The Importance of Context

So you just ordered that brand new movie you were waiting for from your service provider, and you can’t wait to start watching it. Awesome! The popcorn and drinks are ready, everyone’s assembled, and the lights are dimmed. You select the movie and hit the Play button on your remote. And … nothing.

Instead of the movie, you get an error message that the movie can’t be played along with some cryptic error code. And a number to call to rectify the situation. Left with little choice (other than not playing the movie), you pick up your phone and call the number on the screen. After working through a minefield of voice menu options, and then being put on hold and being forced to listen to music that makes you want to cry in agony, you finally hear the pleasant voice of the agent that greets you. “Alas, this is the person that will help me solve my problem”, you think. But your excitement turns to disappointment when they ask “Can I verify your account number, please?” And then, “How can I help you today?”.


You don’t know who I am? And you don’t know why I’m calling, especially after you explicitly asked me to call you about this problem?

Generations such as mine have long tolerated the effort involved in having to repeat our personal information to a customer service agent and having to describe our issue to them in detail … often multiple times … to get an issue resolved. But expectations are changing. With the advent of smart devices and the Internet of Things, we are more connected to the rest of the world than ever before. Instant access to knowledge, goods and services has changed our perception of what is acceptable and what isn’t. This includes how we engage with the companies that provide us with goods and services.

Today, we know that companies have our data, and we also know that they can easily identify us whether we log in to their web properties, use their mobile applications or Internet devices, email them or even call them. In fact, any touch point with a company today can be tracked and logged. Why is it, then, that companies still require you to identify yourself and your problem when the problem occurred on an Internet-connected device that is associated with your account profile? And why did they make you take the extra step of having to call them to resolve the issue?

For one, companies are not making a good enough use of Internet connected devices, web or mobile applications. Instead of asking the customer to call a number, an interactive dialog session could help guide the customer through troubleshooting, explaining and resolving the issue. A wearable device that detects anomalies in your heartbeat could trigger a direct two-way call between yourself and a nurse to further diagnose a potential issue. An abandoned shopping cart on the company’s web site could trigger the generation of a follow-up email, or an offer to chat with a specialist regarding the attempted order.

Of even greater importance, though, is the ability to evaluate context. Context provides meaning to a single interaction, but also links repeated interactions together to discern patterns and help recommend a course of action or set of actions. Evaluating context is key to understanding the longer term relationship between a company and its customer, identifying key moments in that relationship and proactively adjusting the way a company deals with that customer. It also helps to reduce the customer’s effort when dealing with a company, which results in both a higher rate of retention and a higher probability that they will promote the company to others.

Here’s a simple example of what could have happened with the movie purchase issue had context been applied. After attempting to play my movie, an error is generated on the set top box. The error contains an explanation of why the movie won’t play. In this case, it indicates that there was a streaming error. The set top box informs me that it will run a set of diagnostics. If the diagnostics are successful, and a resolution is possible, it will inform me that the movie should now play. This takes care of my existing issue. But that’s not all. The company has detected that I have had no less than 5 errors of the same type in the past 2 months, and this may indicate a different issue with my service that requires manual intervention. Instead of asking me to call to schedule service, the set top box will offer me the opportunity to schedule a service appointment, which I do. I receive a text from the service provider with a confirmation of the appointment. A day later, I receive a live call from a customer service representative to apologize for the inconvenience and to make sure I did not have any other issues with the service (as none were detected on their end).

This simple example illustrates different layers of context from handling a single issue to make a more general evaluation based on multiple related issues. Depending on the industry and types of interactions, the application of context may have many more layers and be even more complex. So how does a company manage context, then, given this complexity? To do this efficiently and effectively, a context engine needs to be part of the overall solution. Context engines, such as the one embedded in the Virtual Hold CX Platform,  can track and correlate interactions on any channel (ex. web self-service, email, apps). It can integrate with any number of enterprise backend systems, such as customer relationship management systems (CRM), to provide customer profile and history information. Additionally, it can process and store input from any number of Internet connected devices. The context engine uses all of these inputs to analyze a customer’s overall journey with a company, infer some key moments in that journey, and provide a combination of recommendations (ex. recommending a service call to fix a chronic connectivity issue) and actions (ex. initiating a two-way conversation with a health professional when the customer’s heart beat is irregular). It also learns throughout this process and adapts to evolve its recommendations as the customer’s journey with the company continues to grow and mature.

The benefits of context management aren’t in any way limited to maintaining customer satisfaction and loyalty, though it is critical to their relationship with the company. Context can be used to evaluate customer needs and wants and to target specific campaigns to up sell additional products and services to them. A loyal customer is more receptive to acquiring these new products and services. This can be done retroactively (after a specific interaction) or proactively based on where the customer stands in their journey. Loyal customers are also far more likely to recommend the company to their contacts by word of mouth or leveraging the exponential power of social media. This translates to new customer acquisitions and, ultimately, more revenue for the company.

With the proper application of context using a context engine, companies can continue to properly accommodate their customers’ increasingly demanding expectations. An engine that evolves in its sophistication of handling complex contextual scenarios means that a company can properly evolve its relationship with its customers at various points in their journey. Ultimately, it means maintaining loyal customers and encourages them to promote the company’s products and services to their contacts, resulting in new customer acquisitions. It’s a win-win for both side.

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