Why do I love being an engineer at Nexmo, the Vonage API Platform? Because I get to work not only on the real-time communication tech we build but also on integrations with other amazing technologies. Case in point: Nexmo just became the preferred voice integration partner for IBM Voice Gateway, a SIP endpoint that you can use to connect phone calls with IBM Watson speech and conversation services.
Through the IBM Voice Gateway and Nexmo platform integration, you can direct voice interactions with a cognitive self-service agent—IBM Voice Agent with Watson—or access real-time transcriptions of a phone call between two people. Imagine the possibilities for, say, a contact center application.
Here’s a diagram of the Nexmo and IBM Voice Agent integration to give you an idea of how it works.
The Nexmo platform is not only whitelisted as a telephony provider for Voice Gateway, but it also provides the call anchor and core telephony integration for Voice Agent. If you’re on IBM Cloud (the platform formerly known as Bluemix), you can now easily integrate your voice applications with these Watson services, which power innovative IVA (interactive voice assistant) solutions:
You also have the benefit of being able to seamlessly build and deploy those applications in the IBM cloud, which means they can be up and running in no time.
And, yes, you read that acronym correctly—it’s IVA. We’re way beyond traditional IVR (interactive voice response) systems here. With direct access to Watson AI and its communication services, you can build voice agents that communicate in a more conversational way and have the capability to handle more complex customer interactions than standard phone menus.
Nexmo and IBM Voice Agent with Watson: Getting Started
To get you started with this powerful integration, I’ve created a GitHub repo, Nexmo Watson Voice Agent Integration, that should simplify the process for you. It includes code samples and a tutorial that explains how to stand up a Nexmo voice application, an IBM service orchestration engine (SOE), and an Express server that will allow you to update calls on the fly.
The SOE provides a simple way to customize the Voice Gateway and Voice Agent behavior for your app. It acts as a Watson Conversation proxy between the Voice Gateway/Voice Agent and the Watson Conversation service, modifying requests sent from the gateway/agent to Watson and modifying responses sent back to the gateway/agent from Watson.
We use Node-Red as the SOE for this integration. If you haven’t used Node-Red before, it’s a handy builder tool that enables teams to wire together application workflows by dragging and dropping dynamic components such as APIs, hardware devices and online services onto a palette. Hosting your voice application as a Node-Red flow will simplify and centralize your solution architecture in IBM Cloud.
After you’ve completed the tutorial, you’ll be able to call your app, ask it a question that could be susceptible to semantic confusion, and it will be able to detect your intent. It’s pretty cool; give it a try.
With the Nexmo integration with Voice Agent, it’s easier than ever for IBM Cloud developers to offer Watson-enhanced voice interactions to all of their users. What are you waiting for?
This time of year brings with it three certainties:
the local electricity utility will need to bring in reinforcements for that one neighbour on your street who overdid it with the lights
resolutions will be broken just as quickly as they’re made
and even the most sensible of people are tempted to make predictions for the coming new year.
Rather than break tradition, I’ll stick my neck out and make six predictions of what will be the main themes of customer communication in 2019. Okay, here goes.
1. Omnichannel will be the new default
Let’s start with an easy one. In 2019, customers will begin to expect their service providers to give them omnichannel communication by default.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that customers will even hear the phrase “omnichannel communication,” let alone think about it, but they’ll come to see its benefits as a baseline for customer experience.
A customer who messages a company using WhatsApp will rightly expect that the agent who replies will have the context of their previous interactions, whatever the channel. Similarly, customers will be frustrated if told that certain queries are restricted to, say, a traditional phone call.
The change in expectations might not be universal but organizations that fumble their approach to omnichannel will appear outmoded.
2. “Owned and operated” will take priority
While omnichannel is partly about meeting customers where they are, there are downsides to delegating a part of your customer experience to third-party channels.
In 2019, brands will emphasise the channels they own and operate directly. In-app communication, web chat, and voice offer organizations opportunities to innovate and create unique experiences. Customer service is likely to remain a key differentiator, even for value brands, with owned channels offering the flexibility needed to build an edge over rivals.
The question of how organizations deliver their brand promise through channels they do not own—in particular, over-the-top messaging platforms—will not go away and their near-ubiquity may present a substantial threat to the viability of owned channels.
3. Voice and video will grow
As part of the emphasis that customers put on service, voice will grow as a channel. While standard telephone calling will be a part of the mix, it’s IP calling that will drive the growth and, in particular, in-app calling.
Similarly, live video will play a growing role in how companies interact with their customers and how customers interact with one another. However, this is less about customer service and more about product enhancement. For example, an auction app that lets the seller livestream a demonstration of the item to potential buyers using OpenTok.
4. The robots will not take over
Throughout 2018 artificial intelligence has been a prominent theme in the conversation around customer communication. However, 2019 will not be the year in which AI takes over from human operators.
Instead, experiments will continue. Chatbots will become smarter, sure, but more importantly AI will make its way under the surface of the contact center. AI is great at doing the repetitive tasks that are either too boring or too time-consuming for humans. So, AI will help us to understand and anticipate customer needs more thoroughly but chatbots will—for the most part—continue to play the role of IVR for chat.
5. Real-time speech analysis will prepare the way for virtual assistants in the contact center
One key way that artificial intelligence techniques will have an impact in 2019 is through real-time speech analysis.
We’re already used to sentiment analysis in social media, emails, and other written forms. However, advances in speech-to-text and natural language understanding will mean that software will be able to analyze voice conversations as they happen and, using machine learning, draw on previous conversations to help human agents deliver a good outcome. Nexmo APIs will divide a conversation into individual channels for each speaker, making it even easier for machine learning tools to analyze the conversation.
This will be highly useful in itself but it prepares the way for virtual assistants in the contact center. These assistants will be there to help human agents deliver a better service, by anticipating the customer’s needs and providing the human agent with the information they need before the customer even requests it.
6. Demand for GDPR-like legislation will grow in the US
The European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation has affected almost every business that has customers in the EU. While it has been painful for some businesses, it has put the data protection needs of EU citizens front and center.
In 2019, it’s likely that we’ll see more data breaches and perhaps one or two scandals concerning how some companies use personal data. One of the biggest customer communication challenges for 2019 will be to satisfy customer demand for greater transparency and security in how their data is managed
In some parts of US society, demand is growing for an American equivalent to the GDPR. While such legislation might not pass in 2019, it’s likely that conversation will evolve to the point where GDPR-like legislation in the US becomes a possibility.
All the Best for 2019
We here at Nexmo are excited for what 2019 brings. Not only do we have new products that we’ll share with you in the coming months but we’re also eager to see how brands grow to serve their customers’ evolving communications needs.
Wherever and however you celebrate, if at all, here’s to a restful holiday period and a prosperous 2019!
For the last 8 years, Nexmo has helped developers enrich their applications with communication capabilities such as SMS and Voice. These implementations created a personal connection between brands and their customers, no matter where they were located. Today, I’d like to introduce the newest channel to our family — Nexmo In-App Video.
