During the past several years, enterprises have increasingly embraced chatbots and virtual agents to automate portions of their direct-to-customer processes. These technologies have historically handled only basic conversations and queries, e.g., telling a customer their bank account balance or providing a list of a telco’s SIM-only offers. With advances in technology, we have seen the emergence of Intelligent Virtual Agents (IVA) that can handle more complicated requirements.
While IVA is still a relatively new field, Everest Group research shows there is adoption across sectors. Here’s a quick look 1 and a few industry examples:
In banking, IVAs are being used to help customers with password resets, credit card balances, ID verification and loan application processing. In the telecommunications sector, some operators are using IVAs to engage with clients to help them find suitable products, e.g., cell phones. In the public sector, some governments are using IVAs to handle FAQs in the complicated setting of immigration.
So, what value does this type of AI-enabled technology bring to enterprises?
The Business Case
IVA business cases should start with an examination of current requirements, or problems and issues that would benefit from automation and cognitive technologies. Take the case of a global organization that wants to offer services centrally to multiple countries in their local languages. IVAs trained in different languages could significantly reduce the language-related overheads by minimizing the number of multilingual people the organization needs. Other requirements may be related to seasonal fluctuations in customer interaction levels, e.g., during sales in the retail sector, school-term times in education, and after a storm in the insurance sector. Demand fluctuation is difficult to anticipate. Many companies address this by bringing in temporary staff; that leads to increased hiring and training costs, and may result in work quality issues. With trained IVA software, more queries can be answered at faster speeds to deal with increased volumes.
Another issue for contact centers is a high rate of staff attrition. Agents must deal with unhappy customers and repetitive, low-level tasks, including answering the same questions time and again. Repetitiveness can be a cause of employee dissatisfaction in other settings too, e.g., a bank clerk who deals with loan applications and must ask customers the same set of questions again and again.
These are scenarios that could easily be handled by IVAs, and are exactly what the business case hinges on: the automation of high-volume, low-level customer or employee interactions, resulting in benefits such as reduced costs of calls, faster processing times, increased capacity (such as processing more bank loan applications every week), and higher customer and employee satisfaction.
Choosing projects that have larger scale and some complexity of processes for the IVA to handle helps build a stronger business case. These could include processes for employee productivity support, payment collections, and customer acquisition and retention services. For example, after providing bank account balance information, an IVA might highlight a low-interest credit card that matches the customer’s preferences. Automating these types of interactions can increase business efficiency, and boost sales through faster interactions and personalized offers. While human agents can do the same, they cannot operate at machine speed; it is the increases in efficiency, capacity and the potential for sales promotions that make the business case for IVA.
Key to this is good data management, and a robust understanding of data protection laws and policies to enable lawful data sharing between different departments within an organization. Otherwise, the IVA would not have the data to spot opportunities for cross- and up-sell, and its role in creating new business opportunities would be significantly diminished.
Service Transformation and Innovation
An important aspect of IVA technology is its ability to synergistically work with other digital solutions such as RPA, IoT, image recognition, and analytics. Together, they open opportunities for innovation that can fundamentally transform services. Think of any cab-hailing app that already combines locations with taxi services and payments. What if it had an IVA that could find eateries on your route, recite the menu to you, and place an order for pick up on your way home? This kind of service enrichment would give the cab-hailing company a strong competitive edge.
In the retail sector, IVAs could provide personal shopping services online, in the virtual world with goggles, in-store, or on an app. A virtual shopping assistant could make it faster for shoppers to find clothes that suit their figure and are appropriate for the occasion for which they are shopping.
Taking the Opportunity
To tap into these types of opportunities, enterprises need to chart a multi-point journey that starts with identifying critical business challenges and ends with deploying automation and IVAs to transform processes and services, as well as measuring success. To determine if IVAs could be right for your organization, ask yourself a variety of questions including:
- What are the current business challenges in my company?
- Which processes should be prioritized for improvement through automation and IVAs for customers, employees and partners?
- Which FAQs and their corresponding answers could be automated?
- Where are productivity-impeding bottlenecks in the delivery of employee services?
- What data is essential to make these solutions work, and what integrations will be required?
- How can these different AI-related elements be brought together in a coherent and integrated roadmap for improvement?
- How can my organization support the extended service/product and the additional technologies?
- How will these process and service changes be communicated internally and externally?
- What will be the impact of these technologies on employees, their roles, and future recruitment?
IVAs have the ability to change the face of front-office operations through automation and, when used in combination with other technologies, revolutionize products and services. This is the age of tech possibilities, and the companies that tap into them will be the leaders of the future.
1Source: Everest Group’s: Conversing with AI – Intelligent Virtual Agents (IVA) Market Report 2019.