Hosted voice and self-service specialist Contact Solutions has debuted a new service platform called My:Time. A couple of its features have the potential to change the mobile customer care paradigm permanently. First and foremost, the company has made good on the promise of putting each customer in control of their interactions by adopting at “Start, Pause, Resume” model for asynchronous conversations. It sounds sort of “out there” but believe me, it is something that mobile customers can quickly grow to like and use.
The second feature is closely related to the core “Start, Pause, Resume” conversational model. It is the support of “App to Agent” connectivity that does not require initiating a phone call and makes sure that metadata associated with the real-time conversation (such as the callers identity/account number, location, previous activity on Web sites or chat, status and entitlements) are transmitted to the agent desktop along with the real-time conversation. Users don’t have to know or even dial a phone number; nor do they click on a “call your customer representative now” button embedded in an app. Instead, they are informed of the wait time for an available agent and they can choose to initiate a chat, leave a voice memo or wait for the right person to talk to.
To validate the power of My:Time, Contact Solutions has a strong reference from Robert Saurer, Director of Customer Experience and Innovation at Boston Globe. The publisher has been been part of the beta launch of My:Time for a number of months and will now roll the service out to all of its subscribers. In an interview Sauer notes that newspaper subscribers found it easy to get started, that they quickly discovered the value of the service for routine queries, like account status or to arrange for alternative delivery. He had praise for the platform’s ability to enable subscribers to move from chat to live discussion and to, in effect, elect whether they preferred self-service to interacting directly with an agent. To assist in that decision making, the My:Time platform enables The Globe to let subscribers know how long they will have to wait to talk with a person. They can use that information to decide whether to switch to chat, schedule a callback or leave a voice message for an agent to listen to when he or she become available.
According to Contact Solutions executives, beta testers like The Globe are finding an economic benefit arising from customer control. More often than not, they choose a low cost channel as the most efficicient way for them accomplish their tasks. This is where the “Start, Pause, Resume” capability of the My:Time platform makes itself evident. In addition to the Globe’s real-world experience, Contact Solutions has built a use case for a government agency that debit cards that beneficiaries use to pay for everyday goods like groceries. In the demo, the recipient uses the mobile app to inform the agency that the card has been damaged. She uses the camera on the smartphone to take a picture of the damaged card to validate her claim. She is informed via chat that his claim has been received and that the agency will send an SMS text to alert her when the new card is being sent through the mail.
The beneficiary accomplishes her desired task without necessarily involving a government employee to assist. It is a true Win/Win.
There’s more to the Contact Solutions My:Time Platform story, including tools and an SDK for developers to bake My:Time controls into existing mobile apps, software and support for displaying My:Time originated conversations and metadata on agent desktops, hooks into leading CRM systems to help support marketing and sales goals and, finally, the use of advanced analytics (including chat analytics) to help predict the purpose of each conversation. Yet the real news, from Opus Research’s perspective, is around the asynchronous conversational model that recognizes (a) that the 70% of the calls into contact centers originate from mobile phones, (b) that the majority of those phones (at least in North America) are smartphones and (c) that smartphone owners accept and benefit from the fact that media converge on their mobile devices.
This could be the start of something big in terms of defining the next mobile customer experience.
The statistics surrounding mobile banking are impressive and growing dramatically. This year, more than 590 million phone users will have made use of their mobile devices for banking purposes, jumping to more than one billion individuals by 2017. Such accelerated activity is a magnet for fraudsters. Imposters use phone-based channels to perpetrate identity fraud, while thieves – using the tools that support mobile commerce – have more ways to commit “merchant fraud.” Voice biometrics proves to be an effective way to combat both.
Amazon makes constant, incremental improvements in ecommerce, self-service and assisted service every time it introduces a new device, and related services. The company can already take credit for “one-click check-out” to overcome abandoned shopping carts and recommendation engines to take advantage of “the wisdom of crowds.” When the new line of Kindle Fire tablets become generally available later this year, its “Mayday Button,” (a play on the French imperative “m’aidez,” meaning “help me”) it will herald “one-click technical support,” a dramatically better way to shorten the time it takes to receive meaningful, real-time assistance from Amazon’s cadre of customer care technicians.
The Mayday button is a radical change in the customer care paradigm. It signals that Amazon’s product team acknowledges that, no matter how simple or intuitive you make a new device, new owners are bound to hit snags as they discover new capabilities or initiate new services. The notion of having a knowledgeable product expert with technical chops just a click away is powerful. The button looks like a life preserver and is located among the “settings” (where owners input Wi-Fi and Bluetooth options). When the button is pushed, a dialogue box opens that includes a live video image of your support representative. By default, you can see your assistant, but they can’t see you. Instead, they can hear what the device owner says, make drawings on the device’s screen (to point to various controls) and check device status remotely.