Based on WebRTC, our In-App Video solution includes a full cloud video global infrastructure that enables developers to easily integrate video into their solutions with just a few lines of code. As a result, service agents and customers will now be able to see each other or share their computer screen when communicating over the web.
Nexmo In-App Video has all the features users love and expect, including the ability to have group video sessions, voice controls, and the option to use just audio (for those days when they haven’t combed their hair). Meanwhile, the flexibility of In-App Video allows developers to customize how their streams are displayed and create a unique in-app design without any layout limitations.
Users can join the video session via traditional methods such as the click of a button or by dialing in. But one of the unique features of Nexmo In-App Video is that users can directly call other users who are using landline telephones to join the session. These users, in turn, can listen to the audio of the video session. This capability is enabled by the Nexmo Voice API, which allows these users to dial in from local numbers across 65 countries.
A Better Customer Support Experience Using In-App Video
Nexmo In-App Video helps developers to create a better, more personal contact center experience. For example, when a customer is trying to explain to a contact center agent the issue she’s having with an application, detailed verbal descriptions can sometimes just cause confusion. By using In-App Video, the customer can share her screen to show the issue at hand. The contact center agent, in turn, can easily comprehend the issue and take the necessary steps to resolve it, thus, getting to a resolution quicker and improving customer satisfaction.
Using Video For Communication Between Users
But In-App Video is not just for communication between agents and customers. It can also be used to enable communication between customers on platforms such as online marketplaces. Enabling users to communicate with each other via video can increase trust between users. For example, in a marketplace of buyers and sellers, the seller can enable In-App Video to showcase a 360-degree view of the item they are selling.
The use cases don’t stop there. Users can also use video to produce a better educational experience when teaching or tutoring online. Recruiters and hiring managers also can conduct face-to-face interviews with candidates.
Use Nexmo In-App Video to provide a more personal customer experience, build trust among customers, and elevate your communications.
You’re visiting someone at their office. As you wait in line at the reception desk, you email your friend. “In the lobby!”, you write.
When your turn comes, the receptionist takes your name. He hands you a book of carbon paper. You write your name and it comes out as, “Pele”; the cross of the “t” lost in the carbon reproduction. The receptionist folds the paper into a plastic badge holder and you wonder, “Anybody ever look at these visitor books?”
The receptionist apologises. He can’t reach your friend on the phone. He emails. You email. He calls the desk beside your friend’s. “Oh, she’s on her way down,” the receptionist says.
Your friend collects you, then, at the end of the day you make it halfway home before you realise you’re still wearing the little plastic badge that tells the world your name is Pele.
Bring on SwipedOn
Hadleigh Ford was working in an office aboard a 90m superyacht in New Zealand when he’d finally had enough of stories like that. He knew there was a better way than visitor books and emails from the reception desk. To fix the problem, he started SwipedOn.
SwipedOn is a SaaS product that lets visitors sign-in using an iPad, automatically notifies the right person that their visitor has arrived, and provides a dashboard that lets reception know who is on-site at any time. The iPad serves double duty in an evacuation roll-call, and SwipedOn also supports employee sign-in, sign-out and evacuation.
Five years into the journey, SwipedOn’s CTO Matt Cooney is building a tech stack to serve customers globally. I spoke to Matt and Hadleigh to learn more about the choices they’d made.
It started with a LAMP
“We delivered our MVP in early 2016”, say Hadleigh. “It was built on a modest LAMP stack due to the bootstrapped nature of our business.”
That initial LAMP platform took SwipedOn a long way. “We grew organically to NZ$1,000,000 annual recurring revenue, before taking on private equity investment.”
As that growth took place, the tech stack had to adapt. “The LAMP side of things makes heavy use of Laravel,” says Matt. “We also have a Node.js app that uses websockets to synchronise devices and the backend. Our cache is Redis and then, of course, there are integrations with various third-party services, including Nexmo.”
Build or buy
One of the early questions was one that many start-up developers will recognise: build or buy?
“In the early days we ended up inventing quite a lot of technology we needed and that is more readily available now ‘in a box’ with open-source libraries and/or SAAS platforms. One example is the real-time platform that seamlessly synchronises devices,” says Matt.
“So,” he continues, “we’re constantly asking ourselves whether various piece of our platform are vital pieces of IP or something that can be outsourced to a dedicated library or provider.
“The result is that our definition of our technical IP morphs over time. That’s great because it means we can spend our R&D time on projects where we know we can make a difference, while the outsourced feature set keeps getting better and better as libraries and services add and improve features in their own area of expertise.”
Alongside Nexmo, SwipedOn rely on many of the same types of service as other tech start-ups: there’s the payment gateway, the outbound email provider, analytics and so on. As third-party APIs grow in sophistication, deciding on changes to the tech stack becomes almost a job of predicting what innovations each provider will make.
“What we’re finding now,” says Matt, “is that third-party services are moving further and further ahead of the curve. We need to carefully consider where we invest our time and energy, and again it’s about identifying that sweet spot where we can leverage our own IP to innovate in spaces that we wish to own. Areas of deep interest to us, such as voice UIs and facial recognition, are already delivered as polished, rapidly-improving third party services that we can iterate on.”
Global from day one
Residents of New Zealand and Australia often complain that their internet connectivity lags behind what can be found in Europe and North America. However, latency was never a problem for SwipedOn as it was a global business from day one.
“Our initial AWS location was us-east-1. We do have a staging environment in Sydney but other than that all our infrastructure is in locations in the US, with Cloudfront and Lambda used to improve service in other regions.” Plans for full environments in Europe and Asia are well under way.
That global ambition made Nexmo an obvious choice for SwipedOn, when it came to choosing a communication API.
“Financially, the pricing was very competitive,” says Hadleigh. “It allowed us to budget tightly and forecast spend, month on month. Nexmo also has a worldwide SMS distribution network, allowing us to easily service our global user base. The technical documentation was sound and implementation was very straightforward. Lastly, Nexmo has a presence in the APAC region and having dedicated employees on the same time zone as us was a welcome change from other providers.”
With Nexmo, SwipedOn could sign-up customers and they’d get just the same service wherever they were.
SMS, WhatsApp and more
Here’s how SwipedOn works. Instead of filling out a cumbersome book and waiting for the receptionist to call the person you’re meeting, it asks you to fill out your details on an iPad. SwipedOn then notifies them that you’re waiting.
At first, those notifications were email-only. Email only goes so far, as Hadleigh notes. “We had clients requesting SMS delivery on the first day, due to the fact that email notifications are not often viewed immediately.”
And now, SwipedOn is exploring how they can reach other messaging platforms using Nexmo’s APIs. As people’s attention drifts from SMS and towards WhatsApp, WeChat and more, that’s where they’ll expect to see their visitor notification.
Asked if targeting other messaging platforms was in their plans, Matt had a definitive answer, “Oh hell, yes.”
