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Using Intelligent Virtual Agents to Improve the Customer Experience: Brains Before Beauty

We’ve spent quite a bit of time this month looking ahead and discussing what’s next for the contact center of 2014.  In keeping with the theme, last week we hosted a webinar with Anne Palmerine of UPMC and Ian Jacobs of Genesys.  Anne and Ian helped us think about some innovative ways to improve upon the customer experience in 2014, and particularly honed in on ways that that contact centers can redesign the customer journey. (I encourage you to watch it on demand if you missed it!)

Customer journey mapping has certainly been a hot topic in the industry this year, and it’s one that I know our audience is interested in exploring further. During our live webinar last week, more than 41% of attendees indicated that they have plans to use customer journey mapping in their customer service efforts in 2014.

In today’s multichannel environment there are many different tools, processes, and technologies that can assist enabling in a customer journey redesign. One that’s particularly fascinating and continues to gain popularity is the Interactive Virtual Agent (IVA).  Dr. Thomas Morrow shared an insightful series of articles last month that talked about the growth and positive impact of IVA use in today’s ever-changing and complex healthcare industry. It’s not just the healthcare industry that can benefit, though. The same applies across all industries as more companies look to virtual assistants to better serve their customers. Gartner forecasts that 50% of customer service interactions will be conducted via virtual assistant by 2015, and ICMI research shows that more than 64% of contact center leaders feel advanced self-service options such as virtual agents improve the overall customer experience.

As many companies look to add new technologies—including virtual agents—in 2014, now’s the perfect time to take a look at how and why this technology can be used to empower both customers and agents, and improve the customer experience. 

We’re all very familiar with the beloved virtual agent known as Siri. Along with the much lauded (and bemoaned) upgrades in ioS7 came a makeover for Siri. She now sounds more human-like and can playback voicemail and compose Tweets.  It seems like an impressive facelift on paper, but what really matters most for users is improved accuracy and functionality.

I recently talked with David Lloyd, CEO of IntelliResponse and he says that when it comes to virtual agents, they should be smart first, pretty second.

“What really makes a well-designed IVA effective is that (much like humans) it has the powerful ability to learn, and can assist customers in the same way a live agent would,” said Lloyd. “There’s not a lot of hand holding required.”

And that’s why many industries are moving past traditional forms of self-service such as knowledge bases and forums to offer a much more enhanced, intelligent, and real-time advanced self-service option for customers.

So how exactly does an IVA differ from an interactive IVR or forum? What makes IVAs so effective?  And why should your contact center consider implementing this technology in the coming year?

There are certainly many benefits, but David Lloyd says it really comes down to four pillars, and these are the same four pillars guiding the mission and product strategy at IntelliResponse.

1. Engagement

Perhaps the biggest benefit of a well-designed virtual agent is that it feels like a real agent to customers.  IVAs on mobile or websites can even be given a” face” and a name, so that customers feel like they’re having a real conversation with a live person. This leads to a higher level of customer engagement, ultimately resulting in higher levels of customer loyalty.

2. Answers

Customers reach out to the contact center because they have questions, and they’re looking for answers.  Providing customers with accurate, timely information the first time is crucial to improved FCR and CSAT.  And enabling customers to get the answers through web or mobile means lower call volume in the contact center, and reduced wait times. 

Bonus:  the virtual agent can double as a great onboarding tool, too!  With the help of an IVA, new or training agents have instant access to accurate information they can use to answer customer questions.  The result: a better customer experience, and faster, more efficient training and onboarding.

3. Access

Today’s connected customers need information on the go.  The standard 9:00- 5:00 service hours are no longer enough.  Customers want access to the answers they seek when and where it’s most convenient for them.  IVAs offer 24/7 around the clock service.

4. Insight

Customers and agents aren’t the only ones who benefit from the IVA.  The technology can provide valuable insight to the greater organization. Intelliresponse’s  IVA technology doubles as a research tool and captures every single answer that customers ask and then turns the data into actionable customer insights.

Imagine being able to capture every question customers and prospects ask through self-service, and then use that data to establish a true voice of the customer. The potential impact is limitless!

Is your organization considering implementing an IVA in the coming year?  Let us know in the comments.

Does your organization already use IVAs?  We’d love to learn about the impact.  Feel free to comment here, or email me at [email protected].