Why Voice will Remain Strong in 2017

The extensive adoption of digital devices is changing the way customers want to communicate with contact centres and some say the future for voice looks uncertain in the digital world.

In the last year hype around AI has led to chatbots and automated virtual assistants being touted as the next big thing, by entirely replacing humans at least one end of the “conversation”.

What are we to make of all this? Some commentators lament the loss of personal contact, fearful of the well-known psychological effects of isolation. Others celebrate our increased ability to accomplish goals more quickly and efficiently, which is after all the purpose of communication in the first place.

The Near-Future Contact Centre

Digital automation, we are told, is coming and we should welcome it for the advantages it undoubtedly brings. Vendors tout human-to-human digital channels such as messaging, SMS and webchat, or human-to-machine channels such as IVR and chatbots.

Dimension Data’s Global Contact Centre Benchmarking report published late 2016 expects that voice will account for less than 50% of all contact centre interactions by the end of 2017.

It’s easy to assume – particularly if you look around on your morning commute – that we are becoming ever more involved with our mobile devices, to the detriment of personal relationships. If this is the case, it’s surely perfectly understandable that we would also prefer to interact with brands via our devices using these more impersonal and supposedly more efficient channels.

But not so fast. Just because voice is declining as a percentage of all channels doesn’t mean the total number of voice interactions is going down. Neither does it mean the relative importance of those interactions is any less than it used to be.

Talk Is Good

According to the 11th annual Accenture Global Consumer Pulse Survey, 71% of British consumers and 83% of US consumers prefer dealing with human beings, whether over digital channels or by voice.

The authors of this report suggest that the “digital disconnect” – as they call it – is a potential pitfall for companies obsessed with the latest digital channels and automation. They even go so far as to say that human interaction is vital to customer satisfaction.

It might also be crucial for sales. 45% of consumers will be up-sold when dealing with a person, compared to just 18% through a digital channel.

73% of customers prefer human interactions when they are seeking advice or looking to resolve a specific issue. 58% prefer dealing with a person to get a quick answer to a question.

This is even true of Millennials and those who generally show a strong preference for digital channels. They are a whopping 140% more likely to revert to a physical channel such as voice if not satisfied. Indeed according to Capgemini research into millennials behaviour in the context of insurance, 42% said the ability to speak to a live person was key.

The Place For “Voice” In The Digital World

Even while contact centres push more transactional business through digital channels, they are reserving the phone for more emotional interactions, or for those which require a complex exchange of information.

For simple purchases customers are happy to use a website, an app, or even – increasingly – messaging or chat interfaces. But when something is really on the line the research shows they revert to a telephone conversation more often than not.

In a brave, new digital world, where customers can interact in an increasing number of ways, and switch channels whenever they want, there is and will be for a long time to come a place for voice.

With true, human-level AI still a distant sci-fi dream, consumers still prefer their problems solved by another human.

Even Millennials, those so-called digital natives who first adopted SMS, webchat and messaging, pick up the phone when they need great and immediate service.

CSAT By Phone

A key measurement of the customer experience is of course the customer satisfaction after each interaction. Our own experience with our clients – whom we help conduct automated customer satisfaction surveys by phone, SMS, and web – is that CSAT scores are generally higher on the voice channel than all others.

The reasons are the immediacy and intimacy of a two-way conversation between humans, which allows for a lot of information to be passed and assimilated quickly, and for a highly personalised and tailored response to be delivered.

AIs are not only unable to parse information like a human being, neither are they capable – yet – of thinking creatively, or outside the box, to deliver the most appropriate response. Voice remains a vital part of communications for the foreseeable future.