Bringing Customer Self-Service Into our Homes

If there is one trend that might be seen as surprising by many, it’s that we seem to prefer to interact with machines over humans when it comes to doing business with companies – at least for simple transactions. We have seen enough convincing solutions for self-service that we know we can get something done quicker by doing it ourselves versus involving a representative from the company. Whether that’s the classical example of withdrawing money from an ATM, checking our account balance, transferring money through a mobile app, or booking our vacation through a website, we prefer “let me do it” over “do it for me.”

If self-service is the most important form of service these days, then how can we ensure it truly fits into our lives? Here’s how I think about it:

  • Self-Service at work: Web Portals
    • You’re in front of a computer, a browser. You book travel or pay bills by browsing your airline’s or bank’s websites, respectively.
  • Self-Service while on-the-go: Mobile Apps and Chatbots
    • You’re NOT in front of a computer, yet you have a powerful mobile computer in your pocket. You call it a phone. Using mobile apps and asking questions over SMS or over-the-top (OTT) channels are the way to go under these circumstances.
  • Self-Service while driving/hands-free: Interactive Voice Response (IVR)
    • You can’t use a graphical UI, but you can use your voice. You call your bank’s IVR connecting your phone to your car to check your balance or call your doctor to cancel an appointment you can’t make.
  • Self-Service while at home: …

The Home is Different

smart-home-self-serviceYou spent a day staring at screens and holding your smart phone in your palm. Now you’re at home and it’s time to relax, put the screens away. What do you do if you still have business to take care of? What if we could interact with our home assistant that sits on the kitchen counter or in our living room or bedroom, and ask it for our outstanding credit card bills; or get an idea of what it would cost to fly to Mexico this fall; then tell it to suspend the subscription of our daily newspaper to prepare for the vacation?

What if companies simply ported their IVRs over to Amazon Echo, or Google Home? Granted, IVR is not the consumer’s best friend. Too many systems have been designed by engineers instead of experts from the field of human-machine interface (HMI) design. As a result, they are clunky, announce options we don’t understand, or just don’t understand us. Yet that is not the fault of the technology, it’s a design issue. There are many well-designed IVR systems out there that would make our home assistants truly smart: connecting us with the businesses that matter to us and letting us accomplish certain tasks ourselves, from the comfort of our homes, and through the most convenient medium we know: our voice.

An Opportunity to Make Customers Happy

What would it take? Not much. What matters to companies is to reduce cost, grow their customer base, and increase the “wallet share”; i.e. get more of our business. Self-service at home can help with all three business objectives: letting us do things on our own without involving contact center staff helps reduce cost further. Giving us an easy way to interact with the business over voice, comfortably at home without lifting a finger, might lead to us purchasing more products. Showing consumers what a company is doing to make it easy to do business with them might convince them to become a customer. Most companies don’t realize they can leverage existing investments in IVR to quickly become accessible through home voice assistants.

Companies Have Voice Interaction Assets They Can Leverage Today

Building an IVR requires call flow design, recording the system prompts with a voice talent, integrating with backend systems to read and write company data, and integrating with the contact center to provide human backup where needed. All of this is in place with current IVR investments. Lifting that experience onto a home assistant just requires slight design changes to accommodate the specifics of how you interact with a home assistant. It is another way you can provide tangible value to customers. You should ask your IVR vendor today if they can help you port your phone IVR to the home!

Tobias Goebel is Director of Emerging Technologies at Aspect Software and has worked with voice technology for nearly twenty years. In 2003, he was named a finalist for best thesis in computational linguistics by the German Society for Computational Linguistics and Language Technology. His articles have been featured in VentureBeat, CMSWire and Hospitality Technology. Mr. Goebel earned his M.A. in Computational Linguistics, Phonetics, and Computer Science from the University of Bonn.