• Guest Blog, Darryl Beckford: Merging the new with the old – disruptive technologies for contact excellence…

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    Customer expectations have never been higher, and the contact centre has been heavily affected by the rising ‘bar’ for contemporary customer experience, fuelled by rapidly evolving consumer technologies.

    But in reality, many struggle to reconcile antiquated operations with strategic digital ambitions. The danger is that without improving the customer experience and breadth of service available through the contact centre, many enterprises will be unable to achieve their core strategic objectives and will leave themselves vulnerable to challenger start-ups.

    The right technology deployments such as voice analytics, natural language call steering and voice biometric technology can enable a customer-centric strategy in the modern contact centre. These tools can be used in new ways (outlined below) to drive efficiencies and a better experience now. But what about the future?

    As consumer adoption of technology outpaces that of the enterprise, contact centres of the future must harness new modern technologies for the connected consumer to enhance the experiences of both employees and customers alike. These innovative technologies can be merged with current tools, delivering customer contact that supports a disruptive business.

    Voice analytics

    Voice analytics raised its head about five or seven years ago as ‘the next big thing’, but has fizzled out because the use case pushed by vendors just wasn’t working. While in theory the idea that you could do a Google-esque search of your call recordings to find out what people are saying sounds fun, in reality companies don’t have the time to delve into that detail.

    But many companies have invested in this technology, and there are other ways to derive value from it. That way is through using voice analytics to drive consistency and embed change. For example, the use of Quality Advisors to monitor agent calls to ensure the best possible service is widespread, but in contact centres with more than 1,000 agents this can be an expensive and inefficient process. Often there is only time to monitor one or two of each agent’s calls every month.

    Instead, contact centres can use voice analytics to listen to all calls answered by agents, and not only give agents a score that is more specific, but can do so on a daily basis. This makes it a lot easier to gather the most out of your workforce, ensuring consistency and empowering personal behavioural change in the contact centre. Most contact centres have good staff who are ambitious, and want to do the best job possible, but they may be inconsistent – and without useful instruction, will remain so. Voice analytics is one way of tackling that in 2017.

    Natural language call steering

    Natural language call steering can ensure the call reaches the appropriate adviser by automating the caller’s journey, and when done right it can work seamlessly for customers. Using an ‘Open Menu’, contact centres can ask the customer to describe their reason for calling, and use the caller’s naturally spoken response and further clarification questions to route the call. Speech recognition technology in the past was incredibly lumpy, and this is worlds apart. The key feature is that it is low effort, and directs the customer to where they want to go the first time round.

    Voice biometrics

    Looking back, 2016 has been the year of voice biometrics. Banks such as Barclay’s are beginning to take the potential of the technology seriously, paving the way for other industries to adopt it as a trusted method of verification in call centres. Voice biometric technology can be used to create a unique Voice ID or “voiceprint” from a caller’s voice. This can be used to identify and verify callers to the contact centre, and also as part of a multi-factor authentication scheme for digital and mobile application channels.

    Some challenges have arisen as new software has become available which potentially allows a fraudster to spoof a customer’s voice. Biometrics tools will continue to evolve to defeat this “voice hack”, by using additional factors to ensure security.

    Right now voice biometrics is seen as being about security, however the future of the technology will actually be about customer personalisation and choice. Since identity verification can now happen without the customer even noticing, voice biometrics make sure customers are treated in the way they ought to be. Ultimately the aim is to allow customers to use their identity to be able to log how they want to be treated, and which channels they like to use.

    Voice-controlled technology

    The voice-connected Amazon Echo was released in the UK just over a month ago, and is a connected home tool which could change the way that people live in their homes. The Amazon Echo runs on a service called Alexa, a voice controlled personal assistant. Amazon sees the future as smarter, connected and everywhere, and it is my opinion that the real boom here will be in customer contact.

    If used properly, voice-controlled tools can drastically improve customer experience, reduce customer effort and reduce operating costs. Customers are really driven by effort, even the extra work involved in having to look up passwords is enough to put customers off. Customer contact involves many different transactions types, from balance check which lasts a couple of minutes to a mortgage application which can last up to 40 minutes. A lengthy transaction would not work on technology like Echo, but short frequent activities such as ‘Check my Balance’ are a sweet spot for Alexa. The customer benefit is huge – chores become a 10 second activity, rather than an obstructive two minutes via the call centre.

    The key to this technology is spotting when it will work within the customer journey, and how it can tie into how the customer is attempting self-service. Organisations must start to think in a slightly different way – not necessarily about linear process flows, but understanding what the customer is doing in that specific episode.

    Potential for the future

    But the potential doesn’t stop there for the technology. In 2017 and beyond, the combination of voice biometrics and other technology is where we will see the most change. If an Amazon Echo device can recognise you from the sound of your voice, then in the future it should be able to offer you things based on your preferences, and services that you’ll be subscribed to. What if you could go to someone’s house, be recognised by your voice, and connect to your own account? It could go even further: the Echo is a dumb device with a speaker, microphone and a processor, but it could be replaced with your connected car allowing you to also access those services, handsfree, whilst on the move.

    The future of voice biometrics is that these devices will be able to connect you with your services and preferences based on your identity. As the technology that is becoming mainstream begins to connect together and prove itself, it offers a glimpse into a future that is radically different from where we are now.


    Darryl is a customer contact professional who has mastered the art of delivering low effort experiences for customers across multiple channels. Now head of Digital Acceleration at KCOM, he has considerable previous experience as a consultant, helping many well-known brands create precise, meaningful and repeatable experiences for their customers.


    Jack Wynn

    All stories by: Jack Wynn

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