Organizations have been struggling for years to find effective systems to support customer self-service. One of the most popular techniques has been to deploy an IVR system, but my research into customer experience management shows that nearly two-thirds (61%) of customers using IVR end up taking the option to speak to an agent, and the old saying “customers hate IVR” still prevails. The same research shows that web-based self-service is achieving similar low levels of success.
Interactions, founded in 2004, has developed an entirely different approach. Its Virtual Assistant application listens to customers’ voice input, and responds based on what customers ask or information they provide. The software is programmed to ask questions, and the dialogue is driven by how the customer responds, either by asking further questions or providing information requested by the caller. The application is smart enough to understand normal conversations, so users talk and it reacts, as if they were talking to a live agent.
As it is software, users can program different types of calls to follow the same flow. For example, by listening to typical sales calls, users can set up Virtual Assistant to follow best practices in handling such calls, including offering preprogrammed responses that depend on what customers say. This ensures customers get the same experiences every time they call. Virtual Assistant can also extract data from other software applications; for example, if it recognizes a caller’s name, the system can be programmed to recover information about the caller from a CRM, ERP or other business application. Using this information, Virtual Assistant can personalize its responses or take a different direction in the dialogue.
This might sound like an advanced form of voice-activated IVR, and to a degree it is, but it doesn’t just follow set menus and provide canned responses. Virtual Assistant is programmed to engage in natural dialogues in ways that might happen with a live agent, but with a greater degree of consistency and personalization. From the case studies I have seen, organizations that program it to deliver above and beyond what customers expect from a live agent have achieved considerable business benefits. From what I have seen and heard I believe Virtual Assistant can enable real success for customer self-service, so I recommend organizations investigate how it can help improve their customers’ experiences.
Richard J. Snow
VP & Research Director