In August 2023, Gartner announced three technologies that will transform customer service and support. From these, conversational user interface (CUI) captured our attention because it evoked memories of media from the last few years. 

The epic film ‘Her,’ and a few soon-to-be-realistic episodes of ‘Black Mirror,’ come to mind here. These fantasy movies explore the concept of emotional and even romantic relationships that humans can develop by conversing with a voice trained by artificial intelligence. Strangely, these science fiction series we used to binge-watch now feel almost like our reality.

On a more critical note, historian Yuval Noah Harari expressed his concerns about AI development and the potential lack of control people might experience in the future. In his book ‘21 Lessons for the 21st Century,’ Harari writes about how future virtual assistants will advise humans on whom to date or what university to study. This could lead people to trust their instincts less, and rely on bots to make their important decisions.

In this article, we explore what a conversational user interface means for customer experience designers and service delivery professionals. Let’s delve into this concept as we observe it in its early stages of development.

What is conversational user interface (CUI)? 

The best way to explain CUI is to imagine Alexa, Siri, or an advanced version of ChatGPT. These are ‘humanised robots’ that use voice and sound to simulate human conversation.

A conversational user interface is an interaction between the interface and humans, but in a natural conversational manner. For this, a machine employs reasoning and human logic to respond to requests and engage in meaningful conversations. In other words, CUI is the closest we’ve come to blurring the boundaries between humans and machines in the realm of conversation.

We’ve seen CUI being used now across multiple industries for different uses to streamline processes within these spaces. A recent example we found through real-life use cases, not research, is in health. When getting in contact with health services recently, one of our editors found that she had to complete a referral form through a smart chatbot. Here was her perspective – 

“Speaking to a chatbot rather than a human when it comes to my healthcare was fascinating because I never considered it to be a possibility before. The idea of talking to a robot about my sensitive, vulnerable information and losing that humane empathetic touch did feel robotic. Even my responses which could only be from a selection of ‘Sure’ and ‘Okay’ felt so stiff. Knowing that what the ‘person’ on the other end was saying was just a pre-programmed input said to millions of others felt uneasy. It wasn’t personal, and just overall was an odd experience in that respect.

“Nevertheless, it was an efficient process. This bot was put into place to fill in a self-referral form for me based on my answers from a selection of answers I chose from, or had to write one or two sentences for. Overall, the process took about 5 minutes. When this was done, I was ensured about next steps and my data information privacy. 

“Despite the strange, futuristic, sci-fi feeling that came with this, the experience was just fine. I got done what I needed to get done in no time at all and could continue with my day. This is perhaps the reality we have to slowly get used to; but until then, it will feel like sci-fi prompt.”

How will CUI transform customer service and support? 

Based on our close observation in the CX industry, here are some customer engagement aspects we can see adopted by companies and users sooner than we can imagine: 

1. Inclusion and diversity perspective 

Customers might choose the channel according to their preferences. With sound and voice conversational user interface, blind consumers, for instance, can benefit from service providers that were previously inaccessible. Furthermore, such virtual assistants could book a flight, find the cheapest options, and even print documents for unable users. All without the customer having to click a thing.

In 2022, Apple launched an ad demonstrating various disability features in their products, such as noise recognition, screen reading, and door detection. These are the innovations and values we hope to see more of in the future.

2. Call and contact centre agents’ perspective 

Conversational user interfaces will not only assist end-users but also aid representatives during demanding calls. CUIs can provide prompts to help representatives make faster decisions. 

Furthermore, virtual assistants will be trained to mimic representatives’ reactions and respond to customers’ calls. In this way, some companies hope to reduce biases and ensure patient and empathetic conversations that human representatives can’t always offer to customers.

3. Surveys and customer feedback 

There are assumptions in the CX space that CUI will allow biometric feedback systems. These technologies can measure emotional reactions by conducting real-time sentiment analysis. This further means we can gather feedback without asking questions or sending surveys. 

4. Self-driving cars 

In the latest issue of CXM Review, Sophie Pohlmann writes about the role of conversational user interface in self-driving cars (page 41). Users will be able to communicate with the vehicle about their preferred locations on their way to work. Over time, the car will develop patterns and utilise streets and maps based on consumer behaviours and values.

Final thoughts  

In this exploration of conversational user interfaces (CUI), we’ve journeyed through a vast landscape. This spans science fiction, innovation, inclusivity, and the transformation of customer service. 

Gartner’s insights introduced us to a future where CUI is pivotal in reshaping how we interact with technology. From the echoes of ‘Her’ and ‘Black Mirror’ to the warnings of Yuval Noah Harari, it’s evident that CUI blurs the boundaries between humans and machines. We’ve been offered a bridge to more personalised, efficient, and inclusive service experiences.

In this ever-evolving landscape of technology, CUI stands at the crossroads of human experience and artificial intelligence. We’ve been offered a glimpse into the possibilities that lie ahead. What will we do next?

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