Even in today’s world of text-based chatbots and social media support channels, 76% of customers still use voice when contacting customer service. That’s significant. And when customer experience and customer satisfaction are often the key differentiators, determining whether a customer will stick with you or turn to a competitor, making sure your voice channel is optimized for your customer’s convenience is more important than ever.
Fortunately, improving your customer’s experience on the voice channel doesn’t have to mean an increase in staff or even expenses. Virtual agents, especially when powered by artificial intelligence (AI) and natural language processing (NLP) are quickly becoming not only a viable option, but one that actively improves the customer experience. Of course, there are still situations in which customers need to talk to live agents, which is why more and more organizations are opting for a hybrid model – using intelligent virtual agents to address simple issues and to escalate more complex cases to live agents, who now have more time to spend ensuring your customer’s success.
Capabilities of Virtual Agents
Expanding upon the technology of traditional Interactive Voice Response (IVR), intelligent virtual agents (IVAs) use AI and NLP to create the level of communication capabilities that a live human agent has. Using Conversational AI, IVAs can actually hold a conversation with the customer, understanding their intent and even their emotions. Going beyond basic call flows, IVAs can dynamically make “choices”, and help the caller directly – whether what they need is to change a reservation, make a payment, or find out why a service outage is occurring.
How Virtual Agents Can Improve Customer Experience
Seamless self-service: By quickly determining caller intent, IVAs can shorten the amount of time it takes to get the desired outcome, allowing them to take necessary actions without the need to explain themselves multiple times or to multiple agents.
Answer frequently asked questions: By “training” your virtual agents with a database of frequently asked questions, callers can instantly get answers, rather than waiting for an agent who may not be closely familiar with the hundreds (or thousands!) of questions that your call center is regularly asked.
Address multiple issues without transfers: Sometimes customers are calling with more than one issue. Maybe they need to update their address as well as make a payment. Maybe they need to book a flight, but also want to find out how many frequent flyer miles they have. Traditionally, this might involve talking to multiple agents and potential wait times while the customer waits on hold. IVAs are able to take on tasks from a variety of departments without the wait.
24/7 Support: One of the clear difficulties of live agents is availability. You may be short-staffed, or you may only keep your contact center staffed during typical business hours. With an IVA, you can remain available at all hours of the day (and night!), enabling customers to get service whenever they want or need.
Limits of Virtual Agents
Less able to handle complex issues: As much information as you feed your IVA, there will always be new or multifaceted issues that your virtual agents are not yet equipped to handle. In these instances, a live agent is still needed to fill in the gaps.
Not as personal: Even as understanding of intent and emotion improves, virtual agents may not be able to handle issues with the sensitivity needed. When a customer is frustrated or confused, they typically want to talk to a live human.
A Live Agent/Virtual Agent Hybrid Approach
We’ve established the need for live agents as well as the benefits of virtual agents. So which should you be using? There’s an easy answer: both! Use IVAs as your first point of contact, taking care of simple or common issues and acting as triage for more serious or complex needs. This frees your live agents open for handling the calls escalated by the IVA system, or even to have dedicated availability for your most important customers or callers who are routinely experiencing complicated problems.
Examples of Hybrid Applications
Get connected with the right department: Perhaps your AI can understand right off the bat that the caller will need to talk to a live agent. By interpreting the caller’s needs, they can be directed right to the correct department, rather than circling through a traditional IVR or requiring a live agent to answer – and ultimately redirect – their call.
Escalating frustrated callers: There will always be situations where the IVA doesn’t get it quite right, or where your caller simply does not want to talk to a virtual agent. A well-programmed IVA understands when a customer is frustrated and can immediately direct them to a live agent’s queue.
Payment processing: If your call center handles taking payments, you need to meet PCI-DSS requirements, which can be costly when working only with live agents. It requires specialized training and hardware/software that meets rigorous standards. With a virtual assistant like Plum Secure Assistant, you can allow a customer to provide payment details while talking to a live agent, but also have the agent and contact center remain descoped from PCI-DSS requirements.
Scheduling calls with live agents: In some instances, your IVA may recognize that a caller needs to talk to a live, specialized agent. But what if there’s no agents available? Either because the wait time would be lengthy or your call center is only staffed during daytime hours. Your IVA can set up an appointment for the caller to be contacted by a live agent at a future date and time.
95.7% of contact center professionals view customer satisfaction as the most important call center metric. If you’re ready to learn more about how Plum Voice can help you improve your CSAT and other call center KPIs, contact us today.