IVA 101 - The Basics

Intelligent Virtual Agents 101: The Basics

If you have had any recent experience with a call or contact center, you may have heard the term Intelligent Virtual Agent, or IVA for short. Intelligent Virtual Agents (IVAs) recreate the voice and chat capabilities that a live human agent has, but they do it in a more cost-efficient and consistent manner. IVA creates a customer self-service experience for common tasks, freeing up the live agents in the contact center to perform more complex tasks or customer dialogues where more empathy is needed. Let us talk about the diverse types of Intelligent Virtual Agents and the benefits they can deliver to a company’s CX and bottom line.

Intelligent Virtual Agents come in many types and vary in the tasks they can perform based on their features and capabilities. DTMF (touch-tone) IVAs can create simple experiences where a deep menu is not needed, or there is a short path to task completion. An example would be a payment processing IVA for processing a credit card charge. Directed dialog IVAs (press one or say “sales”) are great for doing Intelligent or Smart Routing for better pathing to live agents. They are also good for simple tasks like retrieving a status update, or tracking a package. Keyword Finder IVAs are good for routing voice automation interactions via artificial intelligence and Speech Recognition software hearing certain keywords that a customer has said such as “refund” or “fraud” and routing or performing a self-service task based on that recognition.

Lastly, there is Natural Language Processing, or Conversational AI-driven IVAs. These are the types of IVAs that you might interact with at an airline or a hotel chain. They can hold a conversation with the customer and rely on artificial intelligence and machine learning technology to understand a customer’s intent from what they have spoken and then provide the best answer. 

Conversational AI: “Hello Susan, I see you are a rewards member, how can I help you today?” 

Customer: “Yes, I would like to find out if you have a one-way flight to Atlanta from Dallas that leaves around 4 pm next Tuesday.” 

Conversational AI: “Yes, Susan we do, on Tuesday the 15th. It leaves at 4:15 pm and arrives at 7:15 pm. The price is $218. Would you like to have me bill that to your Sky Member account?” 

Conversational AI Intelligent Virtual Agents are just holding a conversation as if two humans were talking. Conversational AI used to be expensive to the point only the largest companies could afford to use them. But with the advances in AI, costs have declined significantly and now the technology is affordable to both large and smaller companies.

IVAs can perform many different self-service tasks for customers. Think of tasks like placing orders; creating, canceling, or modifying appointments; refilling prescriptions; checking on the status of a loan application or mortgage; and many more. And IVAs typically cost 70 to 90 percent less than a human agent performing the same task.

There are also ancillary benefits to Intelligent Virtual Agents. They can support a multitude of languages. IVAs can be used to extend a company’s hours of service to weekends or a 24/7 operation. And AI can be taught to provide a consistent experience every time to every customer. You can tie an IVA into a company’s database or CRM and pass information between the IVA and CRM to provide a complete picture of the customer experience and to process interactions without the need to ask for previously disclosed information from the customer.

Most contact and call centers use IVAs in a hybrid approach with a combination of live agents taking the more complex calls and IVAs managing routine scalable and simple tasks. Increasing the CX experience and lower costs at the same time.

Let us be honest, we live in a “want it now” world. Whether it is the latest car, new home, or vacation. Instant gratification has come to be expected, and it is the same way when it comes to customer experience. A customer asks a question, wants the status of a loan application, wants to know where their package is, or wants to place an order. The customer wants it and they want it now. They are frustrated when they must wait on hold or hear “your wait time is approximately 7 minutes”. Customers have no desire to navigate elaborate IVR menu trees of “press one for this and press two for that.” Or must hit zero to speak to a live agent. Only to hear “you are number 27 in the queue.” Many companies say that servicing the customer is their #1 priority, but their CX experience and the use of technology can make the customer seem like an after-thought. 

Companies frustrate their customers at their own peril. The same customer that has to jump through hoops just to get the simplest of questions answered is the same customer that will talk with ten of their friends or co-workers and share their experience with your company.

I once purchased several pieces of furniture from a large furniture store chain. Most of the furniture was delivered and set up great, but the kitchen table had several problems. Three separate times we had to call their customer service department to find out information like when the replacement table would be delivered or when the repair person would be out to replace the defective part. Every call was a 30-minute-long event and was a minimum of a 10-minute wait time. On top of that, the call was littered with questions like “who are you, what do you need, what is your order number?” All of these could be quickly handled by an IVA. The big box retailer lost a sale that could have easily been completed with help from an IVA, providing a better CX experience.

If you are interested in learning more about how Intelligent Virtual Agents (IVAs) can help with your customer communications, click here.