David ChavezOctober 21, 2019

A Buyer’s Guide to Intelligent Virtual Agents

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Enterprise use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) grew 270% over the last four years, according to Gartner. Whether you have already implemented some form of AI across your enterprise or are still considering how the technology can be used, it’s important that you understand how intelligent Virtual Agent (VA) technology works and the incredible benefits it offers. Right now, we’re seeing massive opportunity for using these solutions to drive serious competitive advantages.  

A study from Narrative Science and the National Business Research Institute found that in 2018, only 11% of companies were using VA solutions like personal virtual assistants and chatbots. Yet in a 2017-2025 global AI forecast report, Gartner predicted that virtual agents would drive $1.2 trillion in business value by 2030. A separate study from Gartner found that 25% of customer service and support operations will integrate VA technology across engagement channels by 2020, up from less than 2% in 2017.

Research suggests the next 1-3 years will be the time to strike on intelligent virtual agents. Here’s everything you need to know about the technology…

An intelligent virtual agent is an automated version of a customer service representative. The VA solution emulates a person through either a speech or chat interface to communicate with customers. There are several different types of VA solutions, such as chatbots (a chat-based interface often used on company websites and via SMS), interactive voice response (an automated self-service system), and conversational AI (a more advanced form of IVR that interacts with customers based on a combination of technologies like speech recognition, machine learning, and natural language processing).   

VA technology can also be used to help offload agents, providing faster and easier access to the right data at the right time. Or, by handling basic customer inquiries so that agents can focus on more specialized interactions and time-consuming tasks -- more on this below.

How Will Your Organization Benefit?

Resolve Issues Faster While Improving Service

New research from Nemertes shows that agent assistance is the No. 1 plan for AI adoption. The technology is either currently in use, planned to be used or being evaluated by 69% of companies specifically for this purpose. VA solutions can help resolve issues faster for agents by siphoning off repetitive interactions or time-consuming tasks; automating screen pops with contextual information or data needed at a certain step of the call flow; and translating customer conversations in real-time to avoid repeating questions. VA solutions can also help expedite post-call work (or do it for agents). The above-mentioned Gartner research found that 70% of companies that implement an intelligent virtual agent achieve up to a 70% reduction in contact inquiries while seeing an improvement in customer satisfaction.

Reduce Costs

According to Nemertes, the No. 1 business goal for AI in DCX is reduced costs (60%); meanwhile, reports across the board confirm the significant cost savings of using VA technology. IBM, for example, goes into a detailed account of how chatbots can help reduce customer service costs by up to 30% by speeding up response times, freeing up agents for more challenging work, and answering up to 80% of routine questions.

This also allows organizations to reduce staffing costs by hiring only agents with strong expertise in specific areas. Nemertes’ research found that by 2025, 74% of companies will have live agents only handling complex or specialized interactions compared to 58% today. Overall, Gartner’s research found that organizations that used VA solutions in 2018 collectively saved more than $70 billion.

Improve Compliance and Reduce Risk

VA technology is massively helpful for ensuring regulatory compliance. For example, a PCI-compliant virtual agent can collect sensitive credit card information without the assistance of a live agent, ensuring the credit card data remains private while freeing up the agent to take care of higher priority tasks. In this same way, a HIPAA-compliant virtual agent can collect patient record information. While we’re not yet seeing a widespread adoption of virtual agents for compliancy, it’s clear the technology can be used for meeting these heightened requirements.

Be Regulatory Aware

Some states and countries will get in the act of regulating interactions with people where the entity interacting with them may seem to be human but is not. An example might be a chat interaction, may have to be indicated to be “not human” because the consumer interacting might not be able to tell. Another type of example might be regulations around clarity of why an automated action or even assumption was made. So while how chart how to modernize with Agent automation also plan to monitor shifting regulations and the geographies that will be affected.

How Can You Get on Board?

VA technology doesn’t have to be an all or nothing move. Start by focusing on the technology’s more basic capabilities, like setting up automatic callback functionality so customers don’t have to wait on hold. Or, offering automated appointment scheduling and reminders across customers’ channel(s) of choice.  

If you’re already using VA technology in these ways, consider more advanced applications like replacing touchtone menus for incoming calls with natural conversations. Or, using a virtual agent to evaluate language and voice inflections to quantify next-level drivers of customer satisfaction like attitudes, opinions and emotions. This enables supervisors to interject during interactions rather than wait for survey results, thereby creating better immediate outcomes and improving the overall experience.

Here’s a hit list for evaluating VA technologies on the market:

  • Keeps agents in sync and at pace with a consolidated view of customer information
  • Removes communications chaos to keep agents fully immersed, energized and focused
  • Provides data-driven insights to create a deeper understanding of customer needs
  • Engages customers socially in a secured and controlled environment
  • Harnesses the power of an open data model for delivering experiences that matter
  • Improves revenue conversion rates and reduce operational costs
  • Transcribes and summarize voice interactions in real-time for deeper and more personalized engagement
  • Tags keywords and sentiment
  • Reduces agent after-call work

Learn more about using virtual agent solutions like intelligent self-service, chatbots, virtual assistants and machine learning to better serve your employees and customers.

David Chavez

David Chavez is a Vice President in the Office of the CTO, responsible for Architecture and Consulting. Having 25 years of experience and holding 76 US patents, David is responsible for Avaya's award-winning and market-leading IP communications architecture and the creator of the Avaya Aura(R) architecture. He has a B.S. in Computer Science and Mathematics from New Mexico State University and an M.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University, with some executive education from Stanford Graduate School of Business.

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