Contact Center Solutions Featured Article

Putting the "I" in IVR with Virtual Assistants

October 23, 2014

There are countless reasons for calling customer service centers. Perhaps a phone line has static, or cable service is out, or a new customer needs help with WiFi settings, or a scheduled appointment needs to be changed, or maybe Mom ordered the wrong size Halloween costume and needs to quickly exchange it. Regardless, quite frequently, the customer service call will be met with a recorded or computer generated voice asking for the nature of the call – as if trying to convince the caller it is a live agent. 

Too often, the result is a virtual interaction that doesn’t resolve the issue, takes too long to resolve, or requires multiple channel hops to resolve. Any of these provide a less than optimal customer experience. Not only was there a problem to begin with, but the customer service experience multiplies the negative experience with the brand – and, as a byproduct, gives IVR a bad name.

Virtual assistants, such as what Interactions provides its customers, seek to take IVR to a new level and break out of the mold of inflexible, difficult to navigate IVR trees. Rather, the goal is to create a completely natural interaction between customer and software, such that, in the best case, the customer doesn’t even realize the interaction has been handled by a machine.

“We are adding to the customer experience and improving it,” says Interactions’ marketing communications manager Dan Fox. “It actually makes people want to use voice automation.”

Fundamentally, the idea is simple: Interactions has built a natural language recognition engine that is able to understand and respond in complete sentences. The result is a more effective two-way communication that isn’t limited to short, simple phrases that often aren’t enough to get across the full meaning. Rather, true conversational dialogue results in faster and more effective resolutions.

The flexibility of the virtual agent solution is such that the expertise of the customer isn’t a limiting factor. If the customer knows exactly what he wants to do and is able to articulate that immediately, Interactions is able to find a speedy solution. On the other hand, if the customer knows something may be wrong but isn’t able to identify the problem, a virtual agent can walk him through a series of interrogative interactions designed to identify the true issue – and then suggest a solution. Importantly, it all happens in a true conversational environment, providing a much higher level of comfort.

Fox says the technology is being validated by existing customers that are seeing that the limits of traditional speech recognition and IVR can be overcome with Interactions’ adaptive understanding technology that has handled more than 100 million utterances this year already.

For some, Interactions provides relatively simple routing. But, for others, it offers a self-service solution that truly takes advantage of its adaptive understanding technology to deliver answers, reduce channel hops and handle time, and increase satisfaction.

In many cases, the solution helps identify revenue generation opportunities and routes them to the appropriate channels. In others, simple self-service scenarios result in information being quickly delivered to customers.

Fox says the real ROI, though, comes from situations where Interactions is able to show customers how to leverage its virtual agents to create self-service opportunities out of traditional agent-enabled interactions.

If, for instance, the cable box needs to be rebooted in order to kick-start the service, a virtual agent can identify that. Or, it can determine the most efficient way to exchange the costume for delivery before Halloween, and provide return shipping details. Or it can walk the customer through the WiFi sign-on process. Any of these are situations that traditionally frustrate live agents, but for which there hasn’t been a suitable alternative, due to the constraints of speech recognition and analytics capabilities.

Interactions is changing that and, while we may still shudder for a moment when we realize we aren’t talking to a live agent, the hope is that such technology will quickly overtake traditional IVR and we won’t mind talking to an HP server instead a live agent.