I recently had the opportunity to speak with Head of Platform Marketing Francisco Kattan and Head of Voice Products Roland Selmer for the debut episode of our video series Communications in Context. The conversation centered on emerging trends that are defining how savvy businesses need to engage their customers. It was a rich topic that led to insightful discussions about concepts such as contextual communications, omnichannel customer experiences, and human plus conversations. Watch the full video here or to read the full transcript, scroll below the video.
The Future of Customer Engagement - YouTube
The Communications Trends Defining Next-Generation Customer Engagement (Full Transcript)
Glen Kunene, Editor-in-Chief at Nexmo: Hi, I’m Glen Kunene. I’m the Editor-in-Chief at Nexmo, the Vonage API platform. And the topic of our virtual discussion today is the future of customer engagement. We’ll be discussing three key communications trends that are having a major impact on how businesses interact with their customers. To provide insight into these trends, I’m joined by two experts with deep knowledge of communications. First, the author of a Nexmo blog post that inspired this discussion, Head of Platform Marketing Francisco Kattan. How are you, Francisco?
Francisco Kattan, Head of Platform Marketing at Nexmo: I’m doing well, Glen. Thank you. Happy to join.
GK: Great. Thanks for being with us. And also Director of Voice Products at Nexmo, Roland Selmer. Hi, Roland.
Roland Selmer, Head of Voice Products at Nexmo: Hey, Glen. How’s it going?
GK: It’s going well. Thanks for joining. Alright, so I think just to set the table, we should start with you, Francisco. You wrote the blog post with this same title. Can you talk about the three trends that you see shaping the future of customer engagement?
FK: Yeah. So, as I wrote in the article, we see three important trends in customer engagement. One is contextual communications. And this means that the contact between customers and companies is driven by the context in which the interaction was initiated, such as why you may be contacting the company or maybe what device you’re on.
The next trend we see is omnichannel conversations. And here the idea is that the interactions between the customer and a company become a continuous conversation, regardless of which channel is used for each interaction. So, for example, if a brand sends you a message about a package delivery and you decide to call the company back, then the contact center agent should know that you are calling about that package delivery.
And the third one that we see is what we call human plus. And here the idea is that artificial intelligence becomes more useful, and bots actually support the conversations that we have with human agents rather than replace those agents. So the combination of a live agent plus the power of artificial intelligence will make for better conversations that improve customer service and make agents more productive.
GK: That’s an interesting point you made about AI enhancing and making agents more productive rather than replacing them because I think that’s a fear that’s out there about AI becoming so advanced that human beings are no longer needed.
FK: Totally, yes. No, we think it augments the human interaction. And it makes it more relevant. It makes it more interesting and more productive and actually more natural, as well.
GK: So what’s fueling these trends as you see it? And why do you believe they’ll be so impactful because you identified three among a lot of different developments going on in communications?
FK: Yeah. So, these trends are being fueled by the need of companies to provide a better experience for customers and also, frankly, by the recent advancements in technology. Specifically, we think cloud communication platforms, artificial intelligence.
So if we look at cloud communication providers, we see that they are making faster progress. They’re innovating faster than traditional equipment vendors. And because their capabilities are now available as API building blocks rather than just packaged applications, companies are able to more rapidly innovate. And then with artificial intelligence, we think that AI is now at a point where most consumers are comfortable having conversations with computers. And so that’s fueling that trend as well.
So, these advancements, we believe, will have the most impact in B2C-type industries, especially the ones that are experiencing the most intense competition and where improving the customer experience is critical to retaining customers.
I’d say, for example, industries that are being disrupted by the digital natives, such as financial services, transportation, travel and hospitality, and retail, to start, these companies need to defend their customers from the digital natives that are disrupting them. But over time, we see every industry adopting these same trends.
GK: Thanks for that overview, Francisco. So let’s dig a little more deeply into each of the trends that you identified. And I’ll switch over to you, Roland, and ask for you to just describe in a little more detail what contextual communications are.
RS: Sure. So probably the best thing to do would be to start with kind of a formal definition of contextual communication. And so quite a long-winded one would be something like contextual communication is the bidirectional transfer of information between two parties where both parties are aware of the relational, environmental, and cultural context of the exchange. And that’s kind of a very formal definition. But if you wanted to distill that down into something, it’s really about both sides actually knowing what the conversation is about.
For instance, if you got a call from somebody, and the CLI was blocked the identity of the call was blocked, it said “unknown,” there would be no context to that information. And so you’d say, “Hello. Like, who’s talking? What do you want?” And all of those questions kind of allude to building a context around the conversation.
But if you received a phone call, for example, from somebody within your address book, say, from your friend, like John’s phoning you, you kind of know what that’s about. So there’s a bit of extra context in there, but you wouldn’t actually know what John wanted to speak to you about.
And if we kind of extrapolate that further and thinking of customer interactions, if we start making calls from within apps and people on the other side who are supporting those calls know that, for instance, somebody is calling from within an app, they know who’s calling and why they’re calling. So that’s kind of a super overview of the continuum of context within a conversation.
GK: And you sort of alluded to this towards the end of your answer, but thinking about that within the context of customer engagement, if I’m from a brand and I want to have a conversation with my customer, what does that look like just in terms of a use case or scenario?
RS: Sure. So just a little bit on that question, if we think about two forms of communication or at least the way in which they’re used, we think of comms as core. And by comms as core, I mean really the companies like Viber, WhatsApp, Skype, where, for instance, I would just call Glen or Francisco, and we’d have a general conversation just like we would on a normal telephone network. There’s not much context around that. Whereas, if, for instance, we start talking about companies that use what we call comms as a feature, we’re really talking about things like sharing economy or symmetrical marketplaces, I guess companies like Airbnb or Uber, where comms is really a feature within the application itself.
And so if I’m a driver in Uber and Glen’s a passenger and Glen is trying to get a hold of me to find out where I am and I receive a call, there’s a lot of context around that conversation already within that app, right? I’ll know that Glen is a rider. I’ll know that he’s booked. I’ll have his rough location. And we’ll be able to have an immediate conversation around the context of what we’re trying to achieve, which in this case would be ride-sharing. So I think that’s how contextual communications is gonna evolve certainly from a comms as feature point of view.
GK: Talk a little bit more about the technology that would need to be there to enable this. So we’ve talked, I think, at a pretty high level, which gives great context. What has to be there under the covers to make this work?
RS: Sure. And so if we go back to pre-internet days, I guess the main technologies that we’re all used to were normal telephone calls, right? We used to call each other on what’s commonly referred to as the PSTN, the public switched telephone network. But these new… kind of the whole app economy has brought quite a few new technologies that, for instance, we’ve been using within this call, right? And one of those technologies is a technology called WebRTC, where the RTC bit stands for real-time communication.
