AI, next-generation voice the future trends in contact centres

Johannesburg, 13 Mar 2019
Read time 6min 20sec
Danny Drew and Fadi Hani.
Danny Drew and Fadi Hani.

Speaking at the Johannesburg leg of the international Avaya Experience roadshow on Tuesday, Ayava heads said contact centres were moving to the cloud, while technologies such as chat bots, in-app video and AI-enabled natural language processing were set to change the face of the contact centre in line with changing customer demands.

UCaaS, CCaaS, DaaS emerge

Fadi Hani, Vice President - Middle East, Turkey and Africa at Avaya said a key trend impacting contact centres today was cloud-enabled as-a-service models.

"Everything consumers and customers want, they now want as-a-service," he said. "We're seeing that customers want to try solutions first - as with any consumer product. They want it managed, they want the full adoption driven for them, and they want the outcome guaranteed. This is a big requirement in the market today."

He noted that the market had moved from Infrastructure as a Service and Platform as a Service to Software as a Service. "In the communications space, it's a little different because this is real time," he said. When it's a voice call it cannot be slow, so there are higher requirements."

To meet the emerging demand for everything-as-a-service, Avaya is moving to offer Communications Platform as a Service, which allows for scaling up to support a campaign, and has also introduced Unified Communications as a Service, Contact Centre as a Service, and the new Device as a Service.

"However, there is work to be done - from regulatory compliance, infrastructure availability and country readiness, to people's readiness for transformation and companies' readiness to move to the cloud," said Hani.

Companies were starting to embrace the possibilities of real time contact centre communication via the cloud, although security concerns were driving most to move to private cloud, rather than public cloud, Hani said. Avaya, which has strong on-premise and cloud-based capabilities, says not all organisations are ready for a move to public cloud yet, and is preparing to launch its new Avaya OneCloud private cloud offerings in South Africa, with per-seat consumption and standard bundles of both UCaaS and CCaaS solutions.

"South Africa is already well ahead of most Middle East and African countries in terms of its customer service focus and contact centre sector maturity," said Hani. "With around 45,000 contact centre agents, South Africa's contact centre sector is complex and advanced. We have observed that the sector is moving from an outsourcing focus to a customer experience focus. This is the new business battle ground, and South African organisations are taking it seriously."

Delivering this enhanced customer experience demands a multi-pronged approach, harnessing technologies capable of effectively supporting customer experience staff, solutions that allow customers to engage seamlessly across any channel, and systems that intelligently route, track and interpret engagements. In addition, South African contact centres must also run as cost effectively and efficiently as possible, and must be empowered to innovate and adapt rapidly to market changes. Avaya's open, converged and innovative solutions for communications and collaboration are meeting these needs, driving rapid growth for the company in South Africa.

"We've seen strong growth in South Africa in the past four years, particularly as local contact centres look to digital transformation and move from on-premise to cloud-based subscription models," says Drew. To support this changing environment, Avaya South Africa has strengthened its service and account management capabilities, is preparing to move offices and will establish in-country data centres. The company is moving from traditional solution sales to service-based models, with its public cloud customer base alone more than tripling in the past year, and its business base swinging from on-premise to predominantly software based.

Thanks to cloud-based models, South African contact centres are taking advantage of new opportunities to 'spend smaller and faster', and use 'fail quick, as-a-service models' to support development and innovation, says Avaya.

"Cloud is a major growth area for South African companies," says Drew. "Large enterprises, particularly those in banking and insurance, are mainly moving to private cloud models, while smaller and mid-sized newcomers may move directly to public cloud. This is transformational for us," he says.

Customers move to AI-enabled voice

AI and automation are also key trends in driving improved customer experience today, said Avaya, with a growing number of companies focused on using these technologies to enhance engagement channels. And while it is crucial for contact centres to integrate all channels preferred by customers, voice remains paramount, although the way in which it is applied within the ecosystem is changing.

Avaya research entitled SuperServe: Five Strategies for Superior Customer Service finds that 65% of South Africans polled would be happy to have their questions answered by a chatbot, 82% believe phone is best if they want to speak to someone quickly, and 72% would prefer to use video when talking to a contact centre agent. 93% want easier contact with organisations across multiple channels.

"Today's customers want 'super service', said Hani. 63% of customers in South Africa want to use 'smart speakers' or voice bots like Siri and Alexa, and 80% are willing to be identified by voice biometrics to speed up identification and authentication, he said.

With changing consumer expectations and significant progress made in Artificial Intelligence and natural language processing, voice would remain crucial in the contact centre in future, but in advanced new ways, said Hani. "The impact of advanced speech recognition on customer service is going to be amazing," he said. "It will give customers the ability to simply say what they want and technology will turn it into an action."

"Speech recognition technology is so advanced now that transcribing a normal conversation is straightforward, and Natural Language Processing is progressing all the time, to the point that it can now identify sentiment in statements. I think that speech and voice is the future of customer service, ultimately eliminating various channels, devices and mediums - a customer might talk to their AI voice-enabled AI assistant, which speaks to a company's chatbot, and they could confirm your identity, you say what you want to do, it could be transcribed, turned into a transaction, and actioned. Although AI takes time to learn and we are not there yet, the progress being made in this direction is amazing. Voice is not going anywhere in future."

Taking the frustration out of customer experience

Avaya is harnessing these trends to bring to market advanced unified communications and customer experience technologies enhanced by innovative partner solutions and major cloud investments.

"We're starting to take out all the frustrations around customer service. This is the exciting part - the ability to have this knock on effect to make people's lives easier," said Danny Drew, MD of Avaya South Africa.

Customers at the Avaya roadshow discovered the new trends in contact centres and had an opportunity to experience the company's latest solutions. Experience Avaya 2019 will be staged in Cape Town on March 14.

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