By Stephen Loynd

The customer experience (CX) team at Frost & Sullivan has seen three important innovation trends come across our desks in 2018, each of which has resulted in detailed white papers. We recommend that Canadian organizations examine each of them, as they will be impacting enterprise CX strategies in 2019 and beyond.

1. Practical, cloud-based artificial intelligence (AI) solutions. Frost & Sullivan notes that AI-powered virtual agents present significant potential to improve the CX in the contact centre, but also implementation challenges.

(a) AI’s new cognitive abilities. AI, as a concept, has been around for decades. Why then does it seem that AI is only now being inserted into the CX in such valuable ways? One key driver of this trend is advanced speech recognition capabilities that have finally allowed contact centres to access the vast cognitive abilities that AI has to offer. Natural language understanding (NLU) means AI-enabled machines can hear, process and correctly capture intent and context, and AI solutions are now demonstrating their true power in a variety of ways. Advancements in speech recognition and cloud-enabled delivery has opened the door to the rapid expansion of AI cognitive abilities that mimic live agent behaviour across dozens of conversations: which simply wasn’t possible before.

(b) Impressions of complexity. But while the advantages of automating more customer care-related processes are real, it’s important to focus on the practical applications of AI rather than the too often overly dramatic headlines associated with it. According to recent surveys by Frost & Sullivan’s Stratecast team, 20% of all companies have plans to adopt some type of AI-powered solution in the near future. But those surveys also show that many companies are labouring under the impression that AI is complex and costly to implement.

Action item: approach AI a low-risk, high-value manner. Scale your contact centre by augmenting your current technology with cloud-enabled AI that seamlessly integrates with your existing systems to automate one conversation at a time, rather than undertaking a complete “rip and replace” overhaul. Taking a practical approach to AI simplifies the decision to implement AI capabilities, but it also ensures that AI-enabled tools will deliver value upon implementation, rather than requiring a protracted period of training and customization. Ask about the Frost & Sullivan white paper, The AI-Powered Virtual Agent: Practical Realities & Actionable Strategies.

2. Robotic process automation (RPA) solutions. RPA software that incorporates technologies such as AI and machine learning (ML) to automate routine, rules-based, high volume tasks that are time-consuming and sensitive to human error promises to change the nature of business. Here’s how:

(a) A virtual workforce in varied automations. RPA software “robots/agents” mimic human beings in the handling of certain types of processes including inputting or manipulating data, triggering other processes or communicating with other systems. This virtual workforce can work unattended, attended or in hybrid automations. Tasks can be scheduled or triggered automatically or manually.

(b) Enabling digital transformation. Automation must help achieve operational optimization and increase productivity, otherwise it makes little sense. The objective is to introduce a set of solutions that will enable true digital transformation. In essence, RPA is contributing to digital transformation on a strategic rather than simply a tactical level. It’s also an initiative that will help to spur greater collaboration across business units.

Action item: start with a strategic assessment. Look for RPA applications that are scalable and reliable, that follow a development process that is repeatable and allows for robots that are maintainable and reusable, that provide for access control and auditing and that can be managed similar to live agents with centralized control. Develop a cross-organizational automation strategy to determine which projects require heavy IT involvement and which can be done with simple RPA tools. Identify areas of high volume and repetitive tasks and then take advantage of vendor proof of concept to initiate a “land and expand” approach to cross-enterprise automation. Use RPA to facilitate cross-organizational data dependencies and maintain consistency of data entry. Ask about the upcoming Frost & Sullivan white paper, A Strategic, Actionable Approach to RPA.

3. Agile and DevOps: helping transform the CX. As the pace of technological change quickens and increasing customer expectations further catalyze a time of techno-consumerism, many organizations are adopting the IT methodology known as “Agile and DevOps” for their CX applications.

The term Agile Development describes iterative and incremental software development methodologies; it’s an approach to software development embracing requirements and solutions that evolve through collaborative efforts of self-organizing cross-functional teams and their customers. It advocates adaptive planning, evolutionary development, early delivery and continuous improvement, and it encourages rapid and flexible response to change. DevOps is an extension of the Agile Development methodology, a blending of two disciplines in order to emphasize the collaboration, communication and cohesion between typically separate developer teams and IT operations teams.

Here are further points to examine and keep in mind:

(a) Keeping up with rapid change. In effect, the concept of Agile requires its twin concept of DevOps at a time when the pace of innovation and change is accelerating, and the typical operations team needs to deploy new releases more quickly and with less disruption. While Agile and DevOps has been around for awhile, more and more companies are beginning to apply its practices to their CX environments as a means to address rapidly evolving business requirements. Agile and DevOps are designed to provide businesses maximum efficiency and minimal interruption while making needed improvements to customer engagement applications.

(b)A data-centric, self-optimizing future. Agility and transformation are essential because the rapid adoption of digital technologies is producing waves of data that are impacting every industry, shaping a new shoreline that will characterize a data-centric, self-optimizing future. Digital leaders will be those organizations that are skilled at utilizing business analytics to offer deep insights into customer behaviours, wants and needs, developing new products and services and ultimately innovating and exploiting new business opportunities.

Action Item: take a forward-looking approach to operational CX. Frost & Sullivan believes that a new approach to CX operations will help determine the difference between past and future, between business failure and future success. Therefore, appreciate the fact that we’re living at a time of fast-moving digitization, that exponential technological change is upon us and that the contact centre needs to innovate to keep pace. It’s not enough to measure net promoter score (NPS) or other high level, backward-looking metrics. You need to understand operational metrics about your CX so you can proactively improve and positively affect your NPS and the other metrics through a more actionable, forward-looking approach. Think more strategically about operational CX and consider an Agile and DevOps transformation process that features automated testing and monitoring at its core. Ask about the Frost & Sullivan white paper, CX Innovation: Rising to the Challenge of Techno-Consumerism Through Agile & DevOps Transformation.

Key takeaway

The customer contact landscape continues to be disrupted. Enterprises need to be thinking strategically about how developments will continue to impact the space in 2019 and beyond. Clearly, these are by no means the only technology-related topics of importance as far as the CX goes, but it’s noteworthy how much interest we received in them over the course of this past year, and how many companies will be deploying these solutions going forward.

Stephen Loynd is global program director, digital experience, Frost & Sullivan (www.frost.com), Stephen.Loynd@Frost.com.

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