Amazon founder Jeff Bezos sees Mayday as a service that lives at the intersection of “Customer Delight” and “Deep Integration with the entire stack.” The first term is already something of a cliche, but we get the idea. The second term lapses into geekiness, but indicates that Amazon, by virtue of its longevity in ecommerce and huge presence in cloud computing and web services, is ready to revolutionize how individuals take control of their mobile devices and the services that are offered through them. Nobody has used the magic word “WebRTC” when talking about Mayday, and that surprises me because the support button embodies WebRTC’s prime directive: embedding real-time voice, text and video communications capabilities within Web browsers.
Though screen sharing and drawing lines on remote computers aren’t explicitly included in the WebRTC spec (not to mention that , I’ve seen enough demonstrations of open collaboration tools to know that the Mayday button takes us one step closer to purpose-driven, impromptu initiation of clientless voice and video-based real-time communications (analogous to, if not precisely a WebRTC-enabled service). The fact that it is an out-of-the-box feature/function of an Amazon-branded tablet is ingenious and should embolden competing providers of wireless devices to integrate the same sorts of capabilities into the customer care and technical support fabrics. That means that we have only begun to see what “deep integration with the entire stack” means.
Can a speech-enabled, automated personal virtual assistant be far behind? Amazon has been a very active acquirer of high-quality automated speech processing technology providers, including speech recognition/transcription specialist Yap and human-like text-to-speech rendering expert IVONA. More recently it added personal virtual assistant creator EVI (formerly known as True Knowledge). So I think it can accurately be argued that we have not yet begun to see the “deep integration” of a complete Amazon stack that already includes speech processing, natural language processing, machine learning, capacious cloud-based storage and levels of compute power that only a few industry giants – primarily Google, Microsoft, IBM, AT&T and Apple – can rival. So, if pressing a Mayday button proves too onerous for some, carrying out a conversation with an automated support system may do the trick.
As noted above, Amazon’s leadership in the ecommerce domain has been based on constant, incremental improvements. Mayday solves a big problem for the targeted demographic of non-computer savvy individuals who are upgrading from e-readers to full-blown tablets. It brings tech support straight to the glass. And it will start conditioning owners to be comfortable talking to their devices. The next challenge, I predict, will be to fulfill on the promise of a sub-15 second response time. If we’ve learned anything from the past, it is that automated self-service has a role to play when reducing hold times is an objective. The good news is that, rather than listening to music on hold (punctuated with occasional messages to notify them of the time it will take to talk to an agent), they could easily be enticed into interacting with a speech-enabled chatbot – ready, willing and able to navigate them through the rough patches of device set up, service initiation and more.
For perspectives from my colleague Greg Sterling, visit his post on Internet2Go.net.
Demand for safe, secure, simple ways to carry out business online and over mobile phones is building. People are tired of remembering passwords or carrying pieces of hardware. It’s time to take concrete steps to implement safe, simple and secure authentication methods.
Join Dan Miller, Senior Analyst at Opus Research and Nik Stanbridge, Vice President of Product Marketing at VoiceVault, to hear about the best ways to get started with the technology. Find out what’s working among the dozens of implementations and learn what solutions are available “off-the-shelf” and why it’s getting easier to integrate voice into mobile and multi-factor authentication initiatives and see the potential to make voice-based authentication foundational to personalized mobile services.
October 15, 2013 — 1:00 p.m. EST / 10:00 a.m. PST
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Place 2013: The Indoor Marketing Summit is the first event to take a comprehensive look at indoor location, marketing and analytics from a business perspective as well as the broader implications of indoor location for the entire digital marketing ecosystem.
Join Opus Research and NICE Systems for a fact-filled discussion of passive voice authentication. Companies deploy this technology in the contact center to overcome adoption barriers and garner financial and operational benefits that pave the way for bringing strong authentication to all customer touchpoints.
Customer care specialists have already discovered that huge benefits result when they shorten the time required for caller authentication. Shorter calls save costs and increase customer satisfaction. New technologies enable them to take a passive approach to customer enrollment, accelerating the time it takes to extend these benefits to all callers and stepping up the pace at which trusted communications links can be established.
Dan Miller, senior analyst at Opus Research, will describe the trend toward passive enrollment and authentication, what it is and why it’s important for firms in financial services, telecommunications, retailing, healthcare, insurance and government. Jade Kahn, Solutions Marketing Manager at NICE, will then outline the steps that companies can take to move ahead with passive authentication and provide a proposed roadmap from contact center to support multiple customer and consumer touchpoints.