And these technologies are a group of protocols and codecs and technologies based predominantly around IP communications. And so you’re able to have very high-quality, very high-definition video, very high-quality audio—higher quality than the PSTN itself due to the technology involved. And these are now being rolled out for various platforms, available for various platforms mainly around iOS, Android, and on the web. So, for instance, the conversation we’re having now on this broadcast is really around WebRTC that we can use to speak to each other over great distances, obviously, over IP.
“it’s really kind of a democratization of high-quality communications that are now enabling these quite exciting use cases.”
And so these technologies have really brought down the barrier to entry to what’s traditionally, 5-10 years ago, would have been really high-end broadcast quality, really expensive communication products. So it’s really kind of a democratization of high-quality communications that are now enabling these quite exciting use cases.
GK: I want to transition to another trend that seems closely related to what you’ve been talking about, and that’s omnichannel conversations.
RS: Sure. So take a step back and think of just, like, a single-channel retail experience. People used to go earn their money and then go to the high streets and go to a shop and buy stuff and leave, right? And then as society evolved, we started having more and more channels where potentially we had multichannel environments where you could go and buy things in a brick-and-mortar store, but you could also have a web presence.
And an omnichannel is really any customer contact point that you could really think of. So it could be bricks-and-mortar, online, TV, mobile. And if you think of a customer user journey, there are now multiple—kind of omni—points of customer contact. Someone could be having a conversation with somebody on WhatsApp discussing…let’s say they’re buying a pair of jeans, talking about some jeans. They might Google it on their phone on the way to the shop. They might go to the shop and actually have a look. They might use an app from the store to maybe make a purchase decision. And they might at some point on the web wanna return those products. So we have this whole kind of omnichannel customer contact experience.
“if you think of a customer user journey, there are now multiple—kind of omni—points of customer contact.”
An example I’ve given you now for retail, but I guess it pertains to service sector type products as well. And what is really useful is technologies that allow the retailers to have a consistent view of the customer along that journey.
We’ve all experienced, for instance, when, let’s say, we’ve gone into our bank and we’ve spoken to them about our account or something like that, and then a couple of days later, we’ve called them and tried to discuss the same problem that we’re having. And we have to recreate that context again. We have to say who we are. We have to give all these weird password hints, authenticate ourselves. And that is a negative user experience having to recreate through all these omnichannels, recreate that context of who we are and what we’re trying to do.
So what would be great is if we could start to see products where, regardless of the channel that we interact with brands and service sectors, that the context is always easily replicable. And we don’t have to recreate. We don’t have to get into what we call these context recreation loops. And if we can achieve that, I think this really leads to much higher engagement, better user experience, and overall better customer engagement.
“We don’t have to get into what we call these context recreation loops.”
GK: And I know a scenario that a colleague of ours had described that really made it clear to me was the idea of a business traveler who has some rewards program, because they travel frequently, but that rewards program ties in flights, and it ties in hotel. It ties in a number of different services. And, like you said, the touch points for all those services are on the phone. They’re directly in person. And if the company that offers that rewards program could have a single view of that customer in all of those touch points and provide the appropriate context each time they go to the car rental place or whatnot, the user experience would be so much better. And I think you’re completely right about the engagement of that user.
RS: Exactly. And that’s what we try to build at Nexmo, right? We’re very focused on this whole concept of contextual communication. We’re working very hard on building contextually aware APIs right now. And the interesting thing in this, there’s kind of an anthropological reason for this, right? So whenever we interact with a brand who seems to know what we’re trying to achieve or who recognizes us, there’s what we call these kind of dopamine events that occur. So there’s actually quite a biological reason why these things are successful.
“We’re working very hard on building contextually aware APIs right now.”
GK: I think I’ve experienced the antithesis of that.
RS: It works both ways, so…
GK: All right, so the other trend, and Francisco, I’m gonna return to you, this is the final trend, was the human plus conversations. And you explained up front about what it is, but maybe just dig a little bit deeper into how maybe a human agent in that scenario can tap into an AI service and become more productive with that kind of access.
FK: Yeah. I mean, the idea with human plus, as I mentioned earlier, is that artificial intelligence can be used to augment the capabilities of human agents, not replacement. So we’re all familiar in the past with the traditional use of machines to automate highly repetitive interactions, especially within a contact center, right? So in the past, if we wanted to check our balance, our bank balance, we would have to wait in queue, then finally talk to an agent, and then, finally, find out what our balance is, after probably a lengthy conversation to figure out who I am and why I’m calling, right?
“artificial intelligence can be used to augment the capabilities of human agents”
And so, we’ve seen things like IVR in the past automate those kinds of very repetitive, mundane type of interactions. And so machines have already automated those kinds of capabilities. What we see with human plus now is the ability of machines to help not only automate more complex interactions that are maybe not repetitive in nature, that require more cognitive ability, but also help the agent solve those highly complex problems that come up occasionally in a contact center.
So let’s see. As an example, let’s say that you’re talking to an agent. And then an AI bot is magically listening into the conversation. And you get to the point where the agent doesn’t have an answer or doesn’t have all the context for the conversation or for the question that the caller is asking about. And you can imagine the AI bot quickly doing a query behind the scene and then popping up information on the agent’s screen so that the agent can guide the user through the answer to his or her problems, right? And this will all be done without the user really realizing that there was an AI bot behind the scenes helping this agent.
Another example that you might imagine in a contact center is sentiment analysis. So imagine again this AI bot magically listening to a conversation where I as a customer may be calling my bank, and, for whatever reason, I’m upset about what happened, trying to get a fee overwritten or something like that. I’m getting upset. Then the AI bot behind the scenes can detect the fact that I’m upset and automatically notify a supervisor. A supervisor can then quietly be conferenced into the call and then, behind the scenes, help the agent so that the agent in the end provides a good experience for the consumer.
So the bot is working behind the scenes, just analyzing what’s going on with the call, and, if necessary, taking action, whether it’s providing information on a screen or conferencing in someone else, maybe even taking notes or transcribing a call for future analysis.
“the bot is working behind the scenes, just analyzing what’s going on with the call, and, if necessary, taking action”
GK: I’m asking for these use cases and scenarios. And they all sound great. But it’s also, I think, worth pointing out, and, Roland, maybe you can say a little more about this, that in an API economy, really the brand or the business is armed with the API calls to deliver these different kinds of communications messages, but they can build anything they can think of on top of that.
RS: It’s a strategy that we’ve taken at Nexmo, right? So, for instance, when we launched our WebSocket endpoints for a voice API, it really allowed us to…well, and our customers as well…to leverage all the best in class AI products out there, things like IBM Watson, which we did a great integration with the Intu project. And I think as long as you get access, voice is such a natural interface. It’s probably, obviously, the most natural way that human beings connect with each other.
So just alluding to the stuff Francisco is saying, there’s countless use cases where we could leverage, or our customers could leverage, best-in-class AI engines. And as neural networks and as AI technology progresses, I think we’re gonna see some really great things, like real-time translations. So you’ll be able to do… phone any store in the world, regardless of what language they speak.
