2012 Contact Centre Mega Trend | Virtual Assistants

Ann-Marie O'Donnell, partner at Contact Centre Fusion, explores new Trends in Contact Centre Channel StrategyContact Centre Deflection Strategy

In the last quarter of 2011, Gartner released their latest report on their Web CRM Magic Quadrant. It is interesting to note that Gartner have seen a marked difference between the 2010 and 2011 research conducted in purchasing behaviours. Interestingly, they found that buying behaviour today favours the identification and deployment of alternative channels to reach new customers rather than the cost saving focus which was cited as the primary decision making driver in 2010. The report highlighted Virtual Assistants, otherwise known as Intelligent Virtual Agents (IVA) as one of seven primary building blocks of the Gartner Web CRM magic quadrant.

What is a Virtual Assistant? Depending on the market focus of the resource you investigate, you will find a wide range of overlapping definitions. From a pure contact centre management and marketing perspective, the clearest one is this:

Virtual Assistants are generally interactive characters that portray human-like qualities.

They can communicate with humans or with each other using behaviours, gestures and speech. Interaction mediums are generally text-to-text, text-to-speech, speech-to-text and speech-to-speech. They are on web interactive or on mobile device applications.

Because they are capable of initiating actions and are perceptive in real time, they can demonstrate an understanding of problem solving. This enables them to interact with Customers in an intelligent way.

Many contact centre professionals believe that Virtual Assistants offer a highly intuitive, personalised and easily customisable communications channel for business of all sizes. If implemented correctly, Virtual Assistants have the ability to deliver an excellent customer experience at a fraction of the cost of the more traditional channels.

Traditionally, IVRs or auto attendants funnel Customer interactions to live Agents in a contact centre. Whist, the main priority of Virtual Assistants is to negate the need for this funnel; it is an excellent channel to transfer high value contacts to live Agents. The Virtual Assistants ability to guide website visitors through a website whilst answering pertinent questions directly impacts most organisations call minimisation or call deflection and avoidance strategy, thereby impacting direct labour costs.

Virtual Assistant Benefits The new channel will deliver the following benefits to Contact Centres; Provide Contact Centres and marketing with additional user behaviour information. Why and when are Customers interacting with you?

  1. Enlighten you on the volume of Customers seeking live Agent assistant from the website.
  2. Increase efficiency metrics
  3. Reduce call volumes where the Customers query has been answered on line.
  4. By building in significant domain expertise, product knowledge and best practice technical knowhow, the Virtual Assistant will have a significant impact on Contact Centre costs.
  5. Web savvy Customers can easily source the information they require on line or via the mobile devise, thereby increasing Customer Satisfaction and improving the company's brand image.
  6. Through integrating the Virtual Assistant technology to your in house Customer Relationship Management system, an increased amount of business intelligence will become available.
  7. Virtual Assistants were designed to facilitate a multiple channel strategy. They can direct customers to any Customer facing channels, including Live chat, Agent, Social media etc.

The ultimate aim of Virtual Assistants is to provide a vehicle to fully automate eContact services without the need for live Agents. This is currently a costly undertaking. In the meantime and until this vision becomes an affordable reality for businesses, they are an increasingly interesting additional channel.

Learn more about Ann-Marie O'Donnell on LinkedIn