The “virtual expert” – enriched customer experiences, coming to a screen near you

Every time there is mention of an Icelandic volcano, airline strike, or traffic jam (or any other disruption to travel) there is an exponential kick in enquiries about Video Conferencing.  But Video can be much more valuable to business than meetings and collaboration!

Don’t get me wrong, Video in business is a very hot topic. IDC estimated that Video Conferencing grew 24.6% year on year in 2011. But the use of video in business is still in it’s infancy.

Self service kiosks and ATMs have become quite the norm for helping to reduce waiting time for customers performing simple transactions – checkins, withdrawals… But kiosks can only service the most basic of customer transactions.

There is growing trend of organisations adapting video conferencing and using it as a “virtual expert.” Having rich face to face experiences that connect customers with the most appropriate expert to deal with the customers enquiry, even if the expert is working in a different location or even working from home (telework).

Customers get the satisfaction of dealing with the best person available with the minimum of waiting. While the organisation gains greater productivity from their most valuable experts as well as offering these valuable experts greater flexibility and security.

Examples of handling customers in the 21st century, but one of these things is not like the others...  The left example could easily be from the 1970’s; the other photos are examples of enriched customer experiences from Coastal Federal Credit Union in North Carolina and Hertz USA

Examples of handling customers in the 21st century, but one of these things is not like the others… The left example could easily be from the 1970’s; the other photos are examples of enriched customer experiences from Coastal Federal Credit Union in North Carolina and Hertz USA

Hertz now has 76 video enabled kiosks in US airports – and expanding with another 169 kiosks on the way.

Hertz wanted an efficient way to minimise travellers wait time to rent a car but they found traditional kiosks (similar to those airlines use) couldn’t cope with complex car rental transactions.  Walk up car renters must consider:

  • Insurance plans,
  • Fuel fill-up plans,
  • Car accessories like GPS, baby seats, tollways…
  • While the rental agency also requires a driver’s license.

CIO magazine reported a Hertz survey of their video kiosk customers that showed:

  • 82% rated their experience with the interactive video kiosks positively
  • More than 66% of airport renters said they would use video enabled kiosks again, citing faster service, convenience, ease of use and no waiting in line.

The benefits to Hertz included improved customer service, increased sales of upgrades and additional services, and ultimately allow Hertz to expand into [previously difficult locations like] auto-repair shops, hotels and parking garages without the cost of building and staffing a new rental counter.

At Coastal Federal Credit Union’s 15 branches in North Carolina, customers are directed to video screens that connect to 36 tellers in a room at the credit union’s HQ. The Wall Street Journal reported the bank estimates it cut costs by 40% by eliminating its branch tellers. While customers still get personal contact and the remote tellers can make judgment calls that an automated system can’t, such as deciding whether a check can be cashed immediately.  You can see a short news video here:

So what’s the difference between using video for collaboration and using video for a “virtual expert?”

Technically, not a lot.  Socially, it can be a challenge for both the customer and the expert.

Technically, the way I like to think about it is taking the basic building blocks of Video Conferencing and adding extra applications and functionality to deliver new kinds of outcomes and experiences. Much like the new value and outcomes you get on your tablet when adding new apps.

Let me show you how this works by looking at the basics of using Video to connect meetings.

Easy Video Meetings – Video Calling vs. Video Conferencing using a unified network

Most Video Conferencing is simply used for point to point meetings, that is connecting from one location to another.  A better way of describing this is “video calling,” is that users in one location connect to users in another location by simply dialling the other end.

On a unified network this “dialling” is just as easy as dialling a regular telephone number.

Actually it is just a regular telephone number, the unified network works out the best possible quality – voice calling, high quality voice calling, video, high def video… between both ends; its all taken care of by the network.

If I want to have 3 or more locations connect to the one video meeting (a “multi point” meeting) then you would simply have each location dial the telephone number of a “virtual meeting room.”  This is similar to the difference between a phone call (point to point) and a phone conference (multi point) using a virtual meeting room.

In both cases the unified network does all the work while leaving users to get on with collaborating using the best possible experience; there is nothing else for the caller to press, no need to know what the other end is using.  This feature of a unified network to deliver the best possible user experience has become a lot more valuable in the last 12 months as new generations of networks and devices have become available while supporting the latest in open video standards.

