Technology has transformed our society. Most of us constantly have smartphones or other mobile devices in our hands – and if not in our hands, then they are never too far away. This obsession with technology, paired with an increased accessibility to it, has resulted in a consumer expectation for digital communications when interacting with any business. As consumer preferences for communication continue to shift toward digital, omnichannel engagement continues to move front and center.
Omnichannel, as defined by Hubspot, is a multi-channel sales approach that provides the customer with an integrated customer experience. So, an organization that provides an omnichannel experience essentially provides one seamless experience for the customer’s journey across a variety of different touchpoints, whether the communication first takes place over chat and then escalates to a phone call or even results in an in-person appointment in the end. With omnichannel engagement, the customer can progress through a number of communication channels without having to repeat their story to different representatives of the company.
With the convenience that omnichannel communication provides, it’s no wonder why today’s consumers have become so digitally inclined. For example, Google Research reports that 98% of Americans switch between devices in the same day – enough evidence alone for any business that may still be doubting the need to step up their omnichannel engagement strategy. What’s more, businesses that adopt omnichannel strategies achieve 91% greater year-over-year customer retention rates compared to businesses that don’t, according to a survey conducted by Aspect Software.
Overall, omnichannel engagement has become the norm in nearly every industry. As a result, many organizations today are looking to take their omnichannel approach to the next level in order to stand apart from the competition. To accomplish this, the next generation of omnichannel technology and consumer communication strategies lie within artificial intelligence (AI).
Automation Through Self-Service
While AI has already begun to impact customer service, there is much more still to come. For example, Salesforce’s new State of Service report predicts that AI will grow by 143% over the next 12 months in service organizations. And, because today’s consumers are often on the go, self-service options for customer service are beginning to boom. For instance, American Express’ 2017 Customer Service Barometer reported that more than six out of 10 consumers named a digital self-service tool – such as a website, mobile app, voice response system or online chat – as their go-to channel for simple inquiries.
The answer to the call for more self-service options, where consumers can seek help simply from their mobile phones, is AI chatbot technology.
Organizations are beginning to deploy chatbot solutions to free up internal resources while also meeting consumer expectations for quick, instantaneous access to answers. These solutions can greatly enhance an organization’s customer omnichannel engagement to provide a better overall customer experience. Much of today’s chatbot technology is designed to handle a variety of simple inquiries for consumers seeking help with routine problems.
Consider the following scenario, for example: a customer of a local credit union has a basic question relating to their account. A credit union with an omnichannel strategy could offer this customer a method to find their own answer to their question through a quick conversation with a chatbot from their computer or smartphone while on-the-go or at work, as opposed to requiring the customer to call and then wait on hold until they can be routed to the appropriate representative to speak with. Artificial intelligence plays a significant role in a scenario like this and is helping businesses transform their communications to better satisfy the shifting preferences of today’s digital consumers.
Bringing Humans Back into AI
It has been reported that the use of AI chatbots will increase 143% by 2021. As AI tech continues to expand, chatbot technology will only become more popular and advanced. Contact centers are already turning to chatbots to enhance the customer experience.
And although chatbot technology can help transform a business’ omnichannel engagement strategy by providing customers with a self-service channel 24/7, consumers still crave a human connection on some level.
An omnichannel solution with chatbot technology is only as good as the humans waiting on the other end, if escalation becomes necessary. By combining AI chatbots with live agents, when more complicated requests occur, organizations are empowered to meet the increasing consumer demand for service. Today’s reality is that consumers want to consume on digital devices, until they don’t. And when they don’t, they expect immediate access to a human resource at the company they are doing business with. As a result, the best omnichannel engagement strategy utilizes AI technology that can seamlessly connect to a real human agent at any point in the process – giving the consumer a smooth, positive customer experience.
Take, for example, a patient contacting the local clinic to get access to a previous medical record. Hopeful that the information can be obtained quickly and easily from the clinic’s mobile app, the patient begins a conversation with a chatbot. However, the patient finds that the chatbot is unable to help process this request and they must speak to a live agent. A clinic using AI chatbot technology as part of their omnichannel solution would be able to seamlessly transfer the patient’s conversation with the chatbot over to a live agent in a contact center – who could pick up right where the chatbot left off, quickly getting the patient access to the information that they need.
Real-Time Data to Guide Conversations
Similar to the way AI chatbot technology enhances the customer experience, businesses are also starting to use AI to provide real-time data to agents in their contact centers who can help guide over-the-phone customer engagements. This tone/sentiment analysis technology can provide better guidance throughout the interaction by allowing the agent to be more aware of inflections in a caller’s voice that might prompt a different course of interaction during the call. It also enables contact center agents to view data in real-time in order to gauge indicators in their own tone related to joy, anger, agreeableness or openness — improving the overall experience for customers as the agents pivot accordingly in their approach.
The next generation of omnichannel engagement will see an increase in this type of AI technology that seeks to enhance communication between humans, while still utilizing the strengths that AI has to offer.
As technology continues to advance and customer preferences for communication strongly favor digital channels, AI will become more dominant in omnichannel engagement. Those organizations that are still working to catch up to the new technology already in the marketplace today should instead look ahead to the next iteration of communication strategies that could be implemented, and the innovation still yet to come.