By Graeme Gabriel, Strategic Back Office WFO Consultant, Verint

I had a very difficult conversation last night. I had to tell Siri that I had been seeing Cortana behind her back. I explained that as far as I was concerned we weren’t “exclusive” and that I should be allowed to see other digital personal assistants.

While I didn’t actually have to break up with my virtual PA, it does highlight the growing phenomena of virtual services. If you call to book a cinema ticket, or navigate through your bank’s IVR, rather than pressing keys to traverse multiple layers of options, you can speak your query and are given the appropriate responses. Automation of customer engagement is growing.

I heard at a recent event that there will likely be a more than 50% reduction in customer service requests by 2020. This would be broken down as follows:

• 15% to self-service (due to improvements in contextual content)• 10% through outbound alerts• 10% by online virtual customer assistants• 5% by better/visual IVR on mobile phones• 5% by voice interfaces• 8% by social communities

What does this mean? It means that 47% of customer interaction will continue to be human, making it more important than ever. Customer service representatives are already dealing with more complex customer issues, the ones self-service can’t support. This has far reaching consequences to organisations that deliver service. Those interactions will be an even richer source of customer feedback, as they will be rarer and more complex. Text analytics from message boards and webchats will punctuate the customer journey alongside these voice calls.

If these voice interactions become more important, that also means that the agents that manage them become more important. Ensuring that companies have resources scheduled at the right time is key. When a customer chooses to speak to organisations, they will have already exhausted the other channels, so they better have someone ready to help them.

It’s not just making them available either, that agent will need to be trained and motivated to help the customer, with all the relevant history of previous interactions. Customer engagement solutions provide agents with unified access to the applications and information they need to respond effectively to customers across different channels. By combining knowledge management, case management and process management technologies in this way, agents can provide differentiated and personalised customer service. When this is combined with workforce optimisation, and the gamification of performance metrics, we will see a further drive in the performance for the new breed of employee. This will all ultimately enable companies to support and adapt to the new engagement evolution that the event speaker eluded to.

So when David Brent picked up his guitar in that training room in “The Office” and sang “free love on the free love highway” I don’t think he knew how right he was. Actually knowing Brent, he would probably say he did.