-made content for scripts, chat responses, etc. In the coming years, automatic generation will be a big productivity lever.

Serving machines

At the same time we leverage machines for answer generation, we will increasingly field questions generated by machines. The Internet of Things (IoT) is expected to revolutionize the way we manage and repair everyday things. By incorporating computing technology in everything from doorbells and refrigerators to coffee machines and cars, manufacturers have made it possible for things to identify problems, improve efficiency and even self-repair.

Cars have had computers in them for years. Typically, these produce warning messages that can then be downloaded by a service mechanic to determine the problem through diagnostics. Tesla vehicles already ‘phone home’ for corrective software downloads without any human interventions according the Gartner. Now imagine if your car could tell you it had a defective part, schedule an appointment at your preferred garage, notify them of the parts needed and add the appointment to your calendar. It could even tell you if it is safe to continue driving and recommend any modifications to your driving pattern prior to the repair. We are not there yet, but this is probably a fairly simplistic example of what the IoT can deliver.

For the contact center, this means that you won’t be dealing just with humans anymore. Requests for support will increasingly come from things. This will require a completely different approach from human customer service but will have the same (or greater) demands for speed, accuracy and completeness in service response.

A key question for the service organization and companies at large, says Gartner, is how to measure service success as experienced by a thing. If the customer is unaware of the need for service (because it is handled by the thing) then how does that customer judge the company? Is there a feedback method available when things solve their own problems?
To get ready for this future, Gartner recommends reviewing your customer journey maps for where things could take over portions or paths. Consider how this would change how you handle the interaction. Get involved with the product development process to the extent that you can be prepared for service requests from those things. If you are in a business where things are beyond your company control (e.g., doctor offices receiving requests from medical devices), stay on top of things affecting your industry. It is a big challenge no doubt, but one that must be addressed in the coming years to stay competitive.

Smart agents for mobile interactions

Mobile apps today tend to be very focused on a simple task. In the future smart agents will move beyond apps to provide greater utility. Early examples are Siri and Google Now. These will broaden to specific business tasks, says Gartner. Future smart agents will gather user behavior data, predict user needs and act autonomously. This kind of agent could work on behalf of your customer or be employed in the contact center to take care of certain workflow processes. This can improve overall productivity.

The potential benefits can be great. Think of customers asking smart agents to start an appeals process or file a claim. Routine tasks can be completed without human intervention. More complex tasks may require the smart agent to conference in a live agent, who can then provide further instruction to get the process moving again.

Similarly live agents can kick off smart agent action during an interaction, freeing the live agent to move forward with the customer or switch to another interaction while waiting for the smart agent to complete the task. Either way, the interactions are more efficient.

Get started by reviewing your customer journeys and determining where smart agents have value. Follow technology development and be ready for the future!