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A few years back, the conventional wisdom was that the major obstacle to implementing multichannel contact centers wasn't really the capabilities of the technology: It was the people. Agent cross-training was new and many enterprises reported that some agents who had long experience with voice calls just weren't suited to handle email or text communications with customers.

Fast-forward to today, and multichannel has made progress, but the technology is once again disrupting the environment. Now the challenge isn't so much the people; it's the anti-people -- the bots.

Contact centers are wrestling with how best to deploy chatbots for customer service, and how to blend that capability with their live-agent workforce. Analyst Dave Michels of TalkingPointz had a really interesting post on No Jitter earlier this month, "Please Hold for the Next Available Bot," in which he made some salient historical parallels while also examining specific enterprise use cases.

Dave started out by reminding us that we've always had a fraught relationship with the way technology replaces humans in our communications, going back to the introduction of voice mail and IVR. There have always been those who have believed we’re losing the human touch, and that especially if your mission is to serve the public as either a business or, say, a government entity, you're somehow slighting those customers by fobbing them off on a machine. As Dave pointed out, the inherent usefulness of the technology eventually tends to win out over such concerns, but the debate recurs with each new generation of technology.

Enter the bots. Dave highlighted three different use cases -- T-Mobile, a startup airline called Moxy, and Google -- to illustrate different approaches to the use (or shunning) of technology such as bots in modern customer contact scenarios. He drew this conclusion:

"Two key success factors for chatbots are the workflow and the training. The more well defined the workflow, the more effective a bot can be. Many people prefer bots (and automation) in well-defined workflows such as placing/changing an order or scheduling an appointment. The training process is the Achilles' heel for most implementations and will likely be the biggest differentiator among offers and implementations."

In other words, just as with the original multichannel systems, you can build the technology to do the job, but can you train the person -- or the bot -- to use it effectively? Training a bot may be different than training a person, but both tasks require trial and error, iteration, sensitivity, and subtlety.

We've got a session teed up at Enterprise Connect Orlando 2019 that will touch on an aspect of this challenge: ”Building One Chatbot Across All Your Channels: Large Enterprises Tell their Stories," to be moderated by Daniel Hong, research director/VP at Forrester. As the title suggests, this session will feature end users discussing how they approached the challenge of optimizing their deployment of bot technology to serve the multiple channels by which customers want to reach them. One of the key questions this session will address is: "How do you provide consistent conversational experiences in your chatbots across different channels and devices for customer service? What do enterprises need to know?"

Contact Centers have become one of the hottest topics at Enterprise Connect, and at the Orlando 2019 event, our Contact Center & Customer Experience track will be the largest it's ever been. If your enterprise is wrestling with how to provide next-generation customer experience in whatever way the customer chooses to contact you, your team definitely needs to come to Enterprise Connect Orlando 2019. I hope to see you there.