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Intelligent virtual assistants: Next-gen chatbots for managing service volumes

KJ Jita,
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Faced with a spike in customer interactions from phone calls, fax (oh yes, it still exists), emails, and written mail, why aren’t more organizations using intelligent virtual assistants to handle some of the load? That was the question that came to mind from discussions with numerous organizations, large and small, across sectors as diverse as insurance, healthcare, and manufacturing. Customer inquiries and response times were high during the COVID-19 crisis, and as the world emerges from the pandemic, economic indicators across the globe increasingly point towards growth across almost all industry sectors.

So, what can organizations do to prepare for the next spike in customer interactions? Increase employee headcount? Maybe. But what if you could do even more? What if your organization could handle the simpler, more routine customer queries, at any time, day, or night, without human intervention? Wow, that would take off a fair slice off the workload while maintaining a high-quality customer experience, and that’s got to be a game changer! Well, that game-changing solution is already here in the form of the intelligent virtual assistant. And if you’re not capitalizing on it, you can be sure your competitors are.

Before I dive into the world of intelligent virtual assistants (IVAs), you may wonder why I’m using this term instead of “chatbot.” Chatbots are more of a first-generation, web-based conversational bot designed to automate simple queries. Intelligent virtual assistants take it further by helping process the actual work related to the interaction to completion.

New, digitally-savvy consumers demand faster responses

Some vendors have over-hyped claims about their intelligent virtual assistants but, putting that aside for a moment, a new trend that’s picked up speed in recent years, is called the Amazon effect, or the rise of the digital consumer. Rather than wait in line in a call center queue, or wait for that email reply, consumers are increasingly digitally savvy and want their answer now. The digital consumer expects around-the-clock service for areas ranging from insurance and banking to healthcare and fashion. As a result, intelligent virtual assistants have exponentially increased in popularity.

Organizations are constantly looking for ways to retain and keep customers happy. They also want their happy customers to socialize their positive experiences. Intelligent virtual assistants can give you a competitive edge in this area, making it possible for your business to answer customer queries in the middle of the night or at peak times of the day. If you don’t offer this self-service ability, it’s very easy for consumers to go elsewhere.

Intelligent virtual assistants support self-service to help meet customer demands

An intelligent virtual assistant is a very sophisticated piece of software. If it works well, it can be difficult to distinguish between it and a human, which is why you need to clearly indicate to the customer when they are conversing with an intelligent virtual assistant, quite rightly. Dramatic advancements in AI, machine learning, and Natural Language Processing (NLP) have led to iterative improvements in developing smarter intelligent virtual assistants with better capabilities for understanding questions and replying accurately. Maintaining context is a little trickier, and that’s another area under improvement.

Currently, for example, I can type a question from my mobile, tablet, or laptop and get a reasonable response from an intelligent virtual assistant. What this means is I don’t need to spend time in a contact center call queue. This common scenario showcases a major reason for consumers preferring a self-service approach that fits in with their schedules and lives.

I know of one insurance company effectively using an intelligent virtual assistant to contain 15 of their top query types at an 85% resolution rate and 61% containment rate! Not only that but when COVID-19 hit, they were able to quickly add more query types and keep their competitive lead.

Examples where intelligent virtual assistants can make a tangible difference

In insurance, intelligent virtual assistants can handle queries like:

  • “What’s the status of my claim?”
  • “I want to make a claim.”
  • “I want to pay my renewal premium.”
  • “Why is my premium higher than last year?”

In healthcare, they can answer queries such as:

  • “I want to make an appointment (or change one).”
  • “When will I receive my test results?”
  • “What’s the status of my medication?”
  • “When is my medical device arriving?”
  • “I want to pay my bill.”

If you work in a call center or are connected to one, you’ll recognize the above queries. They are asked all the time. And those right there are the business cases to justify an intelligent virtual assistant; these are popular queries asked of your contact center all the time, which makes them ideal for the IVA to handle a fair proportion while still providing a great, consumer-focused experience.

My top tips for selecting an intelligent virtual assistant

There are a few steps that any company can take to help decide where to implement an intelligent virtual assistant.

First off, understand that intelligent virtual assistants vary in capabilities – they all don’t do the same things. Look for one that will do a reasonable job supporting your needs.

Second, focus on “quick wins.” That is, simple, low-investment scenarios that can provide quick returns but, more importantly, validate the efforts being put into determining the longer-term strategy and getting buy-in across the rest of your organization.

High on your list should be the ability to easily build the use case scenarios you want and the ability to integrate the intelligent virtual assistant into your business.

  1. Start small: Select a small set of scenarios you want the IVA to answer, and once it’s proven itself, expand that to a wider set.
  2. Make sure there is reporting capability built in to identify popular customer queries and help with the ROI case.
  3. No intelligent virtual assistant can handle every type of customer query, so it must be able to recognize when it’s time for a human to take over and painlessly transition the conversation, with context.
  4. Be wary of organizations that say their IVA is low code / no code but requires a full-stack developer or data scientist to develop the solution.
  5. The most effective people to build an intelligent virtual assistant project are business users – and, ideally, business subject matter experts – because they better than anyone understand what your customers want. That makes them the ideal team to brain dump all their domain knowledge into the IVA. This is what we’re seeing in the field as the difference between having a basic intelligent virtual assistant and one that’s proven itself so that even the CEO knows about it.

It doesn’t cost a lot to check whether or not an intelligent virtual assistant can help your business. You can get a demonstration or search through plenty of informational videos on YouTube. A proof-of-concept (POC) is an even better way to learn about IVAs, as you then see what it can do for your specific business needs. But don’t wait for customer interaction volumes to go even higher! Do it now, or at least start to investigate it now. You have the power and opportunity to understand this capability and differentiate between the hype and solutions that will really work for you.

Learn more:

Transform customer service

Agile technology for a fast-moving world.

Go beyond chatbots with an intelligent virtual assistant

Engage customers where they are.


Herausforderung: Kundenservice Thema: Kundenservice

Über die Verfasserin

Author Bio: As a solutions consultant, KJ Jita helps organizations focus on innovation, automation, and optimal customer experiences.

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