Netflix customer service? Almost, but not quite.

For a few days I’ve been struggling to cast Netflix from my iPad to the Chromecast device attached to my TV. Being reasonably techie I made sure I was running the latest SW releases on both Netflix and Chromecast. I also tried using an iPhone and a different iPad but with no success. Last night I had enough (I’m in the middle of a “Making a Murderer” binge) so I decided to contact customer service.

To my pleasant surprise I found out that it was possible to call the Netflix help centre directly from their app using a VoIP call. The response time by the agent was quick as netflixwell, less than 30 seconds. So far, so good. However as I had made some initial attempts to correct the problem myself the tier one agent was unable to provide a fix and said that she would have to escalate the issue. This however is where the customer service journey fell apart. Instead of transitioning me to another service representative online she provided be with a landline number. A US based landline number. The problem is I’m located in the UK.

In the multichannel or omnichannel business environment of today organizations must consider the end to end customer service journey and the transitions or escalations between channels that are sometimes necessary in order to resolve a problem. These transitions should be as frictionless or effortless for the customer as possible. In my case Netflix dropped the ball. Their sterling efforts to make it easy for customers to contact them, their in-app customer service channel and their excellent customer response times were in vain because they hadn’t considered or optimized how they handle customer escalations.

So when it comes to Netflix customer service it’s almost, but not quite. I still haven’t made that call and I’m still having Chromecast problems.

The Future of Self-Service; Virtual Assistants, Speech Recognition and the Internet of Things

Introduction
When is the last time you visited a bank or even talked to a bank representative? When is the last time you contacted a travel agent? Where previously we’d have used a travel agent many of us now prefer to research and book the individual components of our holiday ourselves. The history of the internet has been a story of personal empowerment. Empowered customers, especially younger demographics, are today more than happy to resolve problems for themselves valuing the convenience, speed and anonymity offered by frictionless self-service experiences.

In 2015 Forrester Research Inc. indicated that “Web self-service interactions overtook all other channels” and that “respondents reported using the FAQ pages on a company’s website more than speaking with an agent over the phone”. The future of customer service is thus quite clearly self-service. However what is the future for self-service itself?

Intelligent Virtual Assistants
Intelligent virtual assistant (IVA) use is seeing rapid adoption across multiple industry sectors. IVAs attempt to humanize web self-service by delivering knowledge and information to customers via a human like interface. The attraction for businesses is obvious. Unlike a customer service representative IVAs can serve thousands of customers at once, they are available 24/7, across all channels and the experience is consistent.

However the predominant IVA experience today of typing in questions and receiving spoken answers via a computer generated assistant is unsatisfactory, unrealistic and, in my opinion, slightly creepy. Having a computer designed, cartoonish image acting as the face of your organization is also a risk. As a result many organizations, particularly in the retail sector are using IVAs as an opportunity for differentiation and a visual extension of their basic web self-service technologies rather than as a key customer engagement channel.

We are still at the nascent state of IVA development. The next step in its development will be to make the customer experience more realistic. This means replacing the requirement for users to type questions with speech recognition.

Speech Recognition
Today, four of the largest global IT organizations — Apple, Google, Microsoft and Amazon— offer speech recognition software. Apple was the first mover with Siri. Google followed with its own natural language user interface, Google Now, Microsoft came to market with Cortana and most recently Amazon has released its voice-controlled personal assistant, Alexa. So why do we have this sudden interest in voice recognition? The answer lies in both self-service and the internet of things (IoT).

Speech recognition has the potential to transform the self-service user experience, making it a more natural experience and most importantly hands free. Speech recognition can deliver service to users anywhere and in any situation or context. Initially we will see IVA vendors augmenting their solutions with speech recognition capabilities to offer voice driven information search and retrieval such as video on demand. Already retailers have begun to explore the potential of voice driven self-service with for example Domino’s Pizza introducing Dom their virtual voice ordering assistant.

future iot
WSS and the Internet of Things
Self-service will move beyond voice driven information search and retrieval to deliver the ability to trigger and interact with processes using speech.

