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Virtually Speaking

Why Automated Self Service Sucks

Posted by Sam Fleming on Dec 20, 2012 1:16:25 PM


Why Automated Self Service Sucks

"This sucks" is often the resulting sentiment and evaluation of automated interactions where technology is attempting to serve us.  However, the burden of blame does not lie solely on the shoulders of such technologies, for they have a dependency that has yet to be realized in full: ubiquitous computing.

For technologies that have no awareness of the individual, the challenge is one of moving beyond collective frequencies as the only indicator of our potential need and toward incorporating much deeper context like situational awareness, stated preferences, and behavioral history. Without such information about us, these systems do not have sufficient context to understand what problems we are really having, let alone how to solve them intelligently.

IVR Systems Were a Start, but Users Want More

IVR systems are largely blind to end-user needs, with little context about the user or their situation.  Such systems frustrate users with a battery of options to wade through to achieve their goal. Further compounding the problem are design goals which seek to optimize or limit the time spent with human operators, rather than acting as a user advocate to resolve the situation in the most optimal manner for the customer.

Without context, technology will continue to fail to serve us, leaving users to learn and adapt to the technology, rather than vice versa.  Technology should take on the impetus of understanding – where it adapts to users. This failing is well illustrated by the coping mechanisms people come up with for dealing with automated service technologies. Take web based IVR ‘cheat sheets’ for instance. They document how to bypass IVRs for specific companies altogether. Another example is the series of popular ‘What Siri Knows’ articles, such as ‘What can you say to Siri in iOS 6?’, that illustrate what the bounds of Siri’s capabilities are, encouraging users to educate themselves on how to use their assistant.

As opposed to IVR systems, context-driven technologies like virtual assistants can work with rich assumptions and context in the decision making process, achieving a level of understanding that enables customers to be served as individuals.

Because mobile enables the ubiquity of computing, it is this trend that will usher in the next generational leap in computing as computers learn to truly serve us. Our smart devices are acting as central hubs that enable low-cost sensors to be leveraged around them. From heart-rate monitors to mileage traveled in your car today, these devices are capable of aggregating and centralizing a massive number of data points surrounding your daily activities. It is this very data that makes possible systems which can make underlying assertions as to what you need and why you need it, because they are steeped in rich context that’s driven by us as individuals.

If their creators focus on end-user advocacy, personal virtual assistants will be the greatest manifestation of ubiquitous computing – abstracting complexity from users, enabling a true understanding of individual needs, and fundamentally altering the automated customer service experience.

Topics: Customer service, User Experience, Technology