It’s Time to Embrace the Era of Intelligent Virtual Agents
You’ve heard of the IVR system.
Interactive voice response is a foundational part of most contact centres and busy calling environments.
But what about intelligent virtual agents (IVAs)?
IVAs represent the future of call management, self-service support, and staff empowerment. They handle repetitive and simple actions on behalf of human agents, allowing business leaders to enhance customer experience.
We’re living in a world where companies and customers alike are growing increasingly comfortable with interactions that involve bots and automated systems. Virtual agents, powered by artificial intelligence and natural language processing technology, feel just as natural to engage with as a smart speaker, or voice–activated assistant.
IVAs are key to augmenting customer service staff and unlocking better experiences for customers in the age of digital transformation.
IVA technology is an evolution of the IVR system intended for routing calls and handling simple tasks. Virtual agents use AI to power speech-enabled or chat environments where customers can solve problems, complete payments, check balances, book appointments, and more.
Modern IVAs can have natural conversations with customers and pull information from a variety of contact centre environments to fulfil requests.
Although IVA technology has been gradually making its way into the modern business landscape, it has gained significant traction in recent years. The pandemic of 2020 pushed countless brands to accelerate their digital transformation strategies and embrace innovation to deal with increased service demands and new customer expectations.
The use of IVAs shot up by around 46% in 2020 alone.
Interest in IVA technology isn’t just linked to post-pandemic demands, however. Consumers are becoming more accustomed to conversational AI, with companies like Gartner predicting that speech interfaces will initiate around 70% of self-service activities by 2023.
IVA is one of the most valuable tools that companies of any size can access today to empower and enhance self-service operations. Self-service is quickly gaining traction, as digitally savvy customers prefer to resolve service requests themselves before they seek out assistance from human agents.
In the past, self-service solutions were notoriously clunky and complicated pieces of technology. Although certain automated systems were available, it was often exceedingly difficult for any solution to fully understand and respond to the needs of the customer. Yet, even before the pandemic of 2020, companies were discovering that their customers preferred using self-service for a range of tasks.
Today, IVA solutions for self-service allow customers to quickly and easily find the information they need and complete tasks without waiting for assistance. These tools enhance and transform the customer journey. When a customer does need live assistance, virtual agents can make the interaction far easier for human agents too.
The functionality of IVA solutions can differ slightly depending on where you obtain your software. However, the core functionality remains the same. Virtual agents use AI, speech recognition, and integrations with your CRM, and other backend systems to engage with customers and complete service tasks.
Using a code-free, visual IVA development interface like the one offered by Five9, you can build virtual agents by dragging and dropping functionality into the interaction flow of your task. You can also start with pre-built task templates, like a credit card payment, appointment maker, or order lookup, and customize it to fit your needs.
Most cloud-based AI solutions are designed to integrate with technology at the heart of business operations. An IVA solution integrated with your contact centre could ask a customer what they needed help with today, and then use natural language processing to respond to open-ended prompts. This technology allows the virtual agent to recognise keywords and phrases to move the customer along on their purchase or self-service journey.
Once a virtual agent completes a task, like sharing a customer’s balance with them, it can pass collected information from within the conversation back through the system for logging and reporting. If a call needs to be taken to the next level and delivered to a human assistant, the virtual agent can share contextual information from the interaction, ensuring customers do not have to repeat themselves.
Although many companies see the IVA as a natural upgrade from IVR technology, IVA is capable of so much more than a basic IVR routing system. IVAs are self-service applications that offer conversational experiences and can automate many more tasks than an IVR.
IVA technology can free up valuable time for human agents to focus on other complex customer concerns. What’s more, because this technology never needs to rest or take holidays, they’re an efficient way to ensure that you always have assistance available for your customers.
Unlike your standard IVR system, your IVA can offer:
IVA technology can be almost indistinguishable from human agents when it comes to things like arranging for payments to be made over the phone or renewing subscriptions. You can also design the virtual agent to provide a service that is PCI compliant, HIPAA compliant, and on track with any other essential requirements.
IVA technology might seem futuristic, but it’s actually been around for quite some time. It’s only recently, however, that the technology has become accessible to companies of any size thanks to SaaS and code-free tools. As a result, more and more companies are discovering the value of IVAs.
Spikes in demand for better customer service are one of the factors accelerating demand in this area. IVA solutions can always be ready to offer support, which is particularly important in the age of uncertainty after the COVID-19 pandemic.
The pandemic in 2020 pushed consumers from all backgrounds to increase their digital activities, with around 56% of customers saying that they plan to use self-service apps more often.
During the pandemic, virtual agents proved that they were capable of handling rapid increases in demand. Some analysts have found that CSAT and NPS scores have widely improved or remained steady, even with overworked call centres to consider.
Customers are also rapidly discovering the value of self-service as a way of resolving routine everyday support tasks. Around 70% of customers say that they expect a company’s website to include a self-service solution, and 40% of consumers say that they prefer self-service over contact with a human.
Although it’s worth noting that virtual agents can never fully replace the empathy and human elements of talking to a person, they have many benefits to provide in their own right.
Using IVA self-service in the age of post-pandemic customer experience allows for:
Like any digital transformation technology, IVA works best when it’s implemented with the right strategy. Intelligent virtual agents aren’t intended to replace human agents. Instead, this technology is there to augment contact centre and customer engagement staff. An IVA can give your team the superpowers they need to thrive in a modern environment.
The earliest IVA projects often focused on replacing various service tasks with automation. In a rush to save time and money, some companies even made the mistake of trying to augment tasks that require human empathy, like responding to common customer complaints.
Now, we know that it’s important to find the right balance between human agent support and automated systems. The best way to implement an IVA solution is to:
For the best results, companies should also be paying attention to their customer satisfaction and NPS scores after implementing IVA technology. Measuring important metrics that demonstrate how often your customers can completely resolve their requests using IVAs, and how satisfied they are with the experience, will show you where you can improve and invest in the future.
Automated self-service solutions haven’t always been as effective as we might have hoped. Fortunately, recent technology advances mean that more companies can begin to see the benefits of IVA for themselves. Upgrading to an IVA gives today’s companies the power to transform customer service and improve experiences, without spending a fortune on technology.
In the past, deploying speech-enabled and advanced virtual agents for the contact centre was a time-consuming, costly, and complicated process. You’d often be required to purchase a developer’s time and assistance to create a custom application from scratch. Even then, it took a lot of time and training for a virtual agent to be ready for wider use.
Thanks to modern cloud-based solutions and process, it’s now possible to deploy AI-powered IVAs in a matter of days or weeks – rather than months. The latest code-free platforms support non-technical business professionals in building and managing virtual agents. What’s more, pay-as-you-go pricing means that you only spend on the things you need.
No business can afford to overlook IVA today.
To learn more about how IVAs are transforming the customer experience, read Intelligent Virtual Agents and the Future of Contact Centres