No S*** Sherlock - The Evolution of the Phone Channel

"Mr. Watson--come here--I want to see you.”  

No, the above quote isn’t from an episode of Sherlock – they were the first words ever spoken on the telephone, said by Alexander Graham Bell to his assistant Thomas Watson in 1876.  

Now, some 140 plus years later, the phone has endured. And while the features and abilities of the phone - particularly the smartphone - have grown, the basics of the phone call are pretty much the same. You pick up, you dial, you talk. 

As a result of its simplicity and directness, the phone is still the go-to channel for many, especially when they are looking to solve a problem.  For example, Fifth Quadrant’s 2018 Contact Centre Benchmark Report found that 71% of contact centre interactions were handled via the phone channel.  

As new channels appear, the dominance of the phone has diminished but still remains strong. Another finding of the report was that the phone channel is decreasing at a slower rate than expected in recent years, (3% decrease since 2014), showing an ongoing preference for voice interaction by Australian consumers. 

In short, the phone channel is here to stay. And although the mechanics of picking up the phone and calling have changed very little at the consumer end, what happens at the other end is a very much a different story.  


Enter Sherlock 

Up until the 1990s, the approach to the phone channel was homogenous – everyone who called was treated the same and it was up to the agent to diagnose, redirect, or solve any issues. Wait times were longer, handling times were longer, and the service was generally bad. In short, the prospect of calling a company was pretty daunting. 

But the sheer volume of calls coming through and corresponding wait times’ impact on customer satisfaction meant that something had to change. Consequently, Interactive Voice Response (IVR) technology was invented in order to streamline the calling process and route customers to the right department or agent. 

While IVR is certainly artificial, until recently it has been missing the “intelligence” part. Traditional IVR doesn’t really learn, improve or make decisions, working instead based on rules that won’t evolve on their own accord. It is up to the user to change the rules. 

AI takes things a step further by using machine learning to understand customers and even predict their behaviour. 

In the case of IVR, this can mean adding the ability for it to understand natural speech, resulting in a “conversational IVR” that adapts and learns based on its past experiences.  

But AI in the contact centre now goes beyond making IVR trees smarter. The most recent innovations are in the realm of “voice analytics”, which can interpret not just the words said but also the way (or sentiment) in which those words are spoken. 

AI-driven voice analytics have also given contact centres the power to transcribe all recorded calls and conversations, creating a wealth of data that can be used to train agents or generate further insights to reduce handling times and increase satisfaction. 

When it comes to CX, the true power of AI is that, like Sherlock, it can analyse and understand people - and then even predict their behaviour.  

Voice analytics – the next step in the evolution of the phone channel 

Several companies are actively engaged in evolving and providing voice and speech analytics software, they include Verint, Avaya and Genesys to name a few. 

Verint’s voice analytics aim to optimise customer engagement and omnichannel service strategies by revealing process-related opportunities, pain points, non-compliance, and even fraud. 

Users can search for an unlimited number of terms by keyword, phrase or business category, or even just search for “emotional calls”. Thanks to AI and over 70 patented technologies, Verint’s voice analytics help provide a deeper understanding of the meaning and context of conversations. 

In December, Verint continued its investment in the space when it agreed to acquire ForeSee, a leading cloud voice of the customer (VoC) vendor. 

Verint said in a statement that the acquisition will create the market’s most comprehensive omnichannel cloud VoC portfolio, an analytics-rich offering that will allow organisations to better measure and understand customer experiences and prioritise the improvements that will have the greatest business impact. 

“Leading industry analysts agree that voice of the customer solutions are required to gain a complete view of the customer experience,” Verint said. “Without this focus, organisations are challenged to truly understand the customer journeys and sentiments that help measure CX impact. 

Verint is by no means the only player in voice analytics with companies such as Avaya, Genesys, and Hewlett-Packard Enterprise also making significant investments in the space. 

These companies’ focus on voice analytics is backed up by a recent study by The Research Insights which found that the global speech analytics market is expected to grow to $3bn by 2025 at a CAGR of over 28%. 

Avaya's speech analytics software works with agents to provide real time input and analysis. According to Avaya's blog, speech Analytics applications help you mine large volumes of data to sift out the pearls of knowledge that can be found in the less obvious parts of your customer interactions.

Real-Time Speech Analytics technology by Avaya provides live alerts and notifications as well as coaching prompts to best handle a given situation that might include intervention by a manager or the suggestion of an action based on what a customer is saying. All with the end goal of creating better customer experiences.

Australian contact centres dip toes 

Although the US is leading the movement towards the use of voice analytics, Australian contact centres have begun to adopt the technology. 

Survey results from Fifth Quadrant’s Contact Centre Benchmark Report suggest that interest in the space is picking up. 

The report found that just 13% of Australian contact centres are currently using the technology, putting it at 18 out of 21 different technologies ranked in order of usage.

However, when organisations were asked which technologies they would consider purchasing in the near future, voice analytics was ranked 5th, at 19%. The top result was web chat with 31%, but that is a case for another day. 

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Source: Fifth Quadrant 2018 Contact Centre Benchmark Report

The phone has evolved a lot over the past 150 years, but phone as a channel remains largely unchanged from the customer's point of view. Despite the rise of things like email and, more recently, chatbots, people are still quite likely to pick up a phone when they have a problem. 

However, thanks to the combination of AI, big data, and voice analytics, the way those calls are handled is changing dramatically. By investing in smart telephony platforms and voice analytics, organisations can benefit from the masses of data they collect and ultimately improve CX. 

For organisations, the time to start looking at how to incorporate technologies like voice analytics has arrived and with both on-premise and cloud solutions available, size isn't necessarily an issue. As the technology continues to improve and costs come down, smart telephony will be the new standard. You don't have to be Sherlock to see that coming.

To learn more about how Fifth Quadrant can help solve your CX case, contact us today. 

Ready to talk CX?


Stefan Kostarelis

Written by Stefan Kostarelis

Stefan is the Content Manager at a Sydney-based investor relations firm, and a freelance writer whose work has appeared in Techly, Paste Magazine, Lost at E Minor and Tech Invest.

Topics: Customer experience contact centre CX Articles & Insights

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