Customer self-service has proven to be mutually beneficial for enterprises as well as consumers, with both realizing time and cost savings. However, the empowered customer is destined to become the overwhelmed and frustrated customer, unless enterprises begin planning for customer-led automation.
“In the future, you’ll be able to give a bot a list of things to do in the morning. You’ll say to your bot, ‘Order me 10 rolls of paper towels, cancel and reschedule my dentist appointment, etc.’ and it will go do it. We’re not there yet, but that will be the future,” says Mitch Lieber, president of call center consultancy Lieber & Associates.
Several trends are driving customer-led automation. “Consumers are finding their world of data growing. Their lives have a digital counterpart. And, because of this trend of customer self-service, consumers have a lot more stuff to do,” explains Anthony Mullen, senior research director at Gartner. “Over time, consumers will delegate more because they have to. If they can’t delegate, the whole digital train comes to a halt.”
To prepare for customer-led automation, enterprise IT organizations need to account for the fact that customer self-service will involve both customers and their bots. Gartner estimates that by 2030, a billion service tickets will be raised automatically by customer-owned bots.
“Self-service is one more digital tool customers can use themselves, but consumer bots will also use these tools, proactively monitoring my broadband speed and opening a trouble ticket on my behalf even while I’m sleeping, scheduling appointments, negotiating prices,” Mullen says. “Whenever a consumer interacts with a business, increasingly we’ll find customers delegating that interaction to their own bots and personal assistants.”
The impact of customer-led automation on IT organizations
What does that mean for enterprises? “If IT professionals don’t prepare for customer-led automation, they’ll find that their custom service people are run ragged by bots. IT professionals must be able to conduct chat bot and virtual assistant experiences with humans and also increasingly with their bots,” says Mullen. He adds: “The ability to handle natural language processing is an absolute key capability.”
Lieber agrees. “IT needs to look at what the business offers online that requires typing and can be made easier with voice, how they can do that voice enabling — with an application or by hooking up with Alexa or Google — and also create the database of voice-enabled terms.”
Creating that database will take some careful consideration. “What you do on a website may need to be handled differently in voice. If your current website sells food and chickpeas are listed, you’re relying on someone figuring out that chickpeas are garbanzo beans. Customers have to know that they are the same thing. That’s done differently via voice than text,” says Lieber.
Enterprises will also need to think about discoverability. “Consumers will increasingly have fewer one-to-one relationships with brands and more relationships with topics. Consumers might have their own general-purpose personal assistant, like Alexa, but also a handful of other specialist personal assistants — for entertainment, or finance and wealth — that span across many brands,” explains Mullen. “Organizations will have to make sure they’re published in all these different services and that they bubble to the top. If you’re in finance and a consumer asks, ‘How can I get a loan?’ you have to make sure customers will find your business.”
Enterprise IT organizations should also be mindful of the fact that customers will leverage consumer products, not enterprise technology, to carry out automation. “Customers deal with thousands of brands and each one has its own UI or bot, and that’s not sustainable. Consumers will increasingly simplify the number of UIs they own,” explains Mullen. That means customers will spend less and less time on enterprise-branded websites or applications and more time interacting with brands via consumer technology.
Mullen’s advice: “Over time, IT organizations should wind down their own apps and UIs and begin to move engagements to consumer-owned devices.”
The move to consumer products, however, doesn’t negate the need for user experience testing. “Sometimes IT departments are in a rush to deploy things quickly and that’s great, but there always needs to be a testing phase to test the user experience,” says Lieber. “Have multiple people test the user experience because there may be some hiccup in your system when it’s done with voice that you won’t recognize otherwise.”
Finally, Mullen points out that customer-led automation will require organizations to change the way they think about customer self-service. “This social-technical system demands that organizations be a little less myopic — my brand, my customers — and realize that customers engage with a lot of brands and a lot of interfaces. Enterprises must expect customers to automate some of the effort, and enterprises will have to work harder to be discovered. Brands that get that will be in a much better position for the future.”
Crystal Bedell is a freelance writer specializing in B2B technology. She’s been creating thought leadership content for IT media companies and technology providers since 2008. Prior to that, she worked for TechTarget where she was the editor of SearchSecurity.com for eight … View Full Bio