The fourth industrial revolution is reshaping businesses and the global economy. While previous industrial revolutions moved at a linear pace, the fourth is leveraging digital developments and disrupting all businesses, in all industries, at an exponential rate. The lines between physical and digital are being blurred as technological innovation brings a level of automation previously confined to sci-fi movies.

In the world of retail and e-commerce, particularly when it comes to customer interaction with a contact centre, the effects – and indeed, the benefits – of these developments are apparent. No longer is one restricted to phone calls with high call volumes and endless queues: information is more easily accessible through digital platforms, such as a website, email or the increasingly popular chatbot.

The evolution of automation

Chatbots have long been used to answer simple and frequently asked questions (FAQs). Yet even the chatbot is evolving, making way for the more intelligent digital personal assistant.

Voice activation and text to speech (TTS) conversions have become increasingly sophisticated, enabling devices to provide useful and accurate information in a format that is most convenient and quicker: simply ask a question out loud and Siri, Alexa or Cortana will provide the answer.

For businesses, and in particular contact centres, this means that the role of the contact centre agent can evolve along with the technology. The need for agents to deal with the more mundane, clerical functions is being eliminated, making space for what is being termed ‘super agents’ – skilled and well-trained individuals who are equipped and ready to deal with the more complex queries.

Not only does the technology free up agents to be more effective, but the possibilities for streamlined processes through voice biometrics, and improving customer service through compiling a greater knowledge base, are endless.

In the South African contact centre industry, we are only now starting to see the tip of the iceberg – the more connected we become, the greater the possibilities.

What makes digital personal assistants tick?

Technology is the driver that unleashes the possibility of this innovation, and this is being both adopted and furthered by the bigger players in the market. IBM’s Watson, Amazon’s Alexa and Microsoft’s Luis are pushing the boundaries of what can be achieved.

Underpinning this technology though, is the comprehensive knowledge base that enables these personal digital assistants to ‘understand’ the need being presented and to respond accordingly. Tied to this, is the sophisticated machine learning component that allows for enhancement and refinement of responses based on user input and feedback, allowing for a better – more detailed, nuanced and accurate – experience.

As the big names in the game continue to explore new possibilities, the reality for local businesses and contact centres is that we need to grab this opportunity. If we don’t, others will.