ICMI is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them. Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.


Next: How to Implement an IVA

Note from editor: This is the second of a series of three articles that comes as a result of Dr. Thomas Morrow's research on the use of Intelligent Virtual Agents in healthcare. You can view the first article here .

Overcoming objections to the use of Intelligent Virtual Agent technology

I recently traveled a long distance to see our three beloved “Alaskan” grandchildren.  They were excited to share all of their stories since our last visit, and the oldest two did something that I never even imagined as a child: they took dog-sled racing classes!  A funny sweatshirt they bought said: If you are not the lead dog, the view never changes!

In a similar manner, many in the contact center world must think that your “view” never changes! 

You are a leader in a contact center.  Your organization has spent millions of dollars and perhaps decades developing your center’s infrastructure, but you are constantly facing the same issues you faced a generation ago: namely, challenging abandonment rates, dropped calls, high dissatisfaction in your live agents and your clients alike, high agent turnover rates, the constant need for new hiring, training, and monitoring… and constantly increasing costs and pressure to reduce them!

The downsides listed above are often not sufficient to overcome inertia and induce you to utilize proven technology to augment your current offering.  The reasons are myriad, but come down to a few basic factors: cost, fear of making a change, having to dump a “good enough” current solution, poor understanding of how an Intelligent Virtual Agent can revolutionize your operations, different “silos” running the contact center and the website, and concern about adding a further burden to an already overtaxed IT and telecom department.

But your current situation and challenges will only become greater with the increased focus on decreasing the costs to the medical delivery system.  The need to innovate and use technology will never cease, and as your competitors accept this level of innovation you will be forced to follow instead of lead in your industry.

To reduce your anxiety concerning the use of an Intelligent Virtual Assistant for your company, let me lead by informing you that millions of conversations occur every day with various forms of these agents.  These agents can bridge the great divide between your contact center and website departments and provide a cohesive, structured company solution.  An IVA can also provide a way for 80% of client and customer inquiries coming into your call center, live chat and website to obtain a rapid, accurate resolution 24 hours per day with no abandonment of the call or inquiry, no delay (response times are fractions of a second), and virtual certainty that the IVA “understood” the meaning of the inquiry.

The leading companies in this arena literally model your IVA based on the actions your best agents take to find and communicate the answer to an inquiry.  They do this by duplicating the “keystrokes” a live agent uses to access the disparate data sources, finding the answer in a manner very similar to how your star agents find the correct response.  This approach eliminates the problem faced by many companies that have numerous non-integrated systems that their agents need to access in order to correctly handle the wide variety of inquiries coming into a contact center.  Basically, if your best agent can answer the inquiry or handle the problem, an Intelligent Virtual Agent can do it too.

Another big concern is IT department workload. As it turns out, the implementation of an IVA is actually not much of a burden. Since these agents interact with your various systems in a manner similar to how your live agents do, the need to integrate your systems (something on every company’s back burner) is not a requirement. 

Cost should not be a major concern.  Virtually every contact center that implements an Intelligent Virtual Agent experiences significant cost reductions overall, as the call diversion rate is huge, saving you the cost of salaries and benefits.  I am not saying that you must fire agents… most contact centers would love to decrease their abandonment rate and improve their call center performance, and freeing up your current people will allow for this.  Also, with call center turnover ranging from 25% to even much higher, the “extra capacity” will quickly take care of itself.

The implementation of an Intelligent Virtual Agent can also decrease your turnover rate!  How?  Your live agents would love to be able to have someone (or something!) else answer the simple, mundane inquiries.  That allows them to have a more intellectually stimulating job. 

Customer satisfaction is also greatly improved.  Let me give you an example.

I fly a lot, and I mean a lot!  One website I use frequently (150,000 flight miles each year) has a website with a self-serve approach. Even though I am at their highest tier of flyer status and use it several times per week, I find it frustrating to find simple things such as whether I have unused tickets, award certificates, partners for earning airline miles etc.  Of course, the website has a search function, but more times than not I am left with a lot of searching to do on my own.  By the way, because of this, I call their premium line… A LOT!

Contrast that with United’s website.  Living in a large southeastern city, I seldom use this airline, but I am still a member of their mileage club.  I have not used their website more than a handful of times in the past decade but recently needed to look up a way to keep my miles from expiring.  Their website is equipped with a Virtual Agent named Alex.  After a secure sign in, I typed in my first question: “when do my miles expire?”  Alex immediately took me to my needed answer.  Typing a few more questions solved all of the issues I had. Alex understood each one of my needs as soon as I expressed it in the language I chose to use.  Alex was well trained, polite and extremely fast at solving my needs.  I could actually converse with Alex.

This same technology could easily streamline your health care contact-center operations.

The U.S. healthcare industry is under enormous pressure to reduce inefficiencies and cost, and the need to innovate and embrace new technology is greater than ever before.  If you are currently the leader, you can keep your position by continuing to innovate and explore new, more intelligent solutions.  But, unlike the sled dog, if you are not the leader, you are not tethered in place.  You can easily change your position – and your view – by implementing an Intelligent Virtual Agent!

Dr. Morrow has nearly 30 years experience in managed care and other health care related industries. He has been the founding medical director of 4 HMOs, an NCQA surveyor, the clinical lead for a national disease management company and has authored nearly 200 articles. He is a full time employee of a major biotechnology company.

The views and opinions of Dr. Morrow are his alone and do not necessarily reflect those of his employer. He serves as an unpaid chair of the Advisor Board for Next It, one of the leading companies leading the use of Virtual Intelligent Agents in the US.