The contact center market continues to shift focus from handling customer calls as efficiently as possible to providing superior customer engagement across multiple touch points. The latest advancement is an joint announcement from IBM and Genesys who have signed a partnership agreement to provide “smarter customer engagement”. The agreement includes a technology partnership and a joint marketing plan, and brings together IBM’s Watson Engagement Advisor and Genesys’ Customer Experience Platform.
IBM Watson first became known by beating expert human contestants on the TV show Jeopardy! Since then it has impacted the medical industry by advising doctors on medical care, and more recently IBM created a smart mobile app that is able to advise and resolve customer issues. IBM Watson is an cognitive computing platform that uses machine learning to provide responses to questions through its natural language question based search interface that can process large volumes of information including a knowledge base of history and trained responses to find the most relevant and probabilistic response. Its machine learning can refine its responses from previous interactions, thus making the outcomes increasingly relevant. In the mobile app it can capture text entered into the app, search data from in-house and publicly available information sources and return information most closely related to the request. For example Watson can capture a customer’s request for an insurance quote, search all available insurance information based on the person’s extended customer profile and return information on the most appropriate policy for that customer and circumstances and refine it based on the individual unique requirements. The IBM Watson technology received the Ventana Research Technology Innovation Award for its ability to change how companies operate in taking actions and making decisions.
Genesys was an early developer of customer/telephony integration (CTI) and call routing. Over time management has combined acquisitions and internal development efforts to create a contact center in the cloud product set that is available in the cloud. Its original product set has thus been extended to include management of multiple channels of communication, single-queue routing regardless of type of interaction, workforce optimization, an agent desktop and analytics. Nearly half of companies in my benchmark research into the contact center in the cloud are considering such systems to improve customer engagement.
Several research studies including next generation customer engagement show that companies are deploying more channels of interaction to meet customer expectations; on average companies now support more than seven channels with seventeen possible. These are a combination of what are commonly called assisted channels, in which a person responds to the customer, and self-service where the customer interacts solely with technology, such as an interactive voice response (IVR) system. The research shows that both approaches create issues. Assisted service depends on the skills of the people who handle interactions and their abilities to access the right systems and information. The agent’s desktop is a major determinant of whether this is hard or easy. Self-service depends on how well companies have set up the technology and how closely it fits customer expectations. In this respect my research shows that companies have not done a very good job; for example, nearly two-thirds of IVR interactions and Web-based self-service attempts end up with the customer taking the option to speak with an agent.
In simple terms these systems are not smart enough. The IBM/Genesys partnership is intended to address this. Genesys has built interfaces from its agent desktop and self-service channels to pass data to IBM Watson, which applies its cognitive computing capabilities and returns with specific information to the questions asked. The results can be passed to the agent through the desktop to suggest the best action or delivered to the customer through the self-service channel. In either cases the customer gets relevant information, which contributes to a better experience, and the company may get a better business outcome. If you want to understand more about cognitive computing, our educational overview will help and my colleagues recent analysis of IBM billion dollar investment into IBM Watson.
My research has led me to insist that the customer experience is now the primary business differentiator and is the top driver for improving customer engagement in three quarters (74%) of organizations according to our customer engagement research. It has almost become impossible to compete solely on product, service or price; how customers feel during and after interactions is what counts and what determines the actions they take. This new partnership has the potential to deliver better responses to customer inquiries and requests and should thus improve the experience. It also provides a competitive advantage for Genesys to differentiate its offering to others in providing truly a smarter agent desktop and customer self-service. The alliance of these two major vendors will be worth watching for companies striving to improve internal business processes and better meet customer expectation for relevant and timely responses to their questions.
Richard J. Snow
VP & Research Director – Customer Engagement