Q&A with William Durr of Verint

Question: I’ve been in the industry for many years and I’ve seen how customer self-service has evolved. Sure, there are still many frustrating examples of poorly done self-service attempts but overall it seems to be getting better and better in terms of functionality as well as growing acceptance by customers. My question is: How good can customer self-service get? Say by 2020?

William Durr of Verint answers:

Like you I’ve been involved in the contact centre industry for a while and I agree that customer self-service is getting much better. We all remember the early attempts to divert calls from human agents by forcing customers through an IVR sieve. It was panning for gold. Important customers got quick service and not-so good customers remained trapped in the menu maze.

I like the improvements in speech enabled IVR systems. I used to need to repeat myself a lot but more recently the voice interactions have gone smoothly. Very pleasing for this customer, at least.

You really can’t talk about customer self-service without including the Internet, web sites, browsers and search engines. There never was a time when so much stuff about everything is available in so many formats. Social media enable affinity groups to spring up, creating opportunities for peer to peer customer service totally separate from the providing company.

The evolution of web site technology coupled with the impact of mobility and smartphones only enhances the demand for and use of customer self-service and self-help tools. It is within this environment that I suspect we will see the biggest leap forward in customer self-service over the next five years – the virtual agent.

I can imagine linking a CRM database with a system enabled by real-time speech and text analytics; speech synthesis and a devilishly complex decision engine driving a CGI image on the website or on the screen of a smartphone. This virtual agent interacts via text or speech or combinations thereof. Because it has access to CRM, it knows a lot about you.

I really can’t predict how far virtual agents will be able to take customers in terms of the complexity of the interaction. Farther, I feel, than most people are prepared to accept. I think virtual agents will get good enough to have a material impact on the number of human agents employed.

Not very many people agree with me on this. But it seems to me that it’s just a matter of computing power with a touch of artificial intelligence and the return on investment will be too great to ignore.