As you have no doubt noticed, there is a massive revolution taking place in how companies deal with their customers (and vice-versa).  The digital revolution has happened…and digital won! The next wave of connected customer experiences that span channels, engage with context, and combine  humanity and automation is being made possible by  new technologies including natural language (NL) and artificial intelligence (AI)  that  are opening new horizons.   

In this blog series, we will be exploring how these and other technologies – combined with innovative approaches to everything from experience design to talent selection to training to data management – come together in what we call ACE  (Applied  Customer Engagement). 

In explaining ACE, it may help to go back to review the evolution  of customer contact.  Agents and bankers used to handle calls themselves; then contact centers emerged as a huge cost saver,  set up to handle transactions requiring basic human guidance to  reduce  field offices and  branch  capacity. Callers may have been reporting an address change, seeking to replace a lost credit card, or asking to add a new individual to an existing account.  

These exchanges typically began and ended with the call itself, with little or no opportunity for cross-selling or relationship building. The relationship was  based on the banker or agent knowing their book of business and using the contact center as a catch-all or overflow mechanism.  For the company,  contact centers represented a cost of doing business, unwelcome but unavoidable.  

Along came  Interactive Voice Response (IVR) – automated telephony systems that interact with callers, gather information and routes calls to the appropriate recipients. IVR performed heroically for financial services firms, but it tended to frustrate clients, who could get locked in what was referred to as “IVR jail”. 

Then came digital, helping companies  aggregate customer information and make it accessible to contact center representatives.  It became possible for the representative to see at a glance if the caller had multiple accounts and large balances, making him or her a candidate for cross- or up-selling.  Mobile technologies extended the reach and power of digital.   

But considerable risk accompanied  all  this activity. Financial services firms either did not have or could not apply context to the customer experience and their interactions ran the risk of  annoying the customer, eroding the customer’s trust, or running afoul of compliance guidelines.  All the while, the customer’s own needs and expectations were changing, with increasingly digital people using more than one channel in an experience, wanting  24/7  access,  and in many cases, preferring to deal with digital rather than people (with  most  people now willing to deal with software “bots”.)  

That is where ACE comes in. Working with the integrated architecture to apply rapidly shifting,  improving, and  evolving  technologies, and drawing upon our own experience and resources in areas ranging from experience design and solution architecture, to  new approaches to operating models and talent, Accenture has developed a comprehensive solution for  today’s customer experience encompassing: 

  • Virtual assistants(VAs) assembled at scale to deal and augmented by rich digital tools serving large audiences, using natural language processing to make Siri, Google, Alexa and other VAs key players in the customer interface;  
  • Artificial intelligence  to understand the customer by putting context into conversations, clarifying customer intent and personalizing interactions; and  
  • Human-centric design  to increase empathy and understanding to connect the many pieces that comprise the modern customer experience. 

Properly configured and deployed, ACE acts as the organization’s “digital brain”, rationalizing operations, deflecting calls as appropriate, presenting customers with attractive, appropriate offers, and dramatically lowering service costs while increasing customer satisfaction levels. Accenture takes the lead in analyzing industry-specific customer intent, enabling automation guided by context and empathy, and tailoring and industrializing the right operating model.   

As I hope you can tell, we are very excited about ACE. In the next blog in this series, Tami Waggoner – who recently joined Accenture from the client side – will look at the customer experience from the client’s perspective and discuss how clients can best work with ACE to develop the kind of outcome-aligned solutions that today’s customers seek. 

To learn more about ACE, read our report: Accelerating Growth with Applied Customer Engagement. If you have any questions or want to discuss this topic further, please contact me.

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