Predicting What Your Customers Want Before They Know They Want It


When Henry Ford invented the motor car, he famously said, “if I had asked customers what they wanted, they’d have said a faster horse.” In 2016, we are facing a future of driverless cars.

Moreover, nobody asked Apple for the iPhone when they were all happily using the Blackberry.

So what do your customers not know they want from you yet?

They certainly want an effortless customer experience. They want the right product picked, packed and delivered at the right time. This is why Amazon is now using Artificial Intelligence (AI) for computer vision, so that robots can pick products accurately from its warehouses for delivery.

AI is quickly establishing itself as a helpful tool to do the repetitive and tedious work that people don’t want to do, or that which requires data analysis on such a large scale that it’s impossible for humans to do with any accuracy or efficiency.

If you’ve ever used Apple’s Siri, you’re  aware of the convenience of voice interfaced digital personal assistants. Apple plans to expand Siri to personal computers allowing users to search for documents, photographs and music using voice commands.

AI is poised to change our lives in the way washing machines and dishwashers have done. Fast forward a decade and we will have forgotten that some of these basic tasks used to be done by humans.

The positive impact for contact centres is already  leveraged by forward-thinking brands. Shell has created multi-lingual digital assistants ‘Emma’ and ‘Ethan’ to provide technical information to customers about lubricant products. Shell reports “the assistants know the details of tens of thousands of unique Shell products and specifications, and can answer a wide range of technical queries and requests for information.” They are reporting a 40 percent reduction in contact centre volumes and 99 percent of user expectations being met.

Naturally, when faced with statistics like this, it is natural for those currently employed in contact centres to be fearful about the security of their employment. Will they become redundant and replaced by bots? Indeed, many contact centres are already handling basic live chat interactions with AI and using video virtual assistants such as IP Soft’s Amelia.

Enfield council invested in Amelia to answer thousands of conversations at once in a human fashion. If Amelia cannot answer a question, it will refer it to a human being.

Enfield expects to make a 60 percent cost saving on handling basic enquiries, but insists it has no plans to reduce its 50-strong contact centre workforce.

Critics also fear that AI solutions won’t be able to empathise with customers in the same way as a human, but IP Soft claims Amelia has natural language patterns that mean the majority of customers will not even be aware that they have been interacting with a robot.

Like with the invention of washing machines and dish washers, it’s expected that humans will be simply freed up to work on other tasks.

When new technologies are invented, we often don’t fully understand the impact on job roles right away. For example, when the first airplanes took off, we didn’t anticipate the job creation for cabin crew, baggage handlers and air traffic controllers. It could be the same with AI. It could move our society onto a whole new level of human utilisation so that collectively we can achieve so much more.

The impact of AI on the NHS is certainly one such example. With patients able to discuss non-serious symptoms via an app instead of a physical appointment with a doctor, resources can be better utilised elsewhere to reduce wait times, improve surgeries and aftercare.

What can your contact centre do to better serve your customers?
The first step is to review your knowledge management strategy.

Any AI you deploy needs to curate information and learn adaptively from it. Like any system, it will only be as good as the information you put into it. Customers want accurate information delivered fast, so correctly utilised AI can bring huge benefits to the contact centre and the customer experience. However, it is something to start working on today, not in five or ten years’ time.

We have already seen disruptive companies like Uber, Spotify and Netflix changing their markets beyond recognition.

For companies to survive, let alone lead the way, AI must become part of their customer contact strategy.

Energy company, First Utility, uses ChatBots to handle customer queries efficiently and to create a personalised experience. The company’s fastest growing brand, UKTV Play, has hit a million downloads by using Facebook Messenger ChatBots to help viewers decide what to watch and meet customers in a convenient place. First Utility was ranked the seventh largest supplier in the UK, making it the largest outside the Big 6, which is not bad for a company founded in 2008.

“ChatBots are one of the ways we keep our energy prices down,” says Phil Gripton, chief operating officer at First Utility.

Bottom line, if you think it’s not worth bothering with AI or you are waiting until your customers ask for it, it’s time to think again. It’s here, and it will disrupt the way we interact with customers.

What is your strategy to not be disrupted?

Start defining yours today by registering for Customer Contact Expo 2016 where you can listen to my upcoming session on Sept. 28 and demo the omnichannel customer engagement cloud solution, PureCloud Engage, from Interactive Intelligence Group by visiting booth C540.

Carolyn Blunt

Carolyn Blunt

After completing a degree in Management Sciences at Manchester University, and a post-graduate Diploma in People Management (CIPD), Carolyn worked in HR and L&D for both large and small employers before becoming an in-house Training Consultant at Fujistu Services in the Service Desk division. In 2003 Carolyn set up Real Results Training Consultancy and remained very much in the world of Service Desks, Contact Centres and Customer Services, working with clients such as United Utilities, Bupa, Serco and the Co-operative Insurance designing both front line and leadership programmes and huge culture change programmes. As well as running the company, Carolyn still loves to get stuck in with clients and relishes training design, delivery, coaching and speaking engagements. In her down time Carolyn enjoys relaxing with her family and horses.