To those of us in the contact center space, one of the most interesting and promising developments has arrived. We can now build cognitive agents that communicate with customers using natural language through voice calls. The industry is finally listening to what customers have been saying for a long time: Traditional interactive voice response (IVR) systems are a terrible way to communicate with people. Come up with something better or we’ll take our business elsewhere.
Many younger customers tend to bypass the voice channel in favor of chatbots and other forms of social communications. But voice calls are still the primary way most companies communicate externally. The problem for companies: even though it’s extremely cost effective for a call to be completely handled inside an IVR system, most calls result in customers opting out to a live agent. It’s more expensive to the company and frustrating to the caller.
It is finally possible to create a cognitive IVR system that can handle deeper interactions with customers. Cognitive self-service chatbots understand natural language. And there have been significant improvements in speech recognition systems that can accurately transcribe narrowband audio into text utterances. Virtual agents created with technologies such as IBM Watson demonstrate the potential cost savings and improvements in customer satisfaction that are achievable when you unleash a cognitive workforce into the field of call automation.
Cognitive IVRs are a win-win for customers and the companies that deploy them. Any form of call automation that significantly drives down the need for live call center agents can result in huge cost savings. But the additional and more subtle benefits tie to customer retention. Cognitive IVRs hold the promise of shorter resolution times, which have a direct correlation to customer satisfaction. If I can get my questions answered quickly by an automated agent and avoid a call queue to speak with a live agent, I will walk away from the experience happier and more likely to return in the future.
As with any new and disruptive technology, there are challenges. How do I create cognitive agents that can handle subtle variations in the way questions are asked? How do I train the system to understand the intricacies of my business? How do I integrate cognitive agents into my existing call center?
IBM recently introduced IBM Voice Gateway. IBM Voice Gateway is a cloud-native orchestration engine that provides a telephony interface into Watson. It addresses the challenges of traditional IVRs by providing a cognitive solution, aimed at improving the overall customer experience. Read the announcement blog for more details.
For the convergence between IVR and cognitive, the future is now. The impact this technology will have on customer communications shouldn’t be underestimated. Not only does it have the potential to greatly drive down the cost of running a large contact center but also it can improve customer satisfaction.
Watch this quick video to learn more about advancing your call center operations with a cognitive solution:
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