The rise of virtual agents: Time to automate, personalize and contextualize the customer experience

Published: February 1, 2018

In most industries, there is a lot of talk about virtual agents and how they are enhancing customer service. Virtual agents are software programs that enable automated, contextual conversations with customers. At a basic level, artificial intelligence (AI) driven virtual agents can replace staff responding to customer calls. While these virtual agents cannot address all customer questions, they can help deliver simple answers and deliverables the customers quickly, improving customer resolution and wait times.

Respondents prefer using self-service channels including those through web or mobile compared to speaking to a company representative over the phone, according to a recent Forrester survey. This is the age of the digital customer, a customer who wants instant gratification and experience. And self-service channels provide the frictionless avenue to address these needs. We are seeing today's customers resolving most of their basic product or service specific queries through digital channels. In this context, virtual agents are offering an excellent platform for enterprises to drive customer relationships and lessen any source of friction to the customer experience. Forrester survey indicates virtual agent use jumped from 28% in 2012 to 58% in 2015.

The underlying platform of a virtual agent leverages a host of technologies including AI, analytics, and back-end systems among others. Examples are AI using natural language processing to enable intelligent interactions with the customer, or analytics for gathering information from across varied sources of interactions with the customer including web, mobile, offline, and more. The right integration with back-end systems allows virtual agents to create personalized customer interactions between the enterprise and the customer.

The use cases for virtual agents ranges across industries. Whether it is for addressing a service issue, trying to identify the right product for a customer's need, or cross-selling other products or service to a customer, virtual agents can make the process less daunting and align the discussions to the needs of the customer. In the process, this self-service model can significantly cut downtime, optimize workflows, and reduce costs for the enterprise. And most importantly, deliver an engaging customer experience! Over a period of time, we will also see virtual agents drive customer relationships and strengthen loyalty for the company.

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