Don’t Forget Voice When Planning for Digital Enablement

Digital enablement is almost everywhere. Nearly all recent conversations I've had with customer experience (CX) executives across companies of all sizes and industries involve how they currently use digital channels (e.g., social media, video, and messaging), or plan to use them to meet evolving customer needs.

Besides channels, companies are looking closely at enriching their current technology with newer capabilities, such as machine learning, artificial intelligence, and automation. In the midst of such rapid transformation, voice conversations—customer interactions over the phone and interactive voice response (IVR)—are often described as interaction methods that are being replaced by digital channels.

In December and January, Aberdeen surveyed 369 CX executives around the world to discover the key trends and best practices influencing CX programs in 2019. In this survey, we asked them about their current and planned use of phone and IVR to deliver customer service. Data from this research shows that, contrary to the popular belief that voice is going away, 76 percent of firms still use voice (phone or IVR) within their CX channel mix. What's more, companies anticipate a 27 percent increase in phone traffic and a 39 percent increase in IVR traffic in 2019. Only 11 percent of firms anticipate a decline in phone traffic, and a mere 7 percent anticipate a decline in IVR traffic.

In other words, voice is not going away. It's evolving. Modern contact centers use voice to address more complex customer issues, such as insurance claim disputes or in-depth product questions that require subject matter experts. Simpler issues, such as account balance checks, are increasingly being addressed through self-service. Increasingly companies also focus on establishing a seamless connection between all these channels to ensure the consistency of customer experiences.

Collectively, the above findings on the evolution of voice across contact centers reveal that digital enablement isn't a total replacement of voice interactions in favor of digital channels, such as email, social media, live chat, or messaging. Rather, it involves enriching the existing channel mix that often features voice interactions with digital channels so customers can get their needs addressed through their channel of choice.

Speech Analytics is a Key to Voice Efficiency

For businesses that aim to improve their use of voice as a customer interaction channel, speech analytics remains a key enabler. Aberdeen defines speech analytics as "a technology used to analyze customer conversations taking place through phone and /or interactive voice response (IVR) during or after the call." This analysis can be done through various methods, including phonetic analytics and text analytics, with the latter used in transcribing call recordings and real-time conversations with the help of speech-to-text capabilities. Aberdeen's August 2018 Speech Analytics study found that the adoption of this technology has increased by 73 percent between 2016 and 2018 across contact centers.

Our research also found that companies using speech analytics enjoy 67 percent greater annual increase in customer satisfaction rates and five times greater annual improvement (decrease) in the number of customer complaints, compared to non-users. Clearly, incorporating speech analytics within the contact center technology toolbox helps companies improve their CX program results.

Similar to many other technologies, speech analytics isn't something you can buy to expect sudden and long-lasting performance improvements. To truly maximize performance, contact centers must establish certain building blocks. This includes putting the conversation into context through activities (i.e., determining regular overlaps between the customer's and the agent's voice or acting on the insights derived through speech analytics instead of merely analyzing call recordings).

Specifically, savvy users of speech analytics use insights derived through this technology to provide supervisors with relevant insights they need to do their jobs. The same savvy businesses also use activities, such as automatic call scoring through speech analytics, for post-call analysis where supervisors can listen to tagged recordings to coach agents. Yet another best practice is analyzing voice conversations in real time to recommend agents' next-best actions to manage customer needs.

Are you currently using speech analytics? If so, how did you find the technology influences your performance? To learn more about Aberdeen’s findings on speech analytics, please visit 

Omer Minkara is a vice president and principal analyst covering contact center and customer experience management at Aberdeen. Follow him on Twitter at @omerminkara.