Context Mediation: AI, AR, Chatbots, Conversational Interfaces etc., Disruption in the UC Force

1 May 2017

The past month has seen a virtual flood of water under the bridge that will shape the future of unified communications (UC). Indeed, to whet (pardon the play on words) reader appetites, read what my UCS colleagues heard and saw at the recent Enterprise Connect event. In particular, as the Amazon Connect announcements before and at the show have become dominant sector buzz, spend time with Nicolas De Kouchkovsky’s, Can Amazon Connect Disrupt the Contact Center Market? I will not divulge the answer.

Regardless of speculation as to Amazon Connect’s fulfilling its manifest destiny, in what I call (a bit facetiously) “the customer entanglement” space, the technologies fueling analysts and competitors to ask and answer Nicolas’ question are of deep interest. The technologies—artificial intelligence (AI), augmented reality, chatbots, natural language, highly accurate real-time speech recognition, and a host of other “conversational” interfaces being invoked via APIs—are wonderful for the digitally adept. They are game changers.

Indeed, I am in violent agreement with my colleagues that: we live in interesting times, and stand on the cusp of these new capabilities ushering in viable and beneficial use cases for man-to-machine and machine-to-machine interactions. Some may find these use cases scary because of their big brother empowerment. However, they represent more than incremental advances on the work flow and customer experience fronts which have rested in the realm of science fiction.  

Context for Why Context is Co-king When Mediated Properly

In a previous posting the distinction between listening versus hearing was made. I explained why having omnichannel capability for interacting inside enterprises and with stakeholders and customers was nice. However, it is not helpful if the data captured, analyzed and stored is not then put to good and measurable use. I also noted briefly the growing importance of context in driving business success. I’d like to amplify why context is co-king with content when it comes to the enhanced utility of UC.  

We are witnessing in terms of the importance of context the realization of futurist Alvin Toffler’s—pre almost ubiquitous personal computing, wireless networking and the Internet—prediction of four decades ago. Toffler presciently forecast technology was going to give sellers the ability to target, customize and personalize their engagements for evolving markets of one. 

In the intervening years the Internet fundamentally changed the relationship between sellers and buyers. It gave buyers instant access to detailed information, options, and the ability to express their opinions and widely instantaneously disseminate them. As a result, the entire evolving toolkit of customer entanglement technology can be seen as the means by which sellers can catch up to buyers. By using data of all types and from all sources, the holy grail of sellers is to build ever more precise customer profiles to create sustainable advantage. 

This quest is why sellers want to know “E”verything about us. This includes our web browsing and detailed transactional histories. It is also why they want to know our sentiments, volition, sense of urgency, tone, etc. In short, they want/need more context. They want it ASAP for efficiency (work flow) and competitive (responsiveness and proactive) reasons.  

Context has always been important. From using IVRs that included rudimentary independent speech recognition along with touch tones to direct customers to the right agents in call centers to personal digital assistants with natural voice interfaces to early attempts by pioneers such as the gone but not forgotten General Magic and its digital agents, facilitating speeding interactions to satisfy human needs and desires has been a critical part of the technology mix.  

What is different now that the combination of inexpensive and powerful capabilities like AI, AU, natural language processing, biometric interfaces, unlimited storage and rapid retrieval, the cloud and ubiquitous access have created the perfect storm for easily and inexpensively creating more precise profiles, i.e. deeper context. In the process the data generated has freed humans and the processes they rely on to be more efficient. This enables tasks to be done better and faster. And, in terms of deliverables we are at the bottom of the on ramp of the learning curve as to what is doable.

The Voice of the Customer

All of the technologies noted are critical components of this perfect storm. Using them in a holistic manner via data unification and analysis will be mission critical. That said, for this posting I would single out special attention to speech processing. The reason is simple. When it comes to getting a good grip on context, hearing what the customer is saying and adjusting entanglements to reflect market of one behavior and preferences cannot be over-emphasized. Intent and tone are best understood through speech. And, real-time processing is key. 

Bringing this back to the Amazon Connect announcements for a moment is the role of what Voicebase (the voice processing engine behind the likes of Amazon Connect and Twilio) and a handful of other speech solutions providers, for example, is doing with what Co-founder & Chief Revenue Officer Jay Blasensky calls “Big Voice.” Real-time transcription, insights and analysis of the voice of the customer is foundational for greatly enhancing the accuracy and performance of personal interactions as now increasingly supplemented by machine-to-machine interactions. It is context on steroids. 

Yet, context without mediation is sub-optimal. The real deliverable for sellers building better profiles and optimizing all aspects of the customer journey is assuring the right people, with the best tools, trained and empowered to make decisions, have “E”verything they need to provide those with whom they interact compelling experiences. How this will be done is using that unified data as mediated so that it best serves the needs of specific people and processes. 

Having the ability to invoke and/or embed things like real-time speech processing in UC for work flow and collaborative tasks is the tip of the iceberg. This is particularly the case as more and more interactions become cloud-centric. However, the personal side of this should not be overlooked. We operate in multiple business and personal personality modes on our omnipresent personal devices that are becoming ever more blurred. Handling them according to our preferences in a manner that is efficient without being intrusive or burdensome is what we all desire. 

Machine- and software-augmented interactions truly is a new and exciting frontier thanks to the perfect technology storm and the urgency of sellers to leverage context to optimize interactions in a world of markets of one that are real-time oriented. Where we go next, particularly as to how all of this gets used to expand our performance and satisfaction without impinging upon our privacy and security is the great unknown. One thing is certain, as the pace of innovation accelerates how what we do and who and what performs it will be transformative sooner rather than later. This is why context and its mediation is something to keep a careful eye on.