Mistakenly many view the IoT in terms of smart devices; in terms of smart thermostats, kettles, fridges and wearables. However the real power in IoT is in the data created by the sensors themselves. Organizations that can utilize this data and deliver services based on this data will dominate the IoT market. Already some of the most successful commercial IoT solutions are providing services rather than simply devices to consumers. In-car telematics is now widely used in the insurance industry today to monitor driver performance and to adjust insurance premiums accordingly. In medicine, heart implants are being used that send data to physicians that can be analyzed to identify any slowing of heart rhythm or rapid heartbeats. In the public realm, IoT will be used within Smart Cities to provide services to constituents that will, for example, reduce congestion, optimize energy use and support public safety. The common theme in all of these examples is that the IoT is being used to provide services with little or no input required by the individual. The IoT and the devices themselves are for the most part invisible.

As humans we do not have the capacity to engage with huge numbers of IoT devices. Do we really want to be alerted and prompted on a regular basis by multiple frivolous IoT devices all competing for our attention? As a result the IoT will be almost invisible, delivering services for us in the background to our lives and interrupting us only when a decision is required or a result has been achieved. Successful IoT solutions will remove complexity from our lives rather than add to it.

The trigger and interaction method for all of these IoT services will be speech. With so many potential IoT devices and services, voice control provides a simpler, quicker and more convenient method of interaction rather than an app and a UI.

The Personal Virtual Assistant
Self-service will eventually break free of the enterprise and become a key part of our personal lives. Mobile phone vendors have been working on personal assistants since almost the development of the first app. Your iPhone comes preinstalled with apps such as Apple pay, calendar, reminder, notes and a ticket and boarding pass wallet. In addition Android devices arrive with a password manager, family location services and account status apps. Despite the fact that there are millions of apps available the majority of us use only a few apps daily. It appears that app fatigue is starting to set in. Siri, Google Now and Cortana will be the catalyst for turning these apps, many seldom used and sometimes referred to derogatively as bloatwear, into something more useful and easier to use.

The personal virtual assistant will be the ultimate self-service technology that brings together multiple technologies including speech recognition, knowledge management, wearables, IoT, complex event processing and artificial intelligence. This is imminent. Today for example Microsoft Cortana, if approved by the user, can scan your email to see if you have a flight coming up, then use the information to alert you when it’s time to leave for the airport.

Service scheduling, booking a restaurant or flight, insurance renewals, ensuring your finance products are on the best rate of interest, price comparisons, personal security and health monitoring — all of these are important yet mundane processes we perform on a daily basis that most of us would be happy to outsource to a personal assistant. In effect the personal assistant starts to act as an airbag for our lives, ready to step in when we need it, not constantly competing for our attention.

Conclusion
Self-service is the future of customer service and its evolution is inextricably linked to developments in speech analytics and the IoT. In the IoT world speech will be the most convenient gateway to access information and services. Self-service will go beyond the simple search and delivery of information to the delivery of more complex customer service processes.

Ultimately we are looking at a post app world where information and data from multiple sources including devices is combined to deliver services. Then when you need information or a service you’ll just ask for it.

Press Once for Process

It looks like our homes could soon be invaded by a swarm of buttons. Earlier this year (2015) we had the launch of Amazon dash and now we have flic. Flic takes dash a step further and is a wireless smart button that can be quickly programmed to let you play music, make calls or even order a pizza, all at the press of a button. What dash and flick have in common is that with the press of a button the user is triggering or starting a process. With dash it is the process of placing and executing an order for a consumable product from the Amazon store or in the case of flic trigger a food delivery process.

Press Once for Process

There are other companies out there such as IFTTT looking to simplify how we execute day to day processes and optimize how we interact with mobile applications. In fact it is possible to connect Flic to IFTTT and at the press of a flic button post a Facebook or twitter update. Both dash and flic are obviously Internet of Things (IoT) devices. What they begin to illustrate is the critical relationship between the IoT and process. There is no point in smart devices collecting data and monitoring your environment if we cannot rapidly take action on insights obtained.

Yet dash and flic don’t have a long term future. Why do we need buttons to place orders or trigger processes when we could use our voice? Today, three of largest global IT organizations — Apple, Google and Microsoft — offer voice recognition software. Apple was the first mover with Siri. Google followed with its own natural language user interface, Google Now, and finally Microsoft came to market with Cortana. Why do we have this sudden interest in voice recognition? The answer is the IoT.