“as neural networks and as AI technology progresses, I think we’re gonna see some really great things”
In fact, Vonage has a kind of proof of concept application that does that already, where it’s almost like a real-time Babel type product where you could speak to people in different languages. And you get in the background, like, a third person saying the translation. I think it really opens up the scope for, as we mentioned earlier, augmenting existing human interactions. It really allows small organizations to scale very large.
As Francisco talked about earlier, you won’t even know when the transition has happened between, say, an AI chat bot, where you’re asking about certain products. And it becomes a point where it transitions to a human operator, which will really help to triage and scale their…in the case of like, say, a support infrastructure, really scale beyond what traditionally they would be able to offer from just pure human basis, so really exciting stuff.
GK: So what I’d like to close with is let’s say I manage a product that makes contact with our customers or the head of digital experience at Company XYZ. And these trends sound like something I really need to leverage for my own products in reaching out to my own customers. So I’d just like to get from either one of you, whoever wants to start first, what are the considerations from a business aspect that decision-makers on the business side need to think about if they want to harness these trends?
RS: I’ll jump in. So I’ll start with what I’ve just said in terms of if I have, for instance, a scaling-type issue, what technologies can exist where I don’t just have to add more agents and, therefore, increase my cost base? I think there are really intelligent things we can do now on the cognitive computing side of things. And I would just say really focus on how I can delight my customers by the examples that we gave earlier, maintaining context between the interactions at the various touch points between my brand and my consumers. I think those kind of problems are really addressable now with the kind of technologies that we’ve been speaking about. And, ultimately, that’s really gonna lead to high customer engagement and higher customer satisfaction.
“I think there are really intelligent things we can do now on the cognitive computing side of things. And I would just say really focus on how I can delight my customers”
So cognitive commerce is a really big topic to look at now. Contextual communication is another, obviously, one we’re mainly focusing on in this call. I think those two areas certainly would be something people should be looking at.
FK: I’d like to add a couple of comments to that, Glen. So I would say in terms of advice for especially the large enterprises that feel like they’re under threat by new digital natives, the digital natives have the advantage that they’re starting from scratch. And they don’t have much of anything in terms of legacy. So they have all built their customer engagement platforms all based on API building blocks.
So the advice for the larger enterprises is to start experimenting with API building blocks and start small. So every company already has interaction with a number of channels, primarily voice and probably email. So start with one new channel. And the next channel that you add, maybe it’s a social interface to WeChat or to Facebook Messenger or to LINE. Rather than deploy a packaged application, as you may have done in the past, experiment with building blocks, API building blocks, for that one interaction channel.
“the advice for the larger enterprises is to start experimenting with API building blocks and start small.”
And as you gain more experience, you can then, over time, begin to innovate around the existing layers of channels, whether it be IVR or the customer service desktop as well, so that you can then integrate all the interactions in an omnichannel way so that you can retain context across all the conversations in a way that’s supported with AI bots. But don’t try to solve the entire problem all at once. I would say start small and then expand from there.
After you’ve chosen a solution that will help your business meets its goals, all that stands between you and those desired results is implementation. Depending on the solution you choose and the provider’s commitment to customer onboarding, that implementation can range from a seamless deployment path to a painful process mired in complexity and missed expectations.
If ease of implementation wasn’t a key criterion in your selection process, it quickly becomes one when go-live dates keep getting pushed back and you start obsessing about the opportunity cost of easier solutions you could have purchased. All those value-added features won’t do you much good if you have to wait months to actually launch them into production.
That’s why we’re so proud that our customers have rated Nexmo, the Vonage API Platform, as a leader in ease of setup, implementation time, and user adoption. G2 Crowd, the leading B2B software rating service, has just released its Spring 2019 Grid Report, an aggregate rating of user satisfaction based on submitted reviews. In the Cloud Communication Platforms category, Nexmo emerged as the “Most Implementable” product (see full Implementation Index report).
What Does “Most Implementable” Mean?
Imagine splurging on a slick new convertible in the spring, but you have to wait for one in your color to be shipped. The summer months come and go but you can only dream of long drives with the top down and warm sunshine on your face. The vehicle finally arrives just as the first cold snap of the fall rolls in. Yes, there will be other summers in which to enjoy your new car, but how frustrating was that wait?
The same is true for software deployments in your business. Suppose that convertible is a communications API platform and those summer drives are the differentiating engagement and support features you’re going to build into your customer experience (CX). While you’re waiting for your deployment, competitors could beat you to market with CX enhancements of their own and win away customers in the process. Everyone knows how important customer experience is to differentiating a brand and maintaining its competitive advantage. There’s no time to wait through a prolonged implementation process. The stakes are too high in the current digital landscape.
Being rated “Most Implementable” means businesses got their customer experience enhancements to market faster with Nexmo than with other platforms. The G2Crowd user rating data put numbers to the accolade:
One in every five Nexmo users went live in less than a day.
60 percent were able to go live in less than a month.
The rest got their deployments in production within six months.
The overall average deployment time was just one month.
Here are some executives sharing their deployment experiences and the results they achieved with Nexmo in their own words.
Aramex, a global logistics and transportation services provider, needed to integrate the WhatsApp Business solution into its “last mile” communications with customers. They chose Nexmo’s Messages API to access the WhatsApp channel. Chief Digital Officer Mohammed Sleeq explains how speed to market drove their selection and led to strategic results with Nexmo.
Mohammed Sleeq, Chief Digital Officer
Logistics Giant Aramex Innovates Their Last Mile Delivery with Nexmo APIs - YouTube
When Asia Law Network began to expand its Quick Consult service to users outside its base in Singapore, the company chose Nexmo to enable high-quality, stable voice and SMS communications. Founder and CEO Cherilyn Tan recalls how quickly they were able to deploy the Nexmo Voice and SMS APIs, fueling their growth.
Cherilyn Tan, founder and CEO of Asia Law Network
Asia Law Network Presents a Clear Case for Using Nexmo Voice and SMS APIs - YouTube
Also utilizing the Nexmo SMS and Voice APIs, the JustPark app allows users to reserve parking from the company’s marketplace of available inventory. JustPark became a Nexmo customer after switching from another communications platform provider. Founder and CEO Anthony Eskinazi explains what stands out about Nexmo to convince him his company made the right decision.
JustPark Founder and CEO Anthony Eskinazi
JustPark Chooses Nexmo to Help Customers Find the Perfect Parking Place - YouTube
Remitly, the largest independent digital remittance company in the U.S., uses two-factor authentication with the Nexmo SMS API to safeguard against fraud and suspicious activity. With fraudulent transactions resulting in both monetary losses and a risk to customer trust, Remitly needed a solution quickly. Director of Product Nick Moiseff details how Nexmo met their need for speed.
Nick Moiseff, Director of Product at Remitly
Remitly Creates a Secure Service for International Money Transfer with Nexmo - YouTube
As a financial services company with a global user base, Remitly also has regulatory considerations to tackle in every region where they operate. Product Manager Eric Rimbey explains how Nexmo’s handling of those requirements allows Remitly to focus on its core product and growth.
