What to Look for Before Buying an Intelligent Virtual Assistant

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Contact centers have evolved into dynamic communication hubs that have been put to the test over the past two years.

Companies have started investing in intelligent virtual assistants (IVAs) because they are effective at improving contact center productivity and the customer experience. However, to get the best returns from these virtual assistants, you need to know your strategy. Without clear direction, you end up compromising the customer experience.

Here are questions to ask and challenges to consider before expanding your IVA strategy. Checking these boxes ensures that the IVA meets your business needs and customer communication preferences.

Q: What level of complexity will the IVA support?

As I noted above, one of the first and most important questions to ask is, “What is the overall strategy for the IVA?” Will the IVA replenish your agents so they can focus on more complex tasks? Or will the IVA target one or a few very specific use cases (for example, password reset, bill payments, or two-factor authentication)?

When you dive into your IVA strategy, it’s really about knowing what complexity you want the IVA to handle and how many of those questions you want to avoid being escalated to active agents. A clear strategy and understanding of the complexities ahead are critical to successful integration.

Challenge: Understanding the Technology

Understanding the technology is central to designing IVAs that support the required complexity. Knowing the differences between IVAs and other contact center solutions such as chatbots, voicebots, and interactive voice response, also known as IVR, can help ensure that your IVA effectively supports specific use cases, regardless of complexity. Below are several contact center technologies and their main differences.

  • Chatbot: A chatbot is a program that can automatically communicate with a user without the help of a human agent. They have limited capabilities and usually communicate through text. Chatbots are rule-based and task-specific, allowing them to ask questions based on predefined options. They lack sophistication and won’t draw conclusions from past interactions with customers. Chatbots are best suited as question-and-answer use cases.
  • voice bot: Voicebots and chatbots have similar functionality. The main difference with a chatbot and voicebot is the channel. Voicebots bring more complexity because they include speech-to-text, which allows callers to talk to the bot. These solutions use IVR software.
  • IVR: As briefly mentioned above, IVR software is an automated telephone system technology that communicates with callers and collects information based on how the caller navigates through a call menu. It does not use AI. Callers navigate menu options through voice answers or by pressing numbers on their phone. IVR software routes the caller to specific departments or specialists. Some think of an IVR as a simple voicebot.
  • IVA: An intelligent virtual assistant is the most advanced of the options and you can use it through various channels. IVAs process natural language requests using natural language comprehension or natural language processing and understand the situational context, enabling them to handle a more complex range of questions and interactions. These tools are very similar to human speech and can understand questions with spelling and grammar errors, slang or any other potentially confusing language, much like a human agent.

You’ll be better equipped to advance existing contact center communication strategies when you understand IVAs, the full volume of capabilities they offer, and how they differ from other AI solutions.

Q: What persona should the intelligent virtual assistant represent?

For an IVA to be effective, you need to understand the persona you want the virtual assistant to represent. This persona will educate you on how to design your virtual assistant to act based on your company’s brand. To know the persona, you need to understand how your customers interact with the contact center and the complexity of the skills that the assistants must be able to manage – live and virtual.

Based on these defining characteristics, you establish business rules for the IVA. These rules then form the standard for designing the IVA. Important questions to answer to discover persona are:

  • Does the voice have to be female? Male?
  • Does it have to have an accent?
  • How many languages ​​should it be able to speak?
  • Does it need to be familiar with industry jargon?
  • Should it have an informal tone and follow a more informal language model? Or should it be formal and professional?
  • How do customers 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 they support this process, IT teams typically don’t interact 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 insights into customer support business rules and how the company manages interaction paths and escalation levels. In banking, this may include the ability for a caller to create a payment plan with an IVA over the phone; however, if the IVA hears a specific balance figure or problem through a particular phrase, it knows how to connect the caller to a human agent. If the IVA doesn’t have this level of business logic, the company could compromise the customer experience.

CX team members also know how to create customer personas and understand their engagement preferences. They are also aware of standard industry terms 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 models for the IVA that include the common terms and phrases.

What the future holds for intelligent virtual assistants

A current limitation of IVAs is that they sometimes lack visual engagement. It will be interesting to see how IVAs evolve into video channels in the coming years. With video, through the use of IVAs, customer support teams would use biometrics to understand people’s body language and experience, draw inferences about their experience and sentiment, and automate or escalate video support experiences to an agent.

For example, in healthcare facilities, if someone with a serious illness calls the doctor’s office and communicates via video with IVA support, the IVA can pick up the common symptoms that the patient is displaying visually. This may include lack of focus, inability to maintain eye contact, drowsiness, etc. The IVA can then record these visible symptoms in the patient card to inform the team of nurses and doctors. The potential of this technology is exciting.

By answering essential questions and addressing challenges related to using IVAs early in the investment process, you can optimize your strategies to leverage automated and intelligent solutions that improve customer experiences. As you deepen your IVA strategies, you’ll gain a better understanding of the technology’s potential, improve customer experiences, and see positive impacts on your operations.

Tim Wurth is director of product management at Intrado

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