It's a difficult one, isn't it...
...choosing between speaking to a (hopefully) fully-functioning human person who might be located anywhere in the world and whose accent might be a tad challenging, or 'interacting' with a disconnected website or voice, whose design or accent accordingly might also be challenging, giving you a wide range of options that may or may not eventually lead you to your personal holy grail.
We're talking about call centres versus self-service portals (web or voice-based) - and which do you prefer? Or is it a case of both working in perfect harmony (I'd like to teach the web to sing)? Avaya and BT have just published a report "The Autonomous Customer" which shows that a massive 90% of smart-phone owners (yes, that's YOU) still expect to use call centres in the future. Meanwhile 56% of those surveyed think the subjects of their calls are becoming more complicated as the majority (81%) do their initial engagement with organisations online (unless you're from Wakefield like my mum and dad).
Chatting with Avaya's BT Account Manager, Gary Bennett, what became clear is that there is work to do in consolidating the two experiences. As Gary pointed out through personal experience, what starts off as an interactive session with the 'net can often now lead to a human voice at the end: "click here to speak to someone" but - as in his experience - if that person now on the end of the line has no view of, or access to, all the stuff you've just been doing online to this point (such as filling endless forms until you come to a question you cannot answer) then you're back to square one. Great...
Interesting here is, what is the starting point now for a bit of investigative, er, ness, whether just looking for the best online insurance quote for your 5-wheel drive BMW X-Factor or how to resolve a problem with your toaster? Often, something like Facebook, or some public forum (or against-um) is now the starting point. Equally, as discussed with Gary, Twitter is often the first voice of discontent now, so companies need to keep tabs on what their (ex?) customers are tweeting about (so it's not only football managers who need to worry).
So what we are looking at here is a clear case of disconnectedness (would score great on Countdown were it not too long) between company and customer, analog and digital if you like, which is precisely what the aforementioned report indicates in so much as, when it comes to managing these queries, many organisations are still falling far short of the desired mark. Despite 86% of consumers saying a good experience on the phone will make them more loyal, 69% said they also felt that the 'agent' at the other end of the line tried to rush their calls to an early (and presumably unsatisfactory) conclusion.
What's this - an implication that people working in call centres don't really want to do that job (ask my son: two weeks at a call centre achieving absolutely zero success, other than a second spell of unemployment at the end of said period)? What's really funny though - to me anyway - is that 90% of consumers said that the "human" in the call centre suggested that they might be better off trying the website... Eee - you've got to laugh (or at least be in IT for the long term).
So where does Avaya come into all this? Gary Bennett made the point that the customer now decides which of the various communication channels they wish to use to pursue their business, such as getting car insurance, so said insurance company has to be prepared to support all the communications channels available AND be aware of what the potential customer's activity has been to date. Unified communications, in other words... that'll be the one that I was testing with (RIP) Nortel back in the '90's then. Yes, it was way ahead of its time then (the system even did regional accents) but it's bang on the money for right now.