Three Benefits of Deploying Virtual Agents Alongside Live Agents

Post-pandemic consumers are engaging with businesses and their service teams more frequently and across more channels and devices than ever. The expanding volume and nature of customer inquiries has brought automation solutions like intelligent virtual agents (IVAs) to the forefront of conversations about the contact center.

IVAs use artificial intelligence and natural language processing (NLP) to provide conversational self-service over voice, chat, or messaging channels. They are often thought of as a means to cut costs by replacing human contact center agents. But the most forward-thinking service organizations understand the potential of AI and automation to work alongside their human teams. They know that combining the unique skills of live agents and their digital counterparts can supercharge the contact center to better meet the needs of customers and the business.

The following are ways human and digital teams can work together to enhance efficiency, productivity, and customer experience in your contact center:

Reduce Call Abandonment and Resolve Requests Mre Quickly

The Five9 2020 Customer Service Index survey found that the two biggest factors in creating a bad customer experience are being passed from one representative to another and having to wait too long to reach a representative. It also found that 73 percent of consumers believe requests should be resolved within 15 minutes. Adding digital teams to your contact center workforce can help you satisfy, or even exceed, those expectations.

IVAs can ask customers calling into your contact center open-ended questions like "How can I help you?" Then, using natural language processing, the IVA will match the customer's answer to pre-defined keywords and route the call to the correct destination. This eliminates the need for lengthy directed-dialogue interactive voice response (IVR) menus, which are prone to user error and frustration. It also results in more accurate routing to the department or agent to best assist the customer. IVAs will pass on information about the caller and the self-service interaction via screen pop so the live agent gets a head start on handling the call.

If there will be a hold time to reach a live agent, the IVA can ask customers if they'd like a callback instead. The virtual agent can record a message from the customer, wait in the queue for the next available agent, and then share the info it has gathered before the agent returns the call.

Increase Adaptability

The past year has demonstrated how quickly business conditions can change with very little warning. The most unpredictable of events drove sudden service spikes and shifted business models and work environments on a dime. But even in the best of times—when your company experiences a surge in popularity or you need to bring new products and services to market quickly—having an agile contact center provides a competitive advantage.

Digital teams allow you to rapidly and affordably scale your service operation without onboarding new employees, outfitting additional workstations, or outsourcing operations. With AI and cloud API integrations to your back-end systems, virtual agents can automate frequently asked questions or simple service tasks like order status updates and appointment booking. They can also automate employee service functions, like IT help desk, so live agents can quickly set up remote workstations.

These capabilities allow your contact center to be functional in any circumstance, during more hours, across more channels, so you can maintain service levels, provide reliable support to customers, and continue to complete transactions during forecasted or unforeseen service spikes or disruptions.

Boost Customer Retention and Revenue

Conversational AI is evolving, but your live agents are still much better suited for higher-value tasks and conversations. Certain revenue-generating tasks, like booking a reservation, can be automated. On the other hand, complicated big-ticket sales are best left to live agents. And if you've freed them from answering FAQs and resetting passwords, they can focus their energy on softer skills like customer empathy.

Your digital teams can help live agents achieve their full potential during high-value conversations, providing helpful assistance before, during, and after the call. By tapping into your back-end CRM systems, virtual agents can recognize customers as they call in and use that data to personalize the interaction ("I see you recently placed an order for delivery. Is that what you're calling about?"). As a customer explains the reason for the call, the IVA can leverage sentiment analysis technology to detect anger or frustration in the caller's voice. Then, upon recognizing a frustrated tone, the virtual agent can automatically route the call to the customer retention department, passing on important context to help the live agent smooth things over.

During the live agent's interaction, digital teams can listen in on the call and prompt agents with relevant reminders or upsell and cross-sell opportunities. They can also automate call transcription so live agents spend less time capturing information and more time giving customers their full attention. After the call, interaction data is automatically logged so it can be used to optimize the future performance of both human and digital teams.

As you explore AI and automation opportunities in your contact center, consider how the combination of your live and virtual agents can be greater than the sum of its parts. Picture them delivering the customer experience side by side, applying their distinct capabilities to each conversation or task. With your human and digital teams working in harmony, everybody wins.

Richard Dumas is vice president of intelligent virtual agent (IVA) marketing at Five9. He has led marketing and product management initiatives for leading technology, media, and software companies, including Nuance Communications and Apple, and most recently as chief marketing officer at Inference Solutions, an IVA provider that was acquired by Five9 in 2020.