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Can Voice Analytics Stem the Customer Satisfaction Skid?

Big data, in the form of speech analytics, is revolutionizing the way customer service is delivered. Can it jump-start stagnant customer satisfaction levels as well?

I'll admit it. As predictions go, mine wasn't as bold as the ones that foresaw flying cars, the end of the world or even that spam (the digital variety) would soon be eradicated from the earth.

But unlike those not-so-prescient prognostications, my prediction actually came true.

Several years ago I forecasted that corporate contact centers would soon dive headlong into "big data" to provide a better, more personalized customer service experience. Lo and behold, contact centers have spent the past several years embracing all that the digital revolution offers, digitizing and aggregating every customer interaction done by phone, social media, email, IM or even in person. This provides them a robust, fully referenceable, 360-degree view of every customer.

Now they're plunging even deeper into big data. Contact centers are using speech analytics - the process of digitally analyzing interactions between customers and agents - to take their products, processes and customer service efforts to another level. While speech analytics has been around for more than a decade, recent advancements in digitalization, machine learning, and artificial intelligence have made it amazingly powerful, enabling contact centers to transform collected data into eye-opening, real-time insights.

When digitalizing the conversation and comparing key-indicators against an exhaustive database, a company can forecast if a customer call is headed in the right direction or starting to go off the rails. It can evaluate the pitch and tone of a customer's voice against predetermined benchmarks to determine if they are satisfied or becoming upset or frustrated. Or by evaluating pauses, silence or crosstalk, the organization can determine how successfully the agent is answering a question or resolving an issue.

The Secret Is Out

The implications on customer service and beyond are enormous, and the secret is out. From a couple dozen companies using a primitive form of speech analytics in 2003, the market for this technology exploded to more than 3.5 million businesses in 2015 and has been growing at a double-digit rate in the years since.

This embrace of big data comes at an opportune time, not just for organizations that utilize contact centers, but also for the economy in general. The American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI), which measures customer satisfaction across the United States, has remained stuck at 76.7% for more than a year. While that's just a fraction of a point below its all-time high, it's the longest stretch of stagnation since ACSI began in 1994. Sure, it may be tempting to think "Flat is better than down." But the truth is, changes in aggregate customer satisfaction are a good predictor of future consumer spending. So a stagnant national ACSI score is a troubling sign for the economy because it assumes average economic growth at best.

Pointing the Needle North Again

Can voice analytics help move the customer satisfaction rate? I wouldn't bet against it. By using big data-based voice analytics properly, organizations now have the insights to overcome the biggest issues that affect today's customer service efforts. They can readily identify common issues that typically prompt customer calls, resolve more problems on the first contact, shorten call-handling times and even improve the quality of their product and service offerings.

And that's just the beginning, I'm sure. If they aren't already, speech analytics and AI together will enable contact centers to instantly analyze customer conversations and provide real-time prompts on how to best handle calls. For instance, if the system picks up cues that an agent is struggling or a customer is becoming disgruntled, it may prompt the agent to transfer the call to a more-knowledgeable agent or supervisor. Alternatively, if the system determines that a customer seems amenable to additional products or services, it can provide the agent with a menu of cross-sell or upsell opportunities and even a suggested sales script.

All this means the improved customer experience I predicted and, perhaps, a much-needed jolt to the ACSI score and economy in general.

Is it a sure thing? I'm not going to go out on a limb, but you can bet I'll be watching closely.

Topics: Customer Experience, Director