Today, Microsoft announced an agreement with 24/7 Inc. which I believe will redefine what customer service looks like. We’ve come a long way towards improving everyday life using technology, but there is always more we can do. The modern consumer, and I count myself in these ranks, is evolving with the technology we use. Customer service hasn’t kept pace with our evolution. I think this announcement goes a long way toward correcting this. 

By way of a personal example, I live in the Seattle area and a couple of weeks ago we were hit with a fairly heavy snow storm. I was traveling in the Silicon Valley area at the time and my flight home, like many others that day, was canceled. Around 6 a.m., the airline notified me of the cancelled flight with an e-mail, a robo-call to my cell phone and, for good measure, a text message. Each notification had the same message, “Your flight has been canceled. We’re sorry for the inconvenience. Please call our 1-800 number to reschedule.”

I called the customer service number and, after a 35-minute wait, got through to a representative. Even though the airline had sent me multiple notifications, the agent had no context for my call. They didn’t know who I was or why I was calling. The first agent told me my flight wasn’t canceled. I was then transferred and I found out the flight was in fact canceled, but I had to start over to provide all my details again to get that answer.

Even though I had been sent multiple alerts, I was only given one choice and that was to call an agent. This was a poor experience for me, and not really a great thing for the airline either. All the calls overwhelmed their phone queues and each call started from scratch. It was frustrating, inefficient, and a missed opportunity for the customer (me) and the business (the airline). In short, there has got to be a better way.

Most of you reading this are likely to be technology savvy. If you’re like me, you’re surrounded by smart, connected devices and you expect to transition seamlessly between using your PCs, smartphone, tablet, entertainment console and other devices. We are increasingly able to interact with devices using natural user interfaces (NUI) including touch, voice and gestures. Chances are that you are also increasingly using a combination of these devices as you do everyday tasks such as finding local restaurants, making dinner reservations, finding movies and watching TV shows. Asking a device like your smartphone to do something is quickly becoming as natural as talking to a friend.

Why then shouldn’t we be able to use that same device just as naturally to get customer service? Why shouldn’t I be able to get the change-of-flight notification and then interact with my device to re-book my flight just as naturally as I could speak with an airline agent? And why shouldn’t I have the ability to just point and select the flight I’d like to re-book on my tablet instead of having the customer service representative read them to me? After all, the customer service representative likely had to double click the flight with a mouse on their screen. I could have done the same thing on my device and saved both myself and the airline a lot of time.

All of us are quickly coming to expect companies to communicate with us in proactive, more natural and intuitive ways, and on the devices we use in our daily lives. We should expect businesses to reach out to us when we need service, and to do so in a way that anticipates how we want to be communicated with; whether that’s through our smartphone, our PC or through our TV if we happen to be in the living room.

These consumer expectations, in turn, translate into requirements for businesses. Companies recognize the huge opportunity this presents. They know they can build loyalty by communicating with their customers in a way their customers want: across devices. In addition, they can analyze the data from these interactions and increasingly other data (such as purchase, viewing, social context) to gain insight on how to best serve their customers. The companies that take this “Big Data” approach to their customer service and use the insight they gain to become more proactive and predictive, stand to reap huge benefits in building loyalty with their customers.

There’s a pioneering company that has been helping businesses apply Big Data analytics to customer service for over a decade. That company, 24/7, uses its Predictive Experience (PX) solutions to help companies analyze their customer interactions across Web and phone channels, bringing together silos of information and enabling breakthrough predictive customer experiences.

That’s why I’m thrilled that Microsoft has entered into an agreement with 24/7 Inc. to create a next-generation cloud platform for customer service. The combined Predictive Experiences (PX) platform will combine Microsoft’s experience in NUI with 24/7’s expertise in Big Data to help companies deliver the type of natural and intuitive service consumers expect and demand of companies.

Here’s one example of the kind of customer service journey that this agreement will enable:

Just as most of us have experienced the kind of flight cancellation I described earlier, I’m sure many of you have also had an experience with your bank notifying you that your credit card has been blocked due to suspected “fishy” activity. In the near-future when you get one of these notifications, say for instance telling you that someone tried to use your account in Spain (and you are definitely not in Spain), your bank will know how to send you the notification in a way that is best suited for where you happen to be (for instance, on your smartphone if you’re on the go), and the notification will not only already include the critical details you need to evaluate whether there actually was an unauthorized charge, but will also anticipate the actions you most likely will want to take immediately.

You’ll be able to reply directly to the notification on your phone and use your voice to highlight the charges that are bogus and then take action, such as cancel your card and have a new one issued. NUI makes the process natural and Big Data makes it predictive and intuitive.

When companies bring Big Data together with NUI, they’ll have customer service magic. They’ll have an experience that will literally create new industry leaders. They will improve communication with consumers, simplify customer service, anticipate needs, and learn from every customer interaction. This is the future of customer service, from Microsoft and 24/7.

Posted by Zig Serafin
General Manager, Online Services Division, Microsoft