Today’s consumers demand customer service that’s available anywhere and at any time. Customer experiences are increasingly omnichannel, with a variety of interaction channels including chatbots, SMS, messaging, and more. Despite the widespread adoption of these digital service channels, 75% of consumers still prefer to interact with a live agent in most situations.

What is it about a real human — with a real human voice — that encourages consumers to actively call into the contact center? To get to the bottom of this hot button topic, let’s take a look at the evolving role of voice in an increasingly omnichannel world.

Voice is Just One Piece of the Puzzle…

By now we all know that the COVID-9 pandemic has rapidly accelerated the convergence of unified communications (UC) technology, including voice, messaging, and video, with contact center capabilities. I’ve been talking and writing about this trend for many years, but its time has finally come, as it helps meet the needs of an increasingly dispersed workforce while improving the customer experience.

We’ve seen online channel adoption grow by up to 40% since the start of the pandemic. In addition, 75% of first-time digital users plan to continue using digital channels, even after things return to “normal.” With access to tools like self-service FAQs and chatbots, nearly 70% of consumers now attempt to resolve their issues on their own before reaching out to a contact center.

But what happens if a consumer can’t resolve their issues on their own? While chatbots can be very useful, 60% of consumers believe that humans are better able to understand their needs than chatbots. When self-service fails, these customers are more likely to want to talk to a live agent.

… But It Still Remains the Biggest

As the contact center space continues to shift heavily towards digital experiences, there’s a common misconception that voice will become irrelevant. We’ve been through this type of thing before. Remember when paper was going to disappear once digital technologies like computers and screens came on the scene? I have yet to see a paperless office. Voice is still king and remains the key interaction channel of choice, especially, particularly for sensitive or personal issues.

For simple tasks, such as finding out about a business’ operating hours and locations, or refilling a prescription, chatbots and self service are great. But, for more complex inquiries, voice is key, as more consumers would prefer to contact customer service by phone than they would all digital service channels combined.

Calls that now reach agents tend to be more complex, requiring the agents handling these calls to have the proper expertise (and equipment) to manage more difficult inquiries. So, rather than reduce the role of voice in an omnichannel world, it should be reinforced.

How Will the Role of Voice Continue to Evolve?

A variety of technologies have been shown to enhance voice interactions, while increasing agent and contact center effectiveness. Natural language processing (NLP) and machine learning have allow organizations to provide cost-effective methods of recording calls, analyzing data, identifying compliance concerns, and implementing coaching.

Artificial intelligence (AI)-powered voice tools including things like sentiment analysis are gaining more recognition to enhance contact center effectiveness. Relying on tone of voice and cadence, the AI software can detect a customer’s mood and help the agent steer the conversation in a positive direction. Voice technology can even pick up on social cues, like a particularly long pause during the interaction, to identify if a customer is frustrated or upset.

By detecting changes in mood and attitude through voice inflections, the AI software can help organizations pinpoint the exact moment the customer service experience goes awry. Coupled with real-time guidance technology, this software can then guide agents to not only reach call resolution but also get the customer experience back on track.

Voice technology in the contact center helps finetune the evolving role of the human voice. The role of voice in the contact center will continue to progress, from handling complex customer inquiries to better understanding the attitudes of each caller.

Improve Voice Abilities, Improve the Contact Center

With more and more interactions handled by self-service and digital channels, the number of phone interactions continues to decrease. This means that each and every phone call counts even more. Agents must feel prepared — and have the necessary expertise — to handle these interactions.

Now more than ever, organizations need to support the evolving role of voice in an omnichannel world, providing the tools and technologies to assist agents.

About the author

Blair Pleasant is President & Principal Analyst of COMMfusion LLC and a co-founder of BCStrategies. As a communications industry analyst, she provides strategic consulting services and market analysis on business communication applications, technologies, and markets, aimed at helping end-user and vendor clients both strategically and tactically.

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