How to Create a True Omnichannel Customer Experience with Conversational AI


The customer experience has changed beyond recognition in recent years. At the turn of the millennium, the only customer touchpoints about which companies really had to worry were phone calls, the occasional delivery, and what happened on the shop floor. In today's fast-paced, interconnected world of convenience, however, the touchpoints are almost too numerous to count. From social media and e-commerce to online chats and busy call centers, consumer-facing companies in all sectors now face a common challenge: delivering a connected, customer-centric omnichannel experience.

It is a consumer's world out there. Technology has given customers an unprecedented amount of variety when choosing how to interact with companies. Some might prefer a direct call to a customer services department or queue for an online chat with a company representative. Others might Tweet a company to get their issue resolved. Can you imagine how poorly a bank would be perceived in 2021 if it didn't have a smartphone app?

According to the latest State Of Customer Experience report by Genesys, more than 80 percent of consumers prefer to be able to switch between channels as they engage with companies. This level of choice is a good thing. It means that consumers can interact with services on their own terms, while also giving companies more opportunities to engage. This has also given rise to self-service. In today's convenience culture, it's far easier for a customer to serve themselves in the interest of keeping things fast and efficient. Not many consumers would choose to wait in a queue or speak to a human representative unless they had an unresolvable issue. A recent survey of consumers found that six in 10 would prefer automated self-service, such as a virtual agent or chatbot, when trying to complete basic tasks.

Shifting Company Priorities

It is not just customers who stand to gain from self-service and automation. Companies are beginning to see it as a crucial way of cutting costs without compromising on service. Plus, it's a valuable coping tool. Since the pandemic, there has been an understandable rise in demand for online or remote services, and artificial intelligence-based automation can help businesses process queries, direct calls, and, in some cases, completely resolve issues without human interaction.

In March 2020, ContactBabel published the results of a survey asking U.K. business leaders to gauge the importance of customer experience (CX) developments in the next two years. In a rapid shift from previous reports, the number one ranked technology in terms of need was AI-enabled self-service.

For many businesses, self-service and automation might simply take the form of a website, an app, a basic chatbot to direct queries, or a virtual agent to sift phone calls. However, thanks to huge advancements in conversational AI, the customer experience might soon see yet another evolution.

The Power of Conversational AI

When we talk about conversational AI, we refer to a handful of specific technologies, such as automatic speech recognition (ASR), natural language processing (NLP), advanced dialogue management, and machine learning (ML). On their own these tools are powerful, but together they have the potential to be revolutionary. Conversational AI can be used effectively over both voice and text channels, interpreting what customers say or type and responding in a way that's virtually indistinguishable from a human agent.

First, the user will speak or type a query. If the input is spoken, ASR will make sense of it and translate the query into a machine-readable format. Then the application will decipher what the words mean using NLP, (the software will get better at this over time due to neural networking and machine learning). The application can then use a dialogue management tool to orchestrate a response, which will be delivered via text in the case of a chatbot, or speech synthesis in the case of a voice call or smart speaker response. As NLP and the other associated technologies continue to improve, the potential use cases become too numerous to count.

Take a booking system, for instance. The pandemic has put enormous strain on health services worldwide. What if a voice or chatbot, using the technology outlined above, could book all medical appointments on behalf of a provider? A user could call, provide her details, and briefly describe the problem before being assigned an appropriate doctor or nurse, or have the call directed to a human member of staff if necessary. A connected, omnichannel approach to conversational AI would also allow patients (or customers in other circumstances), to begin the booking procedure via an online chat function and finish it over a call if preferred. If text and voice bots both use the same NLP tools and AI-enabled processes, there's very little reason the channels couldn't be seamlessly interchangeable.

The Challenges of Implementing Conversational AI

It's important to remember that while conversational AI has some incredible potential, it is still a relatively new technology. Companies should, therefore, think quite carefully about its implementation, partnering with a solutions vendor that is flexible and at the very forefront of any new developments in the field of NLP or ASR. Companies also need to think about how conversational AI might blend with their other channels and internal processes. Even if a company employs bleeding-edge conversational AI technology, customers still might end up frustrated if the same positive experience isn't echoed across other channels, such as apps and websites. Then of course, there's the question of security.

While conversational AI could revolutionize self-service and elevate companies, it can also leave businesses more vulnerable to fraud and cybersecurity breaches if not implemented properly. This, again, is why partnering with the right supplier is absolutely vital to implementing conversational AI.

The past year has no doubt been a challenge for businesses, but if we have learned anything it is that the omnichannel approach is here to stay. As more customers adapt to change, conversational AI and the ability to self-serve is going to become an integral part of the omnichannel DNA.

Gary Williams is director of sales and consultancy at Spitch,and Liam Ryan is sales director at Creative Virtual.