This is the next entry in a series of posts previewing the topics and viewpoints that will be discussed at our annual Digital Workforce Summit in May. Click on the registration button at the bottom of this post for more information.
Think about your first few jobs in high school or college. What were the most time-consuming or annoying tasks that you had to handle? Basic data entry? Were you a customer service agent during a product recall? Was it your job to type customer information into a computer database? We’ve all experienced one task or another that not only took hours of precious time from our days, but also pushed our bored minds to the brink.
Fast forward to today, and it’s quite possible that things haven’t changed all that much for the employees in your company. Password resets, customer FAQs, inventory queries — you might have dozens of these processes to manage simultaneously. What if you could wipe away the time spent and the costs associated with these mundane processes? Your employees would thank you, and your younger self would be proud.
Virtual agents are the answer to this problem — and there will be plenty of examples of virtual agents in action at this year’s Digital Workforce Summit on May 8 in New York City. Let’s explore a few of them.
Elevating Customer Service
To help brands appreciate virtual agents, businesses often use customer service as a litmus test for how primed their companies might be for automation. If your customers jam up phone lines and inboxes with easily answerable questions, if you’ve got long hold times, if you’ve got dissatisfied customers and if customers regularly drop off service calls, you’re probably ready to start your automation journey. By the way, you’re also losing a ton of money and will continue to do so if you don’t make changes.
Virtual agents can eliminate the vast majority of questions pertaining to certain levels of information. They can learn your product catalog. They can integrate with data systems and pull in customer information. Anything customers need to know that can be found on an FAQ page, or within an account page, can be repeated by a virtual agent during a service conversation.
So where’s the cost savings, you may ask? Well, what if you could answer every standard customer service question in seconds? What if you never lost a customer to a long queue? What if the customer experience you delivered was so streamlined that customers started telling their friends and family that your product or service is worthy of their business? Instead of alienating customers with bad service, you’re building repeat business and powerful word-of-mouth recommendations.
You might also be thinking: I’ll save a ton of money getting rid of my call center employees too. That would be the absolute wrong approach. Instead of handling hundreds of FAQ interactions each day, your brand can assign human agents to tasks and projects that generate revenue – such as customer inquiries about bulk orders, or calls from long-term high-value customers. You can turn your human agents into sales agents. They can also help engineers and product teams build new services, using their first-hand knowledge and experience with customers’ likes and dislikes.
Virtual Agents Deliver Value Across All Lines of Business
Customer service might not be your problem. You may have a slow or backlogged IT operation. Maybe you need help selling products online. You could be having difficulty validating accounts for real customers from phishing attacks. A recent Everest Group study of the industry’s leading virtual agents found that the technology is especially good at improving response time on query-related tasks, average handle time for one-on-one chat sessions with internal or external users, and first contact resolution on all troubleshooting or service-based processes, among other skills.
It’s crucial that you identify the areas of your business that will benefit the most from an improvement in these specific attributes and automate accordingly. Keep in mind that AI’s ability to scale services equals more potential revenue, optimized processes, reduced overhead and an improved customer/employee experience that overall improves brand reputation.
There Are No Overnight Successes in AI
Virtual agents don’t begin yielding ROI once you click the “start” button. They require significant investments of time, labor and financial resources. Within the first year, once the system is up and running (past the month-to-quarter-long testing and piloting stages), you should expect to begin saving money immediately. If your first two years of AI adoption have been as fruitful as they’ve been for others in the industry, you’ll want to start thinking about new processes to automate. If your AI system has been focused on customer service issues, maybe it’s time to expand to fraud prevention. If it’s been focused on fraud, maybe it’s time to let your AI system start selling and recommending products.
Once that works, think about slowly integrating the system throughout the entirety of your business. Although this requires integrating AI with every front and back-end tool you use, and training it accordingly, this allows the AI system to learn everything it needs to know about your processes, your customers and whatever it may need to collaborate with a human worker. It may take time to build, test, rebuild and test again, but once everything is finalized, you’ll have a virtual agent who can multitask as a customer-facing agent, an internal support agent, a whisper agent, an automations expert and even as a receptionist who takes coffee orders. You’ll have a renaissance digital employee capable of providing value at every single touchpoint.