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Neldi Rautenbach Neldi Rautenbach

Are Virtual Agents A Box Office Hit

or Diluted Sequel

Neldi Rautenbach Neldi Rautenbach Wednesday 16th November 2016

Today, like many other days, an analyst asked me – as we were one of the pioneers of bots as a concept – if Virtual Agents will be the next big thing in customer experience. Good question …

Synthetix were creating virtual agents for companies like the BBC, Vauxhall, and Ford, comparable to Siri, Cortana and Google Now, before they became the norm. It’s true, our Jabberwocky NLP technology has answered millions of customer questions by making sense of naturally (and sometimes, badly) worded questions.

Funny, we were asked the same questions back in 2001 about the rise of the bots, the customer service super-agents that could respond to customer queries in an intelligent manner, 24/7, that wouldn’t get ill or go on holiday.  Does this sound a little sci-fi yet?

Terminator of jobs?

Self-service has become the long-term solution to meeting customer expectations. In a global report, ‘The Self-service Economy’, 70% of consumers expect a self-service option for handling commercial questions and complaints. And millennials especially expect companies to keep improving their levels of service, expecting everything to be just a click away - their social relationships, their retail relationships, even their banking and insurance relationships.

A semblance of personal service, NLP artificial intelligence combined with a graphical representation, should be an additional contact channel, not a replacement for human interaction. Virtual Agents should raise the online customer service effort bar, offering customers who wish to self-serve answers, in an engaging, appropriate, and conversational automated interaction.

New BFFs?

Just think about the things we can have Virtual Agents do. They can exercise predictive skills, knowing the intent of your question, and therefore can predict the next. They could answer multiple questions, without getting annoyed, tired, and even with a sprinkle of humour. However, as socialising is part of our human DNA, careful consideration should be given when choosing how they should interact with your customer audience.

Intelligence levels of Virtual Agents are core to delivering efficient customer support. Virtual Agents are not meant to be virtual Agony Aunts. Care should be taken to not encourage deep social conversations, as this might have embarrassing results as Microsoft discovered earlier this year.

Employee of the year

Self-service is a powerful tool, allowing customers to find answers fast. Virtual Agents has certainly made headlines with IBM Watson the latest newsworthy assistant.

Virtual Agents however, do not preclude the need for a personal solution: if self-service falls short, personal contact as a safety net is an absolute necessity. A Virtual Assistant should be ‘intelligent enough to trigger a human intervention, recognising that it’s not assisting a customer based on the nature and intent of a query.

Back to the future

We’ve been doing this a long time.

Virtual Agents or bots, if deployed in the right manner, can reduce support costs, encourage self-service, increase customer loyalty, and serve as a branding/marketing tool. And Virtual Agents are not going away soon.

We believe this kind of self-service technology can enhance the customer experience. They can recognise the basic intent of the question and emulate human intelligence, making them capable of taking on a wide variety of tasks including to ‘decide’ to escalate, fulfil a request, or answer a question.

Why not download our whitepaper about Artificial Intelligence and discover some of the misconceptions about AI, its current state or read more about Virtual Agents in our book ‘Multi-channel Online Customer Service for Dummies’