Eric Rimbey, Product Manager
Remitly Creates a Secure Service for International Money Transfer with Nexmo - YouTube
Working to Make Nexmo the Easy Choice
As much as we advocate for businesses to invest in their customer experiences, it’s particularly gratifying to receive this recognition of our own customer experience from the people we serve. After a customer has chosen Nexmo, the last thing we want them to do is wait to build something great.
If you’re ready to elevate your customer experience with real-time communications—and get those enhancements to market quickly, talk to our platform experts.
Forward-thinking companies stay on the pulse of evolving consumer demand—especially when it comes to communication preferences.
They tune into how—and where—their customers interact and meet them on those channels. Because they know that soon enough customers will expect to engage with businesses on those channels, too. And if they don’t, customers will simply look elsewhere.
Is Your Business Ready for the Next Big Customer Communication Channel?
In our consumer report—Video Chatterbox Nation—TokBox (now a part of Nexmo, the Vonage API platform) examines one of the fastest-growing communication trends: consumer-to-business video chat.
Our data team has analyzed six years of consumer research into live video usage, together with video calling data from hundreds of business customers, to uncover the state of live video communications yesterday, today, and tomorrow.
What we found will help you better understand consumer demand for live video in your industry, so you don’t miss an opportunity to engage your customers on this rising channel.
. . . . . . .
Every second across the world, millions of people spend billions of minutes video chatting with friends and family. What started as a way to wish grandma a happy birthday has evolved into an everyday method of communication inside everyone’s pocket.
Today 1 in 3 people video chat once a week
People use video chat to plan family vacations, share moments from afar, be there for special occasions when we can’t be there in person, or get things done by using video to show someone what we’re looking at.
Millennials and Gen Z, who are more comfortable in front of the camera than any other generation, are using video chat to simply hang out with friends on-screen face-to-face. For these two enormously powerful demographics, video chat is the norm.
Today 1 in 4 millennials video chat every day
With video calling now available in every major social and messaging app, plus huge improvements in the speed and quality of connections, video chat is fast becoming an equal channel to the phone call. The findings in Video Chatterbox Nation tell the same story.
What Does This Mean for Business?
What began as a popular way to connect socially, has naturally spread into the business world. Now consumers want to video chat, not just with friends and family, but businesses and brands too.
Nearly 1 in 3 Americans video chat with a business, brand or service provider— a 3x leap in 3 years.
The steady growth of consumer-to-business live video throughout the years suggests video chat will be a lasting phenomenon. Is your customer communication strategy ready?
Why Do Your Customers Want to Video Chat?
Our research shows that people choose to video chat because it creates a more personal experience compared to other channels.
In a world where businesses are continually looking for ways to differentiate themselves, this presents a huge opportunity to create highly personalized customer experiences (and reimagine entirely new ones) with live video.
How Can You Innovate with Live Video in Your Industry?
Whether to enable more intimate connections with customers, empower remote learners to interact with teachers, or to connect patients with doctors, the number of applications for live video is virtually unlimited.
Here is a look at just some of the ways consumers are already using live video chat with businesses, and what future demand looks like:
1 in 4 people already use live video to chat with a doctor about a non-emergency condition
1 in 3 people say they want to use live video to speak with a tutor remotely, such as through a language learning app
1 in 3 people say they would like to use live video to chat with a banking advisor about a financial product such as a personal loan or mortgage
Is Your Industry Meeting Consumer Demand for Live Video Chat?
As video communications mature, it is inevitable that consumer appetites evolve at different rates for different types of services.
This can make it difficult for companies to decide if and when to invest in video communications services, to ensure they are not investing in solutions consumers don’t want whilst also not falling behind competitors.
To help guide businesses’ approach to adopting live video, Video Chatterbox Nation provides an interactive map that highlights the relationship between consumer demand and industry delivery across 10 key verticals.
Start Building with Live Video
It’s now easier than ever to build with live video. Whether you want to add video chat to your existing customer engagement channels, or build a new service from the ground up, you can embed interactive video into your web and mobile apps with our live video APIs.
Chatterbox Nation is a series of posts where Nexmo will explore how consumers are using live video chat across several key industries including healthcare, financial services, and education.
Over the coming five years, augmented reality (AR) will profoundly change how businesses and their customers communicate. In this post, we look at what AR means for customer communication, with a view to helping you make sure that your business is ready.
First up, what is augmented reality?
What is Augmented Reality?
Augmented reality takes live video and combines it with data to make something more useful than either would be on its own.
One popular application of augmented reality is flight tracking. Using a smartphone, many flight tracking apps let the user point the phone’s camera at a plane in the sky.
On the phone’s screen, rather than showing just the tiny dot of an aircraft, the app uses GPS, the phone’s compass, and publicly available flight data to attach a flight number to the image of the real plane.
That’s great for answering idle thoughts about where a plane is headed but what about more serious uses? And how does it apply to customer communication?
AR is the Next Step in a Rapid Evolution
Customer communication is evolving at a rapid rate. It has become conversational, rather than transactional. It takes place wherever the customer happens to be: WhatsApp, live video, SMS, voice, and more. AIs are beginning to supplement human agents and, in some cases, can handle simple queries from end to end.
Yet as businesses do more to communicate effectively with customers, so those same customers are showing an increasing preference for self-service. This is not the contradiction it might seem at first.
Omnichannel, conversational, virtual assistants, live video, over the top messaging, augmented reality, and self-service are all paths towards the same customer communication future. In that future, how customers use products and services will be part of an ongoing conversation driven by the customer interacting directly with the provider’s systems, supplemented by human help where needed. As customers interact in a more intimate and direct way with companies, AR is a channel for making otherwise abstract things –– such as data –– real in a person’s life
If you’re new to AR and want to review the fundamentals, take a look at our briefing on the subject. Then come back here as we look at the role AR will play in customer communication.
Where AR Fits into Customer Communication
The key priorities of executives who have responsibility for customer communication have not changed in a long time: improve customer satisfaction, increase revenue per customer, reduce churn, reduce costs
Let’s look at how augmented reality can help improve customer satisfaction and increase revenue.
How AR Can Improve Customer Satisfaction
Writing in the MIT Sloan Management Review, three academics identify six factors necessary to customer satisfaction:
Adaptability: tailoring the offering to the specific needs and desires of the customer
Commitment to the customer: resolving customer issues quickly and, crucially, in a way the customer prefers
Connection with other customers: whether it’s simply the ability to leave a review or something more involved, such as a fan community, customers have shown they want to engage with other customers
Product assortment: finding the sweet spot between too much choice and too little
Easy transactions: removing as much friction as possible from the buying process
Appealing environment: giving customers an experience that is appropriate to the brand and that leaves them feeling good about their relationship with the company.
Now, thinking of AR as a way to bring virtual things into the real world, its role in these six factors becomes clear.
