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The future of customer experience with blockchain

Posted June 7, 2018
Blue chains

Imagine this scenario: an airline passenger calls in to make changes to their flight itinerary. It’s the second time they’ve called; the first time, an error was made which was only noticed by the passenger after receiving a new email confirmation. Knowing who was responsible for the error will impact the fees associated with a second change, making a record of the initial interaction critical in order to avoid a potential ‘he said, she said’ scenario.

Can a regular database crack the case? It can come very close, but it is still prone to errors. Blockchain technology, on the other hand, provides indisputable transaction tracing. In this particular scenario, a blockchain-backed contact center could record each step the agent took when they made the change, and even provide a record of the transaction to the customer post-call. Any agent could then easily pull up the information on their screen and know what transpired without having to listen to a recording of the conversation.

Blockchain becomes a safety net that acts as a record of truth for both parties because it cannot be modified or deleted. This kind of transparency promises to reshape customer service — and customer trust.

Blockchain basics

Large-scale adoption of blockchain technology is still a few years away, but a number of companies, government departments and institutions are currently trying to optimize its usefulness in a variety of industries, including financial services, healthcare and manufacturing.

At its most basic, a blockchain is like a data file. Cijoy Olickal, a blockchain expert and partner at blockchain advisory company Chain Advisors, refers to it as a ledger. “Imagine you’ve got a composition notebook with 100 pages and 80 rows per page, effectively 8,000 rows of ‘records’ that you can keep,” he says. “You can consider the whole notebook to be a block. And then when you run out of space, you get a new notebook, which is just a continuation of the prior notebook or block.” Anybody who picks up one notebook in the sequence will be able to tell which one came before it for transparent transaction tracing.

As a technology, blockchain has been around for a while, but it really came into the spotlight when Bitcoin hit the mainstream around 2013. Bitcoin — and any other cryptocurrency — demands a transparent and decentralized method of record-keeping in order to establish the value of the currency and make note of transactions. This is what blockchain technology delivers.

Olickal notes that blockchain offers encryption and authentication capabilities that can be applied to any kind of exchange between parties (aka “smart contracts”), whether they’re trading money or data. The decentralized nature of blockchain also makes it exceptionally hard to hack. That heightened degree of security is attractive to many facets of the business landscape, including customer service.

A foundation of trust

The trust, transparency and encryption embedded in blockchain-based systems has triggered a “gold rush” of sorts, with businesses around the world trying to unlock its potential. Yael Tamar, founder of blockchain consultancy Top of Blockchain, says that while the widespread implementation of blockchain technology is still a few years off, it could be an attractive feature for wooing tech-savvy, security-minded Millennials.

Because each blockchain transaction is considered a smart contract, customers who would normally be concerned that a company won’t hold up its end of a bargain can take solace in knowing there’d be an indisputable record of their transactions.

For example, if you have leftover airline miles you want to donate to your cousin, you could do so easily thanks to blockchain. With a traceable record of your transactions both with the airline company and with your cousin, the contact center serving the airline can immediately authenticate the contract and allow your cousin to use those miles. This way brands could potentially use smart contracts as an additional attraction in their customer service deck.

“With blockchain customer service, brands can dangle the carrot of smart contracts as a way of inviting customers to try them out,” says Tamar. Smart contracts will allow brands and contact centers to build better, more trusting customer relationships and deliver superior customer service.

Is blockchain the future?

“Blockchain is most useful in industries where there is a need for visibility of end-to-end data and where there is a need for trust,” says Chris Trew, a blockchain expert and the founder of blockchain-development platform Stratis.

Trew already sees the technology being used in the healthcare industry. For example, when health records are transferred between contact center and patient, or doctor and contact center — blockchain allows the sender and the receiver to make sure that the documents received are indeed the originals by comparing the blockchain properties of the two files.

Blockchain’s encryption offering is ideal for securing all types of confidential files. Still, just how much it will be used in customer service remains an open debate. Tamar sees more widespread adoption of the technology in a few years, but Trew says it doesn’t make sense to use apply blockchain in industries where transparency and immutability are not significant selling points.

For now, it is making inroads in how finance and healthcare brands deliver and handle customer care with the most immediate impacts being felt in contact centers serving the healthcare and fintech industries.

Olickal of Chain Advisors, meanwhile, is optimistic about blockchain’s potential for disruption. “Blockchain changes the entire way we think about trust,” he says. “For instance, if you and I made an agreement that I was going to do something, and I didn’t follow through, you would have to go to a third party to arbitrate the dispute.

“But in the blockchain environment,” Olickal continues, “we can now program those agreements and the value will be transferred without any prejudice. [With blockchain technology], there is an opportunity to change the way we look at trust.”

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