With the iOS 8 operating system, Siri became completely hands free, with the “Hey Siri” command replacing initiation of Siri via the home button. In addition, Siri began to integrate with the Apple IoT HomeKit features. At iOS 9 Apple have taken Siri capabilities further putting new functionality into the HomeKit, including smarter Siri controls and support for new device types. Siri and thus voice recognition is a key part of the Apple IoT strategy with voice commands being used to trigger simple processes such as dimming the lights or adjusting the thermostat. It does not take a great leap of the imagination to expect that we will soon be able to ask Siri to book a flight, a meal at a restaurant or to transfer money into a bank account, all hands free and without accessing an app or pressing a button.

So while flic and the Amazon Dash button may have a limited shelf life they do point towards emerging methods of process initiation that will eventually coalesce around voice. In fact Amazon, as well as having the Dash Button, also offer a Wand device that uses voice recognition to place order requests. With so many potential IoT devices, sensors and services, voice control provides a simpler, quicker and more convenient method of interaction with the IoT rather than an app, a UI or a button.

BPM Everywhere

If you’ve been reading this blog you’ll be aware that I believe that Business Process Management (BPM) technologies will have a crucial role to play in the emerging Internet of Things market. Future BPME-frontcoverStrategies have now published a book on this subject entitled BPM Everywhere and it includes a chapter by myself “The Internet of Things Will Be Invisible”.

This chapter builds on some of my recent blog articles that propose that the IoT will be for the most part an invisible part of or daily lives and that two technologies BPM and Voice recognition will be key to make this happen.

Amazon Dash – A Gimmick but an Important Step in the Evolution of the Internet of Things

To be perfectly honest when I saw the announcement I, like many others, thought it was an April fool. No one shops for groceries on an individual basis. The implications for the environment would be horrendous if we did. Most of us on a budget also like to know the price of things before we decide to buy. Then there’s the issue of Wi-Fi reliability and battery life.

Despite these drawbacks Amazon Dash however represents an important step in the evolution of the Internet of Things (IoT). Here we have a smart device linked to business processes. A push of a button triggers automatic payment and logistics processes that ultimately lead to the delivery of an item to your door.

At the moment, discussion of the commercial IoT has focused on the devices or things themselves rather than the services that can be triggered by connecting sensors and devices to the Internet. Many of the commercial and smart home technologies we see today are really just gimmicks as already available sensor and Wi-Fi technology wait on other essential components of the IoT ecosystem to catch up. When we start thinking of the commercial IoT not in terms of devices, but instead in terms of services that could be triggered through connection to the Internet, more compelling use cases start to emerge.
Amazon dash is different. It is focused on delivering an IoT service not an IoT device.

Press for Service

Press for Service

The Internet of Things will be Invisible

The most profound technologies are those that disappear. They weave themselves into the fabric of everyday life until they are indistinguishable from it. Mark Weiser

In my previous post I wrote about how the IoT will be for the most part invisible, acting as an airbag for our lives, ready to step in when we need it, freeing us from the internet and not constantly competing for our attention. Invisibility means not having a user interface (UI). Successful IoT solutions will be those that remove complexity from our lives rather than add to it with another UI that demands our attention. Two technologies will be key to delivering the invisibility of the IoT: voice recognition and process automation.

Voice Recognition

invisible_manIf the internet of things is to be invisible we need some method to interact with it. That’s were voice recognition comes in. Despite having an iPhone, apart from asking Siri a few stupid questions when I’m bored, I seldom use Siri. So if like me you were wondering why two of the largest IT companies on the planet, Google and Apple, have been focusing on speech recognition the recent launch of iOS8 will have provided some clarity.

At iOS 8 Siri has become completely hands free with the “Hey Siri” command replacing initiation of Siri via the home button. In addition from iOS 8 Siri begins to integrate with the apple home kit features and Apple have stated that Siri users will soon be able to issue a single command “and have the lights turn on in specific rooms, the thermostat adjust the temperature and the garage door open.” So here we have Apple confirming that voice recognition will drive the internet of things.