This means that video callers can be on nearly any device anywhere:

  • Video Conference room to Video Conference room
  • Video Conference room to desktop client
  • Desktop client to Tablet client
  • Tablet client to desk phone
  • Desk phone to Video Conference phone
  • Any other combination of point to point or multipoint meeting
Video Collaboration on a unified network - tablets, laptops, phones and Video Conferencing clients all connecting together in Video.

Video Collaboration on a unified network – tablets, laptops, phones and Video Conferencing clients all connecting together in Video.

It is the unified network (fixed or wireless – WiFi, 3G or 4G) that enables everything and everyone to have the best possible collaboration experience.

Video is one of the few applications that everyone “gets.”  Video connects you visually and emotionally.  On video there is no easy way to “lurk” like on a phone conference, everyone can see if you are engaged (or not).

It is the next best thing to having a face to face meeting.  So how do we take these “building blocks” and apply it to the “virtual expert.”

Video connecting customers with the experts they need

The main difference between using video for collaboration and using video for a “virtual expert” is knowing how to handle the customer’s enquiry:

  • Which expert has the right skills to handle a customer enquiry?
  • Is the expert available now to answer the enquiry?
  • Where is this expert? At a remote office, working from home…

A typical contact centre application handles these same issues everyday – and on a unified network that takes care of both voice and video calls it makes sense to take advantage of these workflow and presence capabilities.

Using a unified network to connect a customer with a loans expert. Scaling the quality of the experience to suit the customer.

Using a unified network to connect a customer with a loans expert. Scaling the quality of the experience to suit the customer.

Remember that the unified network does all the work in giving the best possible experience between two locations.

The same automated prompts that a contact centre application uses to direct a customer’s phone call can also be used to handle a face to face enquiry from a customer at a kiosk.  For example:

  • Press 1 – to meet with a Foreign Exchange expert
  • Press 2 – to meet with a Finance & Loans expert
  • Press 3 – to meet with a Investments expert
  • Press 4….

To the contact centre application both lots of customer enquiries are simply telephone numbers and if it’s possible to escalate a voice call to a video call it will do all the work – the customer and the expert just get on with their conversation.

The next leap (not too far away) – from private IP networks to the broader Internet

The examples of Hertz and Coastal Federal Credit Union show the handling of remote enquiries across their private networks – with customers walking into their various locations.  A private IP network is the typical way that most organisations would manage day to day transactions, because of a private networks greater control of security and quality.  But this limits the “reach” of these “virtual expert” applications.

The next big leap of “Virtual Expert” is allowing rich collaboration across the Internet – so that anyone, anywhere on the Internet can have the same rich collaborative experience when it suits.

A customer visits a website, and if they desire more information they can choose the kind of interaction with an expert that suits them:

  • Fill in a form and contact me later – voice or video with an expert
  • Instant Messaging / Chat with an expert
  • Voice / Video and desktop sharing with an expert (or start with chat and escalate to a richer experience as the interest increases)

These kinds of interactions are readily available today.  The challenge is that they often require the customer to download software and or establish an account (like Skype, Google+, Webex…).

Many customers may already have set up a Skype account… but not all users will be able to connect (dial) to all their counterparts on different services (Skype to Google+…), as there is no universal number to reach between different platforms across the Internet (Please see my previous blog).

But a new browser standard called WebRTC (Real Time Communications) may help alleviate this by building voice & video collaboration into all browsers – no need to download software or setup accounts.  You can see a simple demonstration of WebRTC here:

Technical vs social aspects of “Virtual Expert”

As you can see most of the technical building blocks are already in place for “Virtual Expert” and it will become more pervasive as better networks, devices and standards are rolled out.  It is a great example of  connecting ideas from different fields and applying them to enrich life.

There are a great many applications of delivering rich collaboration in a broad range of industries – finance, health, government, education…

But “virtual expert” is not the answer to all situations.

 

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About Stephen Powell

Stephen's talent is in demonstrating highly sophisticated solutions to complex issues, and breaking them down into a simple approach that anyone can understand and appreciate (even his mum). He believes that creativity is about connecting ideas from different fields and applying them to enrich life - gets very excited in showing this at work and play.
This entry was posted in Collaboration, Contact Centre, NBN, Optus, Presence, Smartphones, Tablets, TelePresence, Telstra, Uncategorized, Unified Communications, Video Conferencing, Web, Workflow and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to The “virtual expert” – enriched customer experiences, coming to a screen near you

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