We're already seeing the start of some incredible technological advancements that will shape an exciting future; a future that will play host to artificially intelligent beings that are capable of understanding and caring deeply about the people they talk to.
Imagine. It's a very hot day. Your calendar is very tight, and the back of your mind is filled with anxiety about a sick child. You're squeezing in lunch with a friend who just lost her job. You hold your hand over the biometric payment reader only to learn that credit has been denied. Your jobless friend has to pick up the tab.
On the way out, you contact your bank. You opt to speak to an agent rather than using a text-based alternative. The sun is blazing, and you feel your blood pressure rising.
The agent who answers apologizes for the mishap before you say a word. She already knows your name, and suggests you step into the shade while she inquires about the lunch bill. Within seconds she's discovered the problem and offers a solution. Her confidence and efficiency is soothing - she's all business but also understanding. Before hanging up, she asks if you'd like to have her credit your friend's account for lunch - a nice touch. This is the only question she asked during the entire 60-second conversation.
This agent is not human. The compassion and efficiency offered are based on data not emotion. Its "personality" has been programmed to reflect the type of bank the agent represents - efficient, understanding and confident.
As software advances, the sophistication and perception of virtual customer care agents will radically change to a point where computers will fully emulate human beings. They'll recognize emotion and mood. They'll be able to dialogue with people intelligently, they'll even be able to influence with persuasive arguments.
Through these virtual beings, brands will become more "human." Today, a brand's voice relies on messaging, employee training and consistency but tomorrow these things will be embodied in a highly developed, adaptable software program. These brand "beings" will be diverse and interesting because they'll help brands differentiate themselves in a new economy; an economy based on service rather than products.
If you think about it, business success stories during the past 100 years were primarily about products. Now we're moving towards a world where success and value propositions will be based on service. Of course we'll still need products, but our purchases will be more about the services wrapped around them. Consumers will be permanently connected to sophisticated help desks that watch and anticipate customer needs.
This economic model will cause brands to develop virtual beings that serve customers creatively and in the best way possible. Virtual agents will be proactive, relying on data analytics to understand you. They'll know the best time to talk to you if a problem crops up and because they have so much information at their "fingertips" they'll talk you steadily through a difficult problem - in a manner that best suits your personality and knowledge-level.
Will human agents still be in the mix? Yes, but their role will be vastly different from what it is today. As customer experience managers, they'll govern the brand's customer care architecture, drawing upon trends highlighted by their virtual counterpart, to maintain the feedback loop and action the necessary changes to better serve customers and better reflect the values of the brand. It'll be their job to ensure their virtual counterpart behaves and evolves appropriately, so that every customer experience can be better than the last.
So, on that hot day when you were exasperated at lunch, the virtual agent was detecting emotion through the pitch and pace of your words, and had the ability to truly understand and empathize with your situation. It also overlooked your rudeness and maybe even offered a small joke to send you on your way after the problem was solved.