"Multichannel, Multimodal and Mobile" made a nice alliterative mantra for RC (Recombinant Communications) practitioners in 2010. Recessionary times put the clamps on enterprise spending just as the popular platforms for self-expression, led by Facebook and Twitter with assists from old-guard customer forums, established themselves as genuine channels for customer support, sales and marketing. As a result, the well-worn business bromide, "Do more with less" took on new meaning.
UC (Unified Communications) was only part of the answer. Already leading proponents like IBM, Cisco and Microsoft added the idea of "Collaboration" to their UC offerings. As I discussed in several posts throughout 2010, these companies, along with Avaya and a group of socially-inclined or "cloud-oriented" contact center software providers (think Aspect, Gold Systems, InteractiveIntelligence, RightNow or Voxeo as examples) are defining collaborative customer contact strategies that not only add social channels to the customer engagement model, but also extend customer care and support outside brick-and-mortar contact centers.
Taking an RC tack on the multichannel challenge gave enterprise decisionmakers a chance to leverage existing infrastructure, such as their CRM systems, interactive voice response applications and contact center logic to fulfill customer demands over multiple channels. A prime example is Voxeo's concept of "Unlocked Communications" which refers to the ability to use the same logic, scripts and back-office databases to support customer communications over the phone, SMS-text, IM, or the Web. For larger enterprises, Cisco's support of Customer Collaboration in the contact center has added SocialMiner, which monitors popular social networks to support rapid response to relevant posts by contact center agents, treating social networks as one of many "channels" for customer care and support.
As for Multimodal, let's take a UX (user experience) angle on the topic. As the population of "smartphones" grows, we've learned that part of the formula for customer empowerment involves giving a user the choice of input modalities. For members of the automated speech community, the concept was best summed up a couple of years ago by Google's Mike Cohen when he said that Google wanted to make speech an alternative "every time a keyboard or keypad is used." You could think of that as "speech-enabled" or "voice" search, but I think of it as multi-modal, with an emphasis on user choice. As a result (noted in this post) we'll see more attention paid to UIs (user interfaces) that let desk-bound Web browsers or airport ensconced laptop users, as well as smartphone toting mobile subscribers, choose the modality that best fits their situation or context.
Which brings us to the third "M": Mobile. As Opus Research documents on a regular basis on the Internet2Go site, Web-based activity is moving inexorably into the mobile realm. From an RC perspective, the growing percentage of calls or other interactions that originate from mobile devices has a dramatic impact on customer care "callflows" or "workflows." We framed it as "The Customer is Always On" in a couple of webcasts in 2010.
Yet the impact on the contact center is just a reflection of broader changes afoot. This year eBay, the prototypical peer-to-peer marketplace on the Internet, reported that holiday sales carried out through mobile devices more than doubled in 2010 (over 2009). More than 30 million people have downloaded the eBay mobile app.
eBay's experience dramatizes another key factor in the RC story moving into 2011. The RC approach enables end-users to build their own experience. They shop for, select and assemble their preferred applications "on the glass" of their smartphones. Alternatively, they can open a browser (or app) and "check-in" to a selected business; carry out their conversations in their preferred modality, format or social forum; conduct searches, find friends, businesses, products or services of interest; and even make purchases using a mutually agreed upon payment method.
So that's the set-up as we enter 2011. More choices for mobile browsers/shoppers/socializers/buyers. Implementation challenges for merchants and enterprise decisionmakers of all sizes. Uncertainty among application developers, device makers, network operators and enterprise infrastructure providers who strive to bring valuable software and services to the marketplace. Inherently unsecure and vulnerable environments for both social and business commerce.
RC is the Answer
This may sound like a broken record (for those readers with experience that includes pitted vinyl and phonograph needles) but the stage is set for better understanding and implementation of RC strategies, meaning implementation plans that uses "mashups" that meld what works among the existing speech processing, call processing, CRM, contact center and collaboration infrastructure with cool new communications-enabled resources and telco capabilities.
For the RC community, this is what we expect to see in 2011:
1) Ubiquity for speech in the multi-modal interface: The bad news is that speech-enablement may start to behave like a commodity. The good news is that speech will, indeed, be an alternative any time a keyboard may be invoked. The better news is that there will be financial hay to be made (and indeed a revenue model) for apps that include highly accurate, intuitive, context-sensitive implementation of speech on an "as needed" as well as "when wanted" basis.
2) Better listening through chemistry: In this case, I'm referring to better chemistry between and among app developers, device makers and network operators. This means more effective developer programs from network operators. Thus far, we've made note of RC-driven, developer-centric initiatives from the likes of Orange, AT&T, Rogers and others as they seek to provide more open access to valuable resources such as location awareness and billing functions.
3) Analytics enter the customer care workflow: At a recent Analyst Summit, Cisco conducted an impressive demonstration of Socialminer, which included the use of Nexidia's speech analytics capabilities, to do problem detection that could trigger an agent response in near-real time. [Cisco's John Hernandez will be speaking at our upcoming C3 - Conversational Commerce Conference accompanied by a demonstration of Customer Collaboration instantiated "in the cloud" courtesy of Spanlink. That's RC in action!]
4) Moving boldly with a safety net: In our recent Webcast I was joined by Bob Hockman from Empirix as we discussed survey results showing how social media are permeating both contact center and enterprise IT infrastructures. Ready-or-not, here they come. It puts a premium on pre-testing of all the talkpaths and constant quality monitoring to avoid latencies and ensure the best customer experience.
5) Which brings us to "Security," validation and authentication- Now that mobile phones act as wallets, know your location, house your contact list and calendar plus a record of the calls you've made in the past month, it's clear that they must be protected, right? What's more, as we wittingly or unwittingly witnessing skads of personal data, search histories and activity streams move "into the cloud" (be it run by Google, Amazon, Experian, Verizon or others'), everyone needs to take stock of what it takes to secure the data we physically hold and protect the stuff that resides elsewhere from people who might gain access by pretending to be us.
Given the heightened exposure and higher levels of sophistication among the "bad guys," we're living on borrowed time. Opus Research believes that voice biometric-based user authentication and identity validation is destined to take on heightened importance, following geometric growth curve fueled by the increased functionality of devices and the growing number of applications that support mobile commerce.
The crying need for imaginative implementation of voice biometric authentication on mobile devices is what motivated Opus Research to work with VoiceVault to launch the Mobile Voice Biometric Challenge, as a chance for the mobile app developer community to get hands-on experience with voice biometrics as a way to prevent unauthorized access to information or capabilities that reside on the device or made accessible through the device.
Conferences to Bring These Topics To Life
Early in the coming year Opus Research will convene two conferences to bring together executives and though leaders from the business enterprises, technology providers and implementers giving shape to Conversational Commerce (Feb 2-3 in San Francisco) and Voice Biometrics (March 23-24 in Amsterdam)