How tech augments the human side of customer service

Salesforce's Bill Patterson explains the company's three areas of focus around voice tech for conversations with customers or employees.

How tech augments the human side of customer service

At Dreamforce 2019 in San Francisco, TechRepublic's Bill Detwiler spoke with Bill Patterson, EVP and GM of service cloud at Salesforce, about voice technology. The following is an edited transcript of the interview.

Bill Detwiler: As companies use technology to create really good customer experiences--great customer experiences--too often that technology also can throw up barriers to creating those good experiences. What is Salesforce doing, especially around voice and other technology, to break down those barriers and to create a more human centric customer service experience? 

Bill Patterson: I think the best technology are those technologies that you don't know you're even using. The more that we can use things like our voice just to become a great kind of way to interact, I think becomes how technology doesn't enter the front; it really goes in the background of just how an everyday conversation occurs.

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I think in the case of customer service, you know we've been so accustomed to all these choices of channels and technologies and different ways that companies communicate, that we haven't actually focused on what was actually being communicated, what was actually being said, what was being discovered in those conversations, to make that really more personal. Using the power of now intelligence and modern technology, we can help companies today and users today and agents today just do better at handling the everyday needs of their customer by making it fall into the background seamlessly and ambiently for a user. 

Bill Detwiler: I know that one of the things that's always a concern when it comes to technology is that it's also a replacement for human interaction. Talk a little bit about how technology is used to augment the human side of customer service. 

Bill Patterson: Let's take voice, for example. Not only are we saying words as we speak right now, but there's a tone, there's an intonation, there are different frequencies of how we communicate. If I'm mad, I'm going to yell. If I'm sad, you're going to hear the cracking in my voice. Our ability to kind of bind into what is actually communicated both with a physical text as well as the wave of how someone actually communicates, allows us to infer incredible intelligence. Simply by using those data signals now, we can turn that data signal into a more human-like set of experiences or guidance for a customer service team, to say, 'Slow down, you're interrupting your customer,' or 'Be careful with how you're communicating this message because it might be a sensitive message you're giving someone.'

This is where again, technology needs to really naturally augment our everyday conversation that we have in service, ultimately do what's right and take care of the customer in those moments that matter. 

Bill Detwiler: And also to allow humans to focus on some of the higher level functions when it comes to those managing those customer relationships. Using technology to handle some of the more perfunctory, routine sort of interactions, and leaving the humans to interact with the customers at a higher level. Right?

Bill Patterson: Absolutely. I think today, technology can actually handle a lot of the low-level work. Things like validating who I am, or things like looking up last set of orders on my behalf so a user doesn't have to do that, or an agent doesn't have to do that anymore. What an agent has to do is really explain the variations between maybe two products--what's a better fit for me if you know who I am. Maybe also guide me to a set of products or services I didn't even know were possible.

This is where I think humans--as we become more emotive in the service experience--allow us to do what's natural to us, which is take care, share, and guide us to a better set of outcomes altogether.

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Bill Detwiler: We saw that this morning during the keynote. I loved the demonstration where you were asking about the rental vehicles. You said, 'Hey look, here's where I'm going. Limit the search to maybe the vehicles that I have rented before.' Talk about that experience or how the technology behind that enables that--the technology to make those decisions.

Bill Patterson: Customers have needs; they have wants; they have desires; they have preferences. I think that's where we as Salesforce differentiate quite heavily from say, others in the customer service solution category, because we have the power of the customer intelligence right at the center. When you know who you're dealing with, and you know what you need to deal with them about and what their preferences are, it makes it so that one: service can become so much more tailored to the needs of the person you're actually interacting with them down to your line.

Second, I think the other thing is, as you really look at technology and what's possible, we can make it just conversational; we can make it ambient; we can make it natural; we can make it more human. The fact that you and I are just having a dialogue today, and maybe I'm having just a dialogue with a company I'm doing business with, but my words and what I'm saying to you matter. Today, sadly most customer service interactions barely tap into that powerful conversation to make that part of how their intelligent system that they can unveil for their customers. 

Bill Detwiler: Thinking about that interaction--that touch point--you talked about it a little bit earlier when you were talking about delivering the sensitive information. It's not just always a new pair of shoes; it's just not always buying the latest gadgets. Sometimes it's people in the midst of a crisis. It could be--if you're dealing with insurance--it could be a health issue; it could be financial--an issue that's critical at that moment. Talk a little bit about how technology--expand on that a little bit--how technology is helping companies navigate those difficult conversations with their customers? 

Bill Patterson: I think again, technology is our guide--and Einstein--our AI technology is not AI for AI sake. It's AI to really make those moments that matter presented with a valuable set of choices to augment that experience, especially in the case of surveys. What that means in the case of someone like a home health care professional, there might be a set procedure I must follow, but Einstein can actually guide me through that with more softness; it can guide me through that with better craft or touch as part of my conversation. It also can guide me to maybe a set of choices that you didn't ask me about, but I can sense and see from the data signals that are already stored about your profile, that it really is about delighting you in a way that you didn't even ask me about.

I really think the technology becomes not just an enabler, but it becomes a way for us to truly turn a routine interaction to something magical and special. 

Bill Detwiler: What's next for voice, when it comes to whether it's customer service or just human and companies as they interact with their employees or their clients, their customers. What's next on the horizon for voice? 

Bill Patterson: Three things that we're really focusing on. One, making every conversation a source of intelligence for a company. Again, as I mentioned, a lot of businesses barely capture what's said in their conversations and make that part of a customer profile. That's kind of number one. That's foundational for us, but really an important kind of step. 

Number two, it's about making our application easy to talk to, easy to speak to. No matter where I am at around, as a user, I can say, 'Hey Salesforce, what does my call queue look like today?' That will now give me a better sense of my workload, if you will, or 'Hey Salesforce, I'm taking the afternoon off; reorient my queue over to the offload queue' so that I know now that my colleagues and my teammates can pick up something I can't carry on because my work day takes me out on the road.

Then number three, I think, customers today want to have more conversations with businesses, even in their off hours. The more we can actually allow businesses to use a conversational language--and I don't mean an IVR here. We've all talked to IVR's; no one likes talking to those--but really a conversational entity made maybe by the phone or some other app that allows you to communicate with a business and have the business speaking language that you comprehend and understand, naturally, natively, in the language of your choice. 

Bill Detwiler: The last thing I'd love to get your get your opinions on is privacy. Privacy is always an issue when it comes to new technology, when it comes to the amount of data that companies are collecting. As we think about voice as a new data point, everyone's accustomed to their data being recorded, their customer service calls being recorded. No one really thinks about that much anymore, but as it comes to having those calls analyzed with artificial intelligence, machine learning that can open up, it might open up some concerns. Talk a little bit about privacy and what Salesforce does to address the privacy within Salesforce, and then to help your customers also, and clients address their own privacy within their own operations. 

Bill Patterson: It's no secret that organizations today--and databases have been around for a long time--that people can store as much information as they can about you. At Salesforce, our belief is actually to create that profile. We want to put that in both your hands as a business, but even more so, your hands as a customer, to be able to opt in to only what I'm willing to share with you. Whether that be through GDPR and compliance and all the other regulations that are out there today, it's on us to maybe lead in this generation of giving more control to customers and saying, 'Hey, it's okay to use this information, but the information that was in this dialogue, that's not okay for you to turn into a tool in your arsenal to use against me, if you will, in our relationship.'

Our stance is really to create that universal profile, give customers the ability to opt into what information they're willing to share and not share, and then allow that opt out, if you will, to make sure that that doesn't be turned against me.

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