Take adaptability in healthcare, for example. Imagine a physiotherapy patient who, following a shoulder operation, needs to practice certain exercises in order to regain normal movement.
An AR-enabled smartphone app could use accelerometer data to track the patient’s movements and guide them to correct their movements through prompts on the phone screen.
Taking it a step further, this could reduce visits to the physiotherapist’s office. Instead of traipsing across town with a painful shoulder, the patient could livestream video of their exercising to the physiotherapist. Arguably, it might be difficult for the physiotherapist to see the precise movements the patient is making. So, rather than rely only on video, the app could take readings from a smartwatch, or dedicated sensors, and then visualise on the physiotherapist’s app where the patient is going wrong. Not only would the patient then have video to watch later but the physio could coach the patient in real time.
AR, done well, brings the product or service closer to the customer in ways that would have been impossible before. Arguably, it makes some traditional customer communication unnecessary, because it puts the product directly in the hands of the customer.
How AR Can Increase Revenue per Customer
One of the recent themes of customer communication has been to make messaging more personal and more tangible.
Think about how rich media messaging services –– whether MMS, WhatsApp, Viber, Facebook Messenger, or similar –– up the game for promotional communication. They combine three crucials aspects:
images, video, and audio that bring the promotion to life
highly precise targeting
the ability for the customer to respond effortlessly to the promotion in a natural and conversational way.
As good as they are, today’s rich media promotional messages are alive only on the screen. Introduce AR and they enter the real world.
Imagine a promotional message from a travel operator. They’ve opened a new resort on the Mediterranean. Rather than showing only video, what if the message let the customer explore the resort using their smartphone? How much more compelling would such a message be if the customer could place themselves at the destination?
Similarly, furniture companies are already offering customers apps that let them see how an item would look in their homes by placing a 3D model in the live feed from their smartphone.
What You Can Do Today
Augmented reality is here today. Using the OpenTok live video API, available from us here at Nexmo the Vonage API platform, you can already take live video from your customers, augment it with additional imagery and data, and then send it straight back to their devices in near real-time.
While automation and AI are the big customer communication stories of the moment, you should start planning your AR strategy today. Not only are your competitors likely to be doing so, but pretty soon AR will be a baseline requirement for any customer communication strategy.
2019 is the year of automation in customer communication. But what’s coming next?
While you’re developing your strategy around chatbots, virtual assistants, and other forms of automation, you should have one eye on video. And not just straightforward video calling. The next big theme in customer communication will be augmented reality.
In this briefing, we’ll look at the fundamentals of augmented reality—including unpacking the differences between AR, VR, MR, and XR—with a view to understanding their impact on customer communication.
We live in a video-centric world. Television has been the dominant medium of the past half century and now internet-delivered video is taking its place.
According to research by Cisco, video is on course to be 82% of all internet traffic in the next three years. While on-demand television viewing accounts for much of that, 17% is due to be live video streaming, including video-based customer service. AR and VR traffic is predicted to increase twelvefold.
It’s no surprise that video is popular for customer communication. Spoken communication is simply more natural than written communication. We tend to speak at around 150 words per minute, whereas average typing speed is roughly 40 words per minute. Add video to the spoken word and you gain the additional context of facial expressions and body language.
If video is so compelling on its own, why complicate matters?
Think of it like this: video is to customer communication what the internal combustion engine is to transportation. Augmented reality is to video what the freeway, autobahn, and motorway systems are to the car. Gasoline-powered cars work just fine on dirt roads but their true potential is realized only when combined with a well maintained, extensive, and high speed road network.
AR, VR, MR, XR: Initialisms Unpacked
Augmented reality is just one part of what is increasingly becoming known as extended reality (XR). Let’s take a quick look at what each of these means, before diving deeper:
VR: virtual reality is the creation of an immersive experience, often delivered using a headset.
AR: augmented reality adds computer-generated elements to the real environment.
MR: mixed reality combines VR and AR to allow real-world elements to interact with computer-generated elements.
XR: extended reality is an umbrella term to describe each VR, AR, MR, and similar technologies.
So, what do they mean for customer communication?
Augmented Reality (AR)
Augmented reality takes something from the real-world—today, that usually means the camera feed from a smartphone—and adds to it.
You might have seen Pokemon Go. In that game, an animated Pokemon is added to the live video captured by a smartphone’s camera. The player can interact with, and attempt to capture, the Pokemon using the touchscreen on their phone. All the while, the Pokemon is shown in a world that mixes reality with the graphics of the video game.
AR, though, is about more than just overlaying graphics on top of a video image. The potential for augmented reality lies in making data sources seamlessly available in the context of the real world.
Today, much AR is tied to the smartphone but in the next decade dedicated hardware will almost certainly fill the gaps where a smartphone would be impractical. Right now, you might be remembering Google Glass and, sure, it looked silly and it didn’t quite find a killer application, but the next generation of that device could make augmented reality an everyday part of life.
Back to the near future, how could AR impact customer communication in the next couple of years?
Bridging Knowledge Gaps
Google Translate uses a smartphone camera to translate written text from one language to another, with varying rates of success. Now, imagine how that could improve the service you deliver to your customers.
What if parcel delivery drivers could see an image of the consignment simply by pointing their phone camera at the package? Finding the right package amongst hundreds of others in the back of their van might take much less time if the app could also home in on the package they’re looking for.
How about an app that overlaid the actual use of all those buttons on your TV remote?
AR unlocks knowledge that is otherwise hidden. That makes it easier for your team to deliver your product and for your customers to make the most of it.
Supplementing the Imagination
Ikea’s Place app already lets customers see how an item of furniture would look in a particular room by placing a to-scale 3D model within the image captured by their smartphone.
The next step for such an app could also play back how the room would sound after the furniture were installed. A large wooden closet might add too much echo, for example, to an otherwise acoustically dead room.
Now imagine combining AR with a video API, such as OpenTok, to enable your contact center agents to see and manipulate the combined image.
Augmented reality can help drive prospects through your sales funnel by showing them the impact of buying your product with little effort on either their or your side.
Virtual Reality (VR)
Much of the momentum behind virtual reality has come from the gaming world; you’ve probably seen the PlayStation VR or Oculus Rift headsets. But how does virtual reality differ from augmented reality? And what could it mean for customer communication?
Whereas AR combines reality with computer generated enhancements, virtual reality creates a fully artificial experience. Usually delivered through a headset, VR allows a person to interact with the virtual environment by monitoring their movements through gyroscopes in the headset and specially adapted clothing, such as gloves.
The immediate benefits for customer communication are not as clear as with AR. Perhaps a human or AI contact center agent could meet with customers in a virtual world but, beyond it being a fun gimmick, current technology would make the experience clunky at best. And what would the benefit be over, say, a straightforward video call?