“Hey Siri” follows on from the introduction of Google’s “OK Google” search command on Google Now earlier this year. While both the “OK Google” and “Hey Siri” commands may seem trivial or frivolous features, voice initiation of our interactions with smart devices will be a critical component of personal IoT solutions.

Process Automation

Invisibility not only relates to how we engage or interact with the IoT but also to the processes that will be triggered from the smart devices on our behalf. We are still in the foothills when it comes to the IoT. To date discussion of the personal IoT has focused heavily on smart homes and wearables. Many of these basic early sense and respond IoT solutions will turn out to be simply gimmicks or at most niche applications. Most of us regularly only use 4 or 5 apps on our mobile phones. Are we really going to spend significant sums replacing the locks on our doors to make them smart? My mum and dad never worked out how to program their video recorder and have managed perfectly fine. This is simple cost benefit analysis. The cost of many smart home devices and the time required to configure them will outweigh the benefits they’ll provide.

But what if we could go “Hey Siri can you put this coat up for sale on ebay?” or “Hey Siri can you book me a flight to London on March 17th?”. What if we could say “OK google can you get me a house insurance quote?” or “OK google can you transfer my credit card balance to the lowest possible interest rate?”. What if we could make these voice commands anywhere in our homes or while we are on the move? These are mundane yet sometimes essential activities and processes we’d all love to be able to outsource. These solutions will require a mix of voice recognition, smart devices and process automation. The data generated by IoT devices is only of use if it is connected to processes. Process automation can put the data generated by smart devices to work and deliver significant value to the end user.siri

Following acquisition by Google, Nest CEO Tony Fadell told WIRED “Both companies believe in letting the technology do the hard work behind the scenes so that people can get on with their lives”. This statement along with Apple’s iOS8 Siri enhancements confirm an understanding among the leading tech organizations that IoT solutions will be mostly invisible and that both voice recognition and process automation will be crucial components.

The Purpose of the Internet of Things is to free us from the Internet

I already spend too much time on the web so what’s it going to be like in 2025 when another 26Bn smart devices are connected to the web?

 
The recent, excellent, research by Pew looking like at digital life in 2025 gives some pointers to what life might be like once all these smart devices come on-stream. The Pew report reflects that this is a market in the very earliest stages of its evolution with little overall consensus and concerns being expressed around the social (privacy, exclusion) as well as technical implications of Internet of Things (integration). One word however that pops up frequently in the Pew report is “invisible”. The Internet of Things (IoT) will be notable for being invisible.

 
As humans we pretty much mastered our ability to generate data and the emergence of the IoT will take our ability to create data to another dimension. What we haven’t mastered however is our ability to increase time. Human attention is a scarce resource. As a result most of us will be happy to outsource our attention for important yet mundane processes that enable us to focus on more important or enjoyable activities. Health monitoring, driving, service scheduling, insurance renewals, ensuring your finance products are on the best rate of interest, product research and price comparisons, all of these are important yet mundane processes we perform on a daily basis that most for us would be happy to outsource.

 
Wearables like Google glass and smart watches fail the invisibility test that will be one of the key attributes of successful IoT solutions. Wearables draw users further into the web rather than freeing users from it. Having milk bottles, toothbrushes and trainers sending you alerts and competing for your attention is just ludicrous.

 

The IoT will be like a personal airbag

The IoT will be like a personal airbag

The IoT will act as an airbag for our lives, ready to step in when you need it, not constantly competing for your attention. By freeing us from the mundane activities that today we would have to do manually on the web we are being freed from the internet itself. IoT solutions will make us less dependent on our current web interfaces. We will use the screen and keyboard interface to the web less and less as voice and gesture become more a more appropriate method of interacting with IoT devices. BPM and workflow technologies will orchestrate automatic processes triggered by smart devices, freeing users from mundane processes, interrupting our daily lives only when a decision is required.

 
Initial successful IoT solutions for example smart meters, inventory management, insurance telematics are for the most part invisible to users and eliminate mundane yet important processes. With IoT the internet will become more and more a part of our daily lives but less and less obtrusive, wrapped around us ready to assist rather than competing for our attention.