Just a few years ago it looked like the traditional customer service call center was dying at the hands of messaging, social media, email, and of course, chatbots. The largest customer service platforms, from ZenDesk to Salesforce, as well as a slew of startups began offering chatbot-based support, with Uber and Amazon leading the digital-first customer service revolution. In 2019, however, two of the biggest tech giants in the world — Google and Amazon — appear to be having a change of heart.
In the span of just a few months, both Google and Amazon have leveraged their respective voice assistant systems to offer call-based customer service. This transition, from digital, written-based communication, to only semi-automated call-based communication is significant for the $350B customer service industry, and could drastically alter the direction of the millions of dollars per year the companies spend on customer service.
NewtonX interviewed 100 executives at customer service providers about the direction that the customer service industry is taking, what Google and Amazon’s smart speaker moves indicate for customer service technology, and how CX leaders are responding to the tech giant threat.
‘Let Me Speak With a Human’: Will Smart Speakers Be Able to Rectify the Mistakes of Interactive Voice Response Systems?
Decades ago, Interactive Voice Response systems (IVRs) emerged as a solution to scalability for call centers. Customers would either use dial-pads or speak to a robot that would then either offer a solution (e.g. file a claim online) or route the customer to the agent/department best suited to their problem. In theory, IVR was a scalable, simple solution for call centers.
In practice, IVR is universally despised. Robots rarely understand natural language correctly, and customers often get stuck in a feedback loop based on the bot’s knowledge tree.
Chatbots, on the other hand, can collect crucial information (such as order number, device type, etc.) and either lead the customer to a solution (often through integrations such as with USPS), or route them to an agent who can see a snapshot of the issue at hand. In other words, chatbots can perform similar tasks to IVR systems, but do them much better and faster. To boot, chatbots don’t force customers to remain engaged in the same way talking on the phone does – customers can chat with customer service while at work or doing another task.
For companies, digital forms of automation like chatbots presented an attractive promise of scale at cost without significantly increasing hires. Uber, for instance, uses messaging and chatbots to automate and streamline in-app customer service communication.
Now, however, companies are beginning to rethink this approach, as NLU and NLP advance, and tech giants begin to experiment with a return to voice.
Okay, Google: How Do I Contact Customer Service?
Smart speaker customer service is very much in its infancy. Just two months ago, eBook company Audible announced that customers could contact customer service by saying “Alexa, call Audible”. One month later, Google launched CallJoy, a virtual customer service agent, to help small businesses block spam callers, give roboticized basic information, and redirect customers to complete requests.
Neither system is particularly advanced. Rather, they both take different modern technologies and integrate data from these technologies to streamline requests.