Conversational AI & CX 2021 Predictions

2021 Predictions for Conversational AI and Customer Experience Automation

January 7, 2021

There is no doubt that technology, especially AI, stood out as the MVP for many businesses during 2020. Limited human-to-human contact and skyrocketing consumer demands highlighted the urgency and necessity of technology to streamline operations, especially the ability for businesses and consumers to communicate. Those with effective automated customer experience applications were able to react quickly and effectively. Those with sub-par applications or none struggled to find patchwork solutions.

Consumers also became more dependent on, and therefore more comfortable with, the idea of using technology like AI. In fact, a study in the early days of the pandemic, showed that even in a short timeframe, consumers’ acceptance of AI was changing as they grew more comfortable with this technology in areas like customer service, healthcare, self-driving cars, and grocery stores. 

With consumer comfort growing and businesses realizing that customer experience automation powered by AI is a necessity to survive, what does the future look like? We asked our experts to weigh in with their thoughts.

Prediction 1: Accelerated AI-Enabled Digital Transformation

We believe that a new set of enterprise priorities have surfaced as a result of the pandemic. They all fall under the umbrella of, and start with, accelerated digital transformation. The initiatives include an increased need for automation and self-service, an increased focus on AI solutions for customer service, improved business continuity planning, and implementation of solutions that do not rely on the availability of human labor. -Jim Freeze, CMO

Explore the key factors necessary to ensure successful digital transformation for customer experience here.

Prediction 2: Demand for effective, always on customer care

The shift away from in-person interaction (contactless pickup, remote work, remote access to services, etc.) will have lasting effects and drive increased demand and expectations for highly effective, always-on, omnichannel access to customer care. To meet this demand, we will see increasing use of Conversational AI not just as an alternative to human intelligence, but as an augmentation of human intelligence as well. In addition to providing automation, AI systems will ‘lean in’ on conversations between customers and agents and add value in numerous ways, such as providing suggestions and surfacing relevant information and content. 

-Michael Johnston, Director of Research and Innovation

Learn why improving customer experience is not just revolutionary, but evolutionary here.

Prediction 3: Agents and Technology: Better Together

“Changes in customer experience automation and how that automation interacts with human agents has the potential to make a more lasting impact. By combining human agents with new CX automation technologies, agents are able to handle many more customer requests across phone and digital channels. This provides tremendous leverage and other operational benefits to businesses, but also ensures fast, efficient, service to customers. It also will enable businesses to be much more resilient to unexpected labor shortages or spikes in customer contacts.”

 -Phil Gray, EVP Corporate Development

Find out how Conversational AI applications like virtual assistants can alleviate common agent pain points and result in happier agents which can translate into a better customer experience for your brand here.

Prediction 4: Emphasis on Security

“The sudden and dramatic shift from agents in physical call centers to work from home environments escalates the push to adopt new security technologies, including redaction (masking Personally Identifiable Information), use of voice biometrics to assure the agent identity and/or for caller authentication, and distributed call recording and call transcription to analyze conversations for security and quality assurance.”

-Mary McKenna, Senior Director, Product Management

Watch our explainer video to see how voice biometrics work.

Prediction 5: Managed Service Will Trump DIY

“DIY solutions will become less attractive as companies that select DIY technologies fail to deliver because of oversimplification of the process.”

-Dave Parkinson, EVP of Sales

Find out what sets AI apart from traditional technologies and the considerations to take into account when making the buy or build decision here.

Prediction 6: A channel-less, connected journey

“We will see an increasing expansion of conversational AI from voice and text channels to rich media and multimodal interactions where conversational assistants can not just ‘hear’ but can also ‘see’ and are able to present information to the customer through a combination of visual media with voice and text. In the longer term, the boundary between a phone call and a digital interaction will blur and customers will simply interact with a brand through their device using the combination of modalities that is best suited to the task at hand and their individual preferences.”

-Michael Johnston, Director of Research and Innovation

Read more about the evolution of channels and channel preferences in our blog.

Prediction 7: Business Will Need to Keep Pace with Changing Consumer Behavior

“The world since Covid-19 continues to become comfortable with telework, video conferences and multimedia conversations (speech, text, images, video). This enhancement of communication channels will percolate through customer care interactions in the coming years. Just as social media channels have become touch points for customer service, customers are likely to not only be comfortable communicating with enterprises on a video call but also leverage the multiple modalities for communicating with image and videos where appropriate. The increase in customer voice calls during the Covid-19 period has also prompted enterprises to shift their investments towards digital/text channels.”

-Srinivas Bangalore, Director of Research and Technology

Get tips on how to use customer journey mapping to identify customer pain points and adapt long-term and short-term customer experience strategies here.

Prediction 8: AI Itself Won’t Drive Results, You Need Strategy

“The only fool-proof way for AI to make a meaningful impact is with the right people and processes to support it. While it’s increasingly tempting to jump on the AI bandwagon, particularly when there’s a pressing problem at hand, it’s critical to understand that AI in and of itself isn’t a solution. Instead, it’s an enabler that, when properly applied in the context of well-defined business objectives, has the potential to add tremendous benefits.”

-Mike Iacobucci, President & CEORead our recent research report, in partnership with The Harris Poll, that explores thoughts and observations from mid-to-high level executives who have successfully implemented AI into their businesses.

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