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Was that a real person or an intelligent virtual agent you just spoke to?

Customer service
(Image credit: Image source: Shutterstock/lenetstan)

Smart devices are now a part of our everyday lives and for some users, they are even becoming their new best friends. Whether or not we are going to take it that far, we are becoming more and more accustomed to speaking to them in a natural, conversational manner. From the moment we open our eyes until the minute our head hits the pillow, we are now glued to our smart devices – and are increasingly interacting with them through voice.

As consumers have quickly adapted to getting help from their personal virtual assistants, they now increasingly prefer to have self-service options when contacting a business. Recent research found that nearly a third (30 percent) of consumers that own smart devices use them to shop and order from. Consumer demand increasing rapidly, along with the pandemic causing the closure of almost every single store for an extended period of time, is increasing the volume of service requests to the contact center, and with more devices and interaction channels at their disposal, consumers expect service across more channels.

This is where Intelligent Virtual Agents (IVAs) come in, able to manage demand in ways almost indistinguishable from a human agent.

Automation that never sleeps

IVAs are automated, self-service applications that offer capabilities that are similar to human service and support agents – they just never rest or take holidays – and are substantially cheaper. Therefore, they can free up valuable time for human agents to focus on more urgent customer enquiries.

For example, they can understand human voice in over 100 languages and respond using text-to-speech (TTS) that is almost indistinguishable from a human agent. Virtual Agents can be configured with very basic skills—the most basic agent might simply answer the phone, ask the caller if she wants to maintain her place in queue and schedule a call-back. An advanced agent might have the skills to understand human speech in multiple languages, determine intent using natural language processing, process PCI-complaint payments and respond in multiple languages over the phone, via chat or SMS.

Automation can help contact centers massively, answering routine inquiries and subsequently allowing companies to deflect “busy work” calls from live agents. This frees up live agents’ time to deal with more complex queries and reduces average wait times for customers during busy hours, all whilst delivering a more human experience – that isn’t actually human.

How does it work?

IVAs use the latest integrated technology to offer a wide variety of self-service capabilities, using speech recognition and TTS in hundreds of languages, along with a wide variety of voices.

Integration with technology and agents should be at the heart of business operations in order to deal with customer queries quickly and effectively. With Interactive Voice Response (IVR), Inbound calls to the contact center can be controlled and managed through scripts and collect data, such as the issue they need help with. They can then offer a wide variety of self-service capabilities. It may start with asking the caller, “How can I help you today?” and by using natural language processing the virtual agent is able to respond to these open-ended prompts, enabling the contact center to automate tasks that were previously too cumbersome to be handled using speech recognition.

Once the virtual agent has completed the task, the collected information can be passed back through the system in order to perform the task needed. For example, if the call needs to be passed to a live agent, the virtual agent can receive data that enables it to determine into which queue to place the call. The customer’s call, along with the contextual information collected by the virtual agent, will then be transferred to a live agent, who will have everything they need to solve the query.

Virtual agents that understand

Natural language processing (NLP) uses AI to give machines the ability to read, understand and derive the meaning from human interactions and makes it easier for customers to get the support they need.

Using automated systems the complexity of interactions is dramatically simplified. This increases the percentage of enquiries that can be automated, helping to reduce costs and also eliminates complex IVR menus. Businesses who utilize intelligent virtual agents can apply applications for whatever service they want to give to their customers whilst saving valuable time and costs.

Imagine a caller forgets their password to an account – a currently common problem. With the input of IVAs, users reset their system passwords without IT input using automation with biometric security to authenticate each user by voiceprint, saving time and frustrations. Callers can also be re-routed to the correct department or can book doctor’s appointments and hotel reservations – all without talking to a single human being.

Virtual assistants are rapidly becoming a part of life. In fact, many households regularly use virtual assistants to look up information or take specific actions and it is no secret that great customer experiences lead to higher satisfaction and drives greater loyalty for brands. As consumer shopping habits change, contact centers need to be at the forefront in providing customers quick and reliable services that meet expectations. IVAs are the next step in solving customer problems effectively by reducing the number of calls that need a live agent and improving customer engagement, all whilst delivering a more human experience.

Brian Atkinson, GM & VP EMEA, Five9