How Alexa is Changing Customer Expectations

Alexa and its peers have become our favorite houseguests and are fundamentally changing every voice experience. Learn why Alexa is raising the CX bar.

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How Alexa is Changing Customer Expectations

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It’s been nearly four years since Amazon launched Alexa, the digital smart assistant, and an increasing share of U.S. households are turning to Alexa to facilitate their daily lives. Amazon alone has captured 90 million active monthly users for its home assistants—with that number growing at 48% a year. These numbers don’t even include other players like Google Home. It’s estimated that 275 million voice assistants will be used worldwide by 2023.

Companies are eager to take advantage of the new channel, with over thirty thousand skills developed on the Alexa platform to help users with everyday tasks like operating their lights, and the more complex ones like making purchases, and checking in on accounts. It’s not hard to see that many industries are taking note.

Virtual Assistants: Our Favorite Houseguests

Why have we opened our doors to Alexa in such numbers? It comes down to convenience, ease of use, and integration. Consider your own interactions with Alexa or another virtual assistant. Sure, there are occasional gaffes and misunderstandings, but on the whole, a wide range of skills allow you to do things like start a movie, order more popcorn for next time, turn off the lights, and close the blinds. The skills are customizable, often adapt to your preferences, and deliver an experience you can count on consistently.

More importantly, these assistants are always on and don’t necessitate opening up a separate app on your phone. Voice assistants have become integral to our daily lives and if the numbers tell the story, will only become more common and more essential.

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The accessibility of voice assistants has contributed to their success. Part of the convenience comes from being able to speak commands and to having them understood. You’re not tapping commands into a touchscreen; you’re having a conversation with a friend.

This wouldn’t be possible without broad language and dialect support and a connection to the internet—both of those allow you to speak to Alexa like you would speak to a human. You can say nearly anything you want and expect a helpful response. And because of progress around text-to-speech voices for additional languages and dialects, the experience becomes truly personalized.

Expectations Versus Reality

Unfortunately, despite the rapid adoption and development of skills, many of these advances have been confined to the matte graphite towers on our kitchen counters. Your last interaction with your cable company, the DMV, or your insurance provider was likely very different. You were told your call was important, to listen carefully “as options may have changed,” and forced through a maze of “press one”, “press four”, “press six” only to hit zero repeatedly with the hopes of being connected to a real, live human agent.

By delivering interactions that can contextualize, are constantly learning and improving, and feel personal, Alexa and Siri have shown customers how voice experiences should be. With these significant technological advances in voice assistants and their increasing appeal and market penetration, the stakes are being raised for every voice interaction.

Those lessons haven’t made it to many industries yet. It’s notable that consumer research from Twilio and Lawless Research showed that 53% of companies rated their phone performance as “excellent” compared to 14% of all customers surveyed. The gap between consumer expectations and reality is only increasing as voice assistants become more lifelike and intelligent.

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This gap has real costs. The same Twilio/Lawless consumer research shows customers already base many spending patterns on interactions with a company: after a negative experience, 41% stopped doing business with the company and 66% let a friend know about it. When it comes to positive communication experiences, 67% purchased more products or services and 71% recommend the brand to a friend. Through the use of call insights and a reliable IVR, we’ve seen organizations increase revenue by 269% or more. If you could improve your customer satisfaction, increase operational efficiency for your agents, and boost purchases at the same time, wouldn’t you?

Lessons for Businesses

We know that Alexa and its peers are here to stay—and causing customers to rethink every voice interaction. Here are some lessons businesses can draw on to improve the experience for every customer:

1. Make conversations more personal.

When it comes to employing humans versus bots for solving customer inquiries, there’s a balance to be made. Bots and automated menus can often be just as useful for customers when they provide human-like assistance. Greeting a customer by name, responding in natural conversation to voice inquiries, and providing broad language and dialect support all help customers feel more like they are interacting with an acquaintance instead of a bot or DTMF menu. It’s no wonder that many users nearly forget their Alexa is nothing more than a computer connected to a massive database.

Every call with an agent costs far more than an automated resolution. Talkpush, a recruitment platform, implemented a next-generation IVR and saw costs per hire drop by 70%, while simultaneously supporting a 4x increase in call volume over four months. When issues that could be resolved by a helpful bot are escalated to agents, they reduce availability for more pressing and higher-value requests. And, it turns out, customers may actually prefer a self-service option. Gartner predicts that this customer preference for independence and self-service automation will likely rise to 85% by 2020. A forward-thinking business should automate low-value, common interactions with a friendly automated interaction, and escalate high-value interactions as necessary. All of those interactions can be made more personal, whether a human agent is involved or not.

2. Maintain context.

Consider your last positive and negative interaction with a business. The negative experience likely involved fumbling through a clumsy phone menu, only to repeat your account number, your issue, or your request. The positive interaction may have involved your issue being handled with little effort, and without needing to wait on hold; perhaps the call instantly connected and you were greeted by name.

Home assistants remember your name and other personal details and allow you to customize scenes and skills. Your CRM already records many interactions and data points, perhaps thousands for some customers; integrating your system of record with your voice experience goes a long way to ensuring a smooth interaction. Even if your intelligent bot can’t quite resolve your customer’s issue, your agent is presented with your full customer record, including previous services or purchases, a list of web pages the customer visited, and, most importantly, information on how the customer got to this point. For example, starting off the call by apologizing that they had issues booking a service, puts you on the right footing to resolve additional issues.

3. Constantly improve and innovate.

You’ve heard it before: customer expectations are constantly changing. New skills and integrations allow voice assistants to meet these evolving needs and interface with more and more applications and hardware. Similarly, your IVR, contact center, or bot should use individual data to map to users’ needs/wants and collective data to improve all users’ experiences.

It can be difficult for most businesses to experiment with their IVRs the way Amazon, Google, and Apple do with their voice UIs. When making even simple changes takes months, what you build the first time around is what you may be stuck with for a long time to come. Your voice application should also allow for easy experimentation—this requires the ability to easily change your application and to analyze those results. Both experimentation and improvements require a platform that is both agile and enterprise-grade.

4. Extra credit: Make it omnichannel.

Customers want to communicate with businesses over their preferred channels. Amazon releases assistants in multiple formats, incorporating video and voice to support different uses and scenarios. Companies should borrow a page from that playbook, leveraging video, SMS, and other customer messaging channels to expand the customer experience. Your customer experience should be flexible and robust enough to scale with your organization and adapt to your customers’ ever-changing expectations. Rigid legacy systems don’t provide the necessary flexibility companies need to keep up.

See How Voice Assistants are Transforming the Front Door of Every Business: The IVR

Twilio recently hosted a panel on building human experiences in the age of voice assistants, featuring experts in text-to-speech, voice experiences, and a customer who built a next-generation IVR with modern-API tools. Panelists from Twilio, Amazon Web Services, and Cardplatforms discuss the costs of poor voice experiences, the building blocks for a modern experience, and modern tools to transform your own voice experience.

Watch it on demand, here.