• April 11, 2018
  • By Leonard Klie, Editor, CRM magazine and SmartCustomerService.com

CRM Evolution/Smart Customer Service 2018: Keep True and Honest Amid Rapid Change

WASHINGTON: While customers and companies can do more in a customer service context today than they could just a few short years ago, automated customer service systems are still far from being able to conduct the free-flowing conversations that consumers expect, officials at Amazon pointed out during their keynote address that opened Day 2 of the collocated CRM Evolution/Smart Customer Service conferences.

Chief among the advances is natural language understanding, so customers can have natural language conversations with systems backed by unlimited computing power in the cloud, according to Vikram Anbazhagan, head of product for language technologies at Amazon.

Today’s automatic speech recognition technologies can understand audio and convert it to text, while natural language understanding then takes that text and deciphers intent, Anbazhagan said. But despite those advances, more has to be done to imbue conversational automated agents with social intelligence, personality, multimodality, and dynamic capabilities, he said,

Of particular importance today is the need for multimodality, with a real need for automated agents to combine speech and text capabilities simultaneously on the same channel, according to Anbazhagan.

And the cloud will continue to make other advances possible, added Pasquale DeMaio, general manager of Amazon Connect, Amazon Web Services’ web contact center suite. “We see the world’s movement to the cloud as table stakes today for most companies,” he said.

The cloud enables companies to scale their contact center operations up or down quickly without having to move around a lot of expensive hardware, DeMaio said. That is crucial, he added, because “companies need to be able to change things immediately because changes to the business can happen instantly.”

Amazon knows a thing or two about scalability, accordcing to DeMaio, who pointed out that its own customer service operations encompass 50 contact centers across all the company’s product lines and can scale up to 70,000 agents as needed.

“The contact center is changing. The world is moving to a more open architecture where you need to be able to move people around quickly,” he said. “It’s all about business velocity.”

Just as important is the need for services to be personalized and dynamic, DeMaio added.

All of this is part of a communications revolution in which businesses find themselves today, Paul Greenberg, managing principal at the 56 Group, said later in the day during another CRM Evolution session.

“There was never a business revolution. It’s all been part of a communications revolution, where how [companies] communicate, what they communicate, and which channels they use to communicate have changed more than the businesses themselves,” he explained.

Other changes have occurred in customer expectations and customer trust, Greenberg pointed out. Customers have come not to trust companies but to rely on peers for help in purchase decisions, with consumers actively seeking out the opinions of “people like me,” he said.

Greenberg harkened back to 2002 when customers and consumers relied on only two touchpoints to interact. In 2017, most companies had at least six touchpoints in place, and some industry leaders had far more than that.

An even more pressing change has been the addition of terms like customer experience (CX) and customer engagement (CE) to the CRM lexicon. While the three terms are often used interchangeably, they are very different, Greenberg advised.

CRM, he said, involves technology for sales, marketing, and customer service to capture and interpret customer data and then automate processes and workflows around that data. CX is about the perception that customers have of their interactions with the business, or how the customer feels about the company over time. CE, on the other hand, “reflects the ongoing interactions between the company and the customer, offered by the company and chosen by the customer.”

A lot of that, Greenberg added, reflects two main customer drivers: convenience and a desire to be happy. “As a business, give [customers] choices, so they can pick for themselves what it will take to make them happy.”

For companies, that means knowing customers, meeting their expectations, developing relations with them, treating them as partners, and making them feel valued. Execution of those goals requires companies to align and integrate business operations, sales, marketing, and customer service, and then creating programs and strategies “so customers can sculpt their own relationship with you.”

But it all comes down to customer trust. “The bottom line,” Greenberg said, “is to do what you say and be believable.”

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