In fact, video calling offers a good analogue for VR. It’s easy to forget now that video calling was the next big thing from the 1950s onwards. Every few years, a new video telephone would appear, including 1992’s Videophone 2500 from AT&T. Native 3G calling in the early 2000s was similarly a flop due to high per minute charges. Video calling took off only when broadband and webcams allowed for high quality at a low price.
The need for expensive and rare hardware means that virtual reality is far from universally available. However, VR’s strength lies in its ability to create entirely artificial environments. While the applications for customer communication are not immediately clear, virtual reality could play a big part in training over the coming decade.
Mixed Reality (MR)
As the name suggests, mixed reality combines both AR and VR. How much more compelling would virtual reality be for commercial use cases if it allowed people to also interact with the real world?
The head-up displays becoming available in luxury cars hint at the potential. Today they’re a form of augmented reality that overlays current speed, navigation, and similar information onto the windshield. The mixed reality equivalent might let you tap a parking space up ahead and have the car autopark itself right there.
For customer communication, mixed reality offers intriguing possibilities. What if in a lesson on motor mechanics a student could use real tools to interact with a virtual representation of an engine? The impact on learning would be so much more compelling than with virtual tools and much cheaper than tinkering with a real engine.
Delivering Enhanced Customer Communication
The developments of the past 15 years have stretched what we once would have thought of as customer communication. Today, organizations are delivering enhanced customer communication through AI, self-service, and over-the-top messaging.
The common theme of all that progress has been that the key to customer happiness is to meet customers where they are. That can mean engaging through WhatsApp, SMS, voice calls, or web chat. In the very near future, it will also mean delivering a richer communication experience through augmented reality. And, when the technology catches-up, we’ll see both VR and MR take their place.
Today, the focus for most business is on automation through chatbots, voice assistants, and similar tools. However, augmented reality is the next big theme in customer communication. Making sense now of how AR could impact your product line-up and customer communication will see you already ahead of your competition.
Filling out forms can be stressful. There’s even a social media term for it: formophobia.
But, for most people, it’s unavoidable. Taxes, financial applications, healthcare all require that we concentrate hard and answer questions on subjects most of us have barely a passing acquaintance with.
Perhaps the worst part is feeling alone, lost in unfamiliar terminology, and knowing that a seemingly small mistake can have dire consequences.
Thankfully, the form fillers of the world are not alone! If you need your customers to provide detailed and, let’s face it, often arcane information, then it is now easier and cheaper than ever to give them the help they need.
Applying for a Mortgage Piles Stress upon Stress
Put yourself in the shoes of someone looking to purchase a home. Moving is nerve-wracking. It’s that rare combination of hopes, dreams, and bureaucracy.
So, no wonder that a quarter of mortgage applicants find even the application process stressful. Mortgage applications give us a glimpse into what’s wrong with so many similar paperwork situations:
there’s an imbalance of knowledge: the mortgage applicant can’t even be sure what they don’t know
terminology is unfamiliar
lack of knowledge lets the imagination inflate the potential consequences of an error: could it mean losing the dream home or even a downgraded credit score?
Filing taxes is even worse; tax collection authorities the world over are rarely known for their easygoing attitudes.
Perhaps one solution would be to sit down with each customer and coach them as they gather and provide the information needed. But, in the age of self-service apps, that would be impractical and unaffordable for most products.
There is, however, another way. Artificial intelligence techniques delivered through voice assistants and chatbots could provide 80% of the help that most people need. And for the rest? A video or voice call with a human expert would answer the questions that AI cannot and reassure those people who are not yet comfortable with AI. Let’s look at how that might work.
AI is an Inexpensive Way to Help Customers
Alejandra needs a mortgage for her new apartment.
She uses comparison sites to get started but knows that can’t give her the full picture. For one, she’s worried that she doesn’t have enough knowledge to tell a superficially good deal from a bad one. But there’s also the problem of not being sure if a comparison site is working to help her or to maximize its commissions.
She considers hiring a broker but again there’s always the question of whether they really work for her or for the lender.
Then she spots a new service called Mortgage Buddy. It’s an app that does the job of a mortgage broker but for just a small fee. And it doesn’t just help find the right mortgage but it promises to make the entire process as easy as possible.
The Mortgage Buddy app starts by asking Alejandra a few details about herself and the place she wants to buy. She’s surprised at how little it needs to know; at first, just some basic details. Almost straight away, it comes back with some details for her to confirm.
Next, the app asks to connect to Alejandra’s bank account, her tax software, and her realtor’s app. After a few seconds, Mortgage Buddy presents her with the best mortgage it can find for her circumstances.
It looks good but Alejandra is unsure. There’s a call button on the screen. She presses it and within a few minutes she’s in a video call with a human mortgage advisor. They talk through the offer and, based on some additional information Alejandra provided, there was an even better deal available.
Alejandra feels reassured by the friendly face and she says she’ll go ahead.
Later than night, Alejandra remembers a question she forgot to ask. She opens the app and finds she can chat with the service via WhatsApp. She asks her question and the reply comes back a few seconds later.
It’s the same story throughout the entire process. The app prompts Alejandra when it needs her input. When she’s not sure, she asks a question in WhatsApp. When she’s really not sure, it’s easy to speak to a friendly face in a video call.
Some things don’t change, though, and there’s still a paper form to complete. Alejandra asks the app for help. As the broker, the app has a copy of the form and talks her through each part using her phone’s loudspeaker. There’s one question the app can’t help with and so it connects Alejandra to a human who can help.
Not long after, Alejandra moves into her new apartment.
Data, AI, and APIs
So, how could an app like Mortgage Buddy work? Gathering publicly available data about Alejandra and the apartment would be relatively easy. Diving deeper into her bank accounts and so on would be a matter of using her providers’ APIs, with Alejandra’s consent.
Finding the right deal would almost be the easy part. With so much data, the app could make the same searches as a human broker. The difference is that an app like Mortgage Buddy could use machine learning to put customers into different profiles and then see which profiles are best suited to which mortgage products.
From there, it’s all about communication. The truth is, AI and service can go only so far. When Alejandra needed it, the app was able to use an API like OpenTok to connect her face to face with an expert.
Later, when she had follow-up questions the app used a product like Nexmo’s Messages API to tie its customer management system into WhatsApp. And at no point was it clear to Alejandra whether her WhatsApp messages were answered by a human or a chatbot.
Finally, when completing the form, the app used a Web RTC connection to conduct a voice call with the app’s voice assistant and, later, connected Alejandra to a human using a product such as Nexmo’s Voice API.
You Could Build This Today
Almost everything described in Alejandra’s story is available today. The Royal Bank of Scotland uses video calls, via OpenTok, to connect account managers with its private banking customers.
Airlines, parcel companies, and ride-sharing providers all use Nexmo’s messaging and voice APIs to connect customers to both chatbots and human agents.
It’s clear that we’re moving to a world where self-service, supported by AI, is the norm. But that won’t replace human interaction. Instead, human interaction will be reserved for those times when it really makes the difference. In those situations, your customer communication infrastructure needs to be ready to go on time, every time.