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- Why is there so much excitement about passive enrollment?
- Where passive enrollment can be leveraged?
- What is involved from the caller’s perspective
- What are the financial benefits in the contact center?
- Where do I start?
September 17, 2013 — 1:00 p.m. EST / 10:00 a.m. PST
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Blame Salesforce.com and Amazon Web Services for giving enterprises confidence in running mission-critical business processes and data in remote data centers. The ripple effect from the early migrations are permeating customer care and self-service strategies where solutions leverage Big Data, Predictive Analytics, Machine Learning and Natural Language Processing to foster simple, speedy task completion and customer empowerment.
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Apple’s iPhone 5s will be remembered as the personal communications device that got people engaged in serious discussions of the virtues of biometric authentication at scale. The early reactions follow some predictable patterns.
Skeptics point to the security vulnerabilities and long-term reliability issues associated with fingerprint readers that shipped with laptop computers, like IBM ThinkPads (later manufactured and distributed by Lenovo), Toshiba and Dell; as well as mobile phones from the likes of Motorola and LG. Privacy experts have been quick to question how Apple plans to keep biometric data, perhaps the most personal of all PII (personally identifiable information) safe from theft by malevolent hackers. Speaking of hackers, Andy Greenberg’s column in the venerable Forbes Magazine catalogued the ways that other fingerprint readers have been defeated by individuals who used Play-Doh or even Gummi Bears to lift and duplicate existing prints from smooth surfaces like the iPhone’s glass screen.
And in an Onion-like moment, Mashable went viral with this story and photo entitled “Little Girl Finds Security Flaw in iPhone 5s Fingerprint Scanner,” which its author attributed to Reddtor iZeeHunter.
On the other side of the ledger, the fingerprint-based activation feature, called Apple Touch ID, has its boosters as well. In a post on Internet2Go, my fellow analyst Greg Sterling called Touch ID, “the new Siri,” meaning that it is “a kind of ‘wow’ feature that helps it stand out from other smartphones.” The folks who brave the long lines because they want to be among the first to own the 5s will discover that biometric activation has real merit. It is much more secure than the four-digit codes used to protect past models. It is neatly integrated into the home button so that pressing it to activate is easier, more intuitive and, frankly, less smudge-prone than using the slide bar. They’ll even find that the system has its own form of liveness detection. During the product introduction event Phil Schiller, Apple’s head of marketing noted that the technology could perform liveness testing by detecting sub-epidermal skin layers. It sounds impressive, but skeptics say the only true test of such a system is experience over time.
Experience over time will also play an important role in defining the usefulness and acceptance of Touch ID. Out-of-the-box functionality is confined to secure device activation and authenticating/authorizing purchase instructions for media or other content through the iTunes store. In this respect, Apple is smart to attach constraints on what people can do with the new technology. In addition to keeping user expectations low, it increases the probability of success. Unlike Siri, which raised high hopes for the phone to understand virtually anything an individual would say using “natural language,” Touch ID will prove to be very good at a modest set of activities which, I believe, will lead individuals wanting more.
Siri introduced the general public to Personal Virtual Assistants, and tantalized the iPhone owning public with the vision of using spoken words to transform smartphones into indispensible tools for everyday activities. Perhaps they overpromised, but the introduction of Siri had a ripple effect that conditioned the public to expect bigger and better things from Google (offering speech input as an option for Google Now) and Microsoft (which is expected to introduce “Cortana” – a PVA designed to appeal to the highly visual gaming crowd), Nuance (whose Nina is being offered for mobile users, as well as enterprise Web sites to support automated chat) and dozens of others which we will be discussing in a forthcoming Report on the power of Personal Virtual Assistants for customer care and self-service.
Like Siri, Touch ID will legitimize an entire service domain – that of biometric authentication. Replacing PINs and passwords can have broad appeal to the general public. The simplicity of activating a device and authenticating is also a winner. As Amazon (and Apple) learned long ago, there is power to “One Click” or “One Touch” completion of a transaction. Adding biometric-based, strong authentication will lead to all sorts of discovery about powerful, highly personalized services that can be offered once a service provider has high confidence that it is in touch with the legitimate owner of a specific iPhone.
