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Contact centers have evolved into dynamic communication hubs that have been put to the test in the past two years.
Businesses have started investing in intelligent virtual assistants (IVAs) because they are effective in improving contact center productivity and customer experience. However, to get the best returns from these virtual assistants, you need to know your strategy. Without a clear direction, you end up compromising the customer experience.
Here are questions and challenges to consider before expanding your IVA strategy. By checking these boxes, you ensure that the IVA meets your business needs and customer communication preferences.
Question: What level of complexity will the IVA support?
As I mentioned above, one of the first and most important questions to ask is, “What is the overall strategy for the IVA?” Will the IVA complement your agents so they can focus on more complex tasks? Or will the IVA focus on one or a few very specific use cases (e.g. password reset, bill payments or two-factor authentication)?
Diving into your IVA strategy is really about knowing the complexities you want the IVA to handle and how many of those requests you want to prevent from being escalated to live agents. A clear strategy and understanding of the complexities that may lie ahead are crucial for a successful integration.
Challenge: Understand technology
Understanding the technology is central to designing IVAs that support the complexity required. Understanding the differences between IVAs and other contact center solutions like chatbots, voicebots, and interactive voice response known as IVR can help ensure your IVA can effectively support specific use cases, no matter the complexity. Below are various contact center technologies and their key differences.
- Chatbot: A chatbot is a program that can automatically communicate with a user without the help of a human agent. They have limited abilities and usually interact via text. Chatbots are rule-based and task-specific, which allows them to ask questions based on pre-determined options. They lack sophistication and will not draw conclusions from past interactions with customers. Chatbots are best suited as question-and-answer use cases.
- Voicebot: Voicebots and chatbots have similar functions. The main difference to a chatbot and voicebot is the channel. Voicebots are more complex as they involve speech-to-text, which allows callers to talk to the bot. These solutions use IVR software.
- IVR: As mentioned briefly above, IVR software is an automated phone system technology that interacts with callers and collects information based on how the caller navigates through a calling menu. It doesn’t use AI. Callers navigate menu options through spoken responses or by pressing numbers on their phones. IVR software routes the caller to specific departments or specialists. Some might think of an IVR as a simple voicebot.
- Value added tax: A smart virtual assistant is the most sophisticated option and you can use it through different channels. IVAs process natural language queries using natural language understanding or natural language processing and understand the situational context, which allows them to handle a more complex set of questions and interactions. These tools closely resemble human speech and can understand queries with misspellings, grammatical errors, slang, or other potentially confusing language much like a human agent.
You’ll be better equipped to advance existing contact center communications strategies when you understand IVAs, the full volume of capabilities they offer, and how they differ from other AI-enabled solutions.
Question: Which persona should the intelligent virtual assistant represent?
For an IVA to be effective, you must understand the person that the virtual assistant is meant to represent. This persona provides information on how to design your virtual assistant to act on the basis of your company’s brand. To know the persona, you need to understand how your customers interact with the contact center and the complexities of the skills that the assistants—both live and virtual—need to master.
Based on these defining characteristics, you can establish business rules for the IVA. These rules then create the standard for the design of the IVA. Some of the key questions to answer to uncover Persona include:
- Should the voice be female? Masculine?
- Should it have an accent?
- How many languages should it be able to?
- Does it need to be familiar with the jargon of a specific industry?
- Should it have a casual tone and follow a more informal language model? Or should it be formal and professional?
- How will clients speak to the IVA?
Answering these questions will help you design an effective IVA that you can scale for your brand.
Challenge: Lack of collaboration between IT and CX teams
IT teams often work closely with a communications provider to design and implement the IVA. While supporting this process, IT teams typically don’t engage with customers and may not have a clear picture of their engagement preferences. You can overcome this challenge by increasing collaboration between IT and customer experience (CX) teams.
For example, CX team members can provide insight into the company’s customer support policies and how the company manages interaction paths and escalation levels. In banking, this could include the ability for a caller to set up a payment plan with an IVA over the phone; However, when the IVA hears a specific balance sheet number or concern through a specific phrase, they know they need to connect the caller to a human agent. If the IVA does not have this level of business logic, the company can compromise the customer experience.
CX team members also know how to create personas for clients and understand their engagement preferences. They are also aware of industry terminology that customers may use when interacting with an IVA that the IT team may not consider. Once IT teams know these terms, they can create training mockups for the IVA that incorporate common terms and phrases.
What the future holds for intelligent virtual assistants
A current limitation of IVAs is that they sometimes lack visual interaction. It will be interesting to see how IVAs evolve into video channels over the coming years. With video, through the use of IVAs, customer support teams would use biometrics to understand people’s body language and experience, make inferences about their experience and mood, and automate or escalate video support experiences to an agent.
For example, in healthcare, if someone with a serious illness calls their doctor’s office and communicates via IVA-enabled video, the IVA could visually capture common patient symptoms. This can include lack of concentration, inability to maintain eye contact, drowsiness, etc. The IVA can then record these visible symptoms in the patient’s medical record to inform the team of nurses and doctors. The potential of this technology is exciting.
Answering key questions and addressing challenges related to using IVAs early in the investment process will help you optimize your strategies to take advantage of automated and intelligent solutions that enhance the client experience. As you deepen your IVA strategies, you will better understand the potential of the technology, improve the customer experience and see positive impacts on your operations.
Tim Wurth is Head of Product Management at Intrado.
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