I would argue that, although Touch ID is a boon to providers of fingerprints as the preferred biometric, it bodes well for voice-based identity assertion and verification as well. Ever since Apple acquired AuthenTec in late 2012, we’d been expecting the company to integrate its chipsets and technologies into iPhones and iPads. It satisfied the need for strong, device based authentication. Apple did not disappoint, and was quick to introduce a system based on an architecture that keeps the biometric data on the device and doesn’t expose it to potential hackers or identity thieves. But voice can be a much more natural biometric when using a phone and Apple, by introducing a fingerprint-based system, has opened the door for solutions that integrate one or more alternatives: voice, face or iris are other candidates, but there are many other unique identifiers.
As we often counsel our clients and conference attendees, no single factor ever suffices. Creative combinations of authentication solutions embracing scanners, cameras, microphones are all fair game, and we have Apple to thank for getting the creative ball rolling.
The annual SpeechTek Conferences provide a great venue in which to take stock of how well and how quickly automated speech processing technologies are evolving. In past years, discussions revolved around the accuracy of speech recognition and the human-like qualities of text-to-speech rendering. Attendees questions most often centered on whether speech-enabled IVRs (interactive voice response systems) would ever be cost-effective replacements for touch-tone systems and how superior forms of “natural language understanding” might dissuade people from automatically pressing “zero” or barking the word “agent” or “representative” repeatedly until they successfully connected with a fellow human being.
At this year’s gathering, both formal presentations and informal hallway discussions centered on a decidedly different set of topics. Instead of talking about whether improving the accuracy of speech recognition resources would lead to higher automation rates and make it easier to replace live agents, most of the conversations I engaged in revolved around the value of integrating speech processing resources – such as they are – with computing resources and capacious memory banks that only the cloud can support. As a result, discussions had new framing. We talked about how the combination of NLP (natural language processing), ML (machine learning) and PA (predictive analytics) are already compensating for shortcomings in today’s statistical language models. From their lofty perch in the cloud, speech-enabled systems do a better job of disambiguating what an individual has said and they can use large data sets and analytics to recognize or even anticipate each caller’s intent.
In the new reality, old-school problems created by inaccurate recognition of spoken words has been rendered moot. Self-service professionals, speech scientists and VUI (voice user interface) experts, alike, are grappling with a new set of challenges borne of the need to support search, command and control and e-commerce in a “post-PC” but “pre-PVA” world. We’re post-PC because wireless and mobile devices (especially smartphones and tablets) have largely eclipsed PCs and laptops for routine daily commerce. At the same time, the general public has been tantalized by the promise (but not quite the reality) of Personal Virtual Assistants. In most people’s minds, PVAs have an identity crisis. There are a cacophony of evolving technology platforms and services. The list includes anthropomorphic wunderkind like Apple’s Siri, Nuance’s Nina or SRI’s Lola. But there are also a plethora of speech-enabled search and “action” tools, particularly Google Now, chatbots, textbots and others.
I, myself, participated in a Keynote Panel on Tuesday August 20th, sharing the stage with Vlad Sejnoha, CTO of Nuance, and Mazin Gilbert, AVP of Technical Research at AT&T. Both fellow panelists did an excellent job of articulating that “Intelligent Systems” in no way implies that they recognize speech more accurately or sound more human-like. Instead, when looking deep into the predictable future (meaning three years from now), the most apparent advancement will be the use of machine learning and natural language processing and analytics in conjunction with touch, gesture, sentiment recognition and even biometrics to do a better job of recognizing who an individual is and to ascertain and respond to that person’s intent. Another way to say this is that speech technology have to come to grips with the fact that other technologies are being employed to compensate for shortcomings in the core speech recognition and text-rendering arena.
The emphasis during the coming years will be on systems that learn. For PVAs, “learning” is about detecting user preferences, usage patterns and applying “deep analysis” toward becoming predictive. Google Now is the closest thing to this sort of assistant that is generally available. Meanwhile Apple, Nuance and others will continue to forge stronger bonds with e-commerce sites or industry specific Web-based resources. They are already pretty good at helping to book a reservation at a restaurant, buy movie tickets or other aspects of travel. When Amazon finally cranks up a talking Kindle or an e-commerce assistant/advisor on its various Web sites, you can expect to see some spectacularly robust applications in e-commerce across retailing, media and other areas of strength for the master of Web-based commerce. And Nuance has demonstrated some impressive applications for Nina on mobile devices as well as home entertainment units, combining text, speech, touch and gesture-based input.
In all cases, “understanding” and “learning” are the subtext for providing constant improvement in the user experience. We, the humans involved in using the virtual assistants, must do some learning of our own. We must focus on understanding what the machines can do well and, to paraphrase one of Tom Cruise’s memorable lines from the film Jerry Maguire, “Help them help us.”