Everyone has at least one story of trying to call a customer service line and getting stuck dealing with a clunky, unhelpful bot. Perhaps the bot didn’t have options that aligned with what they needed, or perhaps it routed them to the wrong agent. Or maybe they were simply left on hold for so long that they gave up.
These are miserable customer experiences, but people have generally accepted these sorts of experiences as inevitable. A subtle revolution is going on in contact centers, though. Bots are getting smarter and more contact platforms (like chat and email) are becoming available. For every frustrating customer experience someone has, they likely have another that’s simple, easy, and characterized by helpful bots.
These helpful bots are likely intelligent virtual agents (IVAs), and they’re changing contact center interactions for the better. Here’s how IVAs are improving customer experiences in 2021 and beyond.
What Are Intelligent Virtual Agents?
First, let’s define what intelligent virtual agents are and look at how they differ from chatbots.
Intelligent virtual agents (IVAs) are programs that use AI and natural language processing (NLP) to respond to customer questions. Like chatbots, they’re robots that are programmed to respond to customer calls or messages. Unlike chatbots, they’re able to understand the full context of what someone says and are more likely to respond accurately. They also learn over time with the help of machine learning, meaning they get better and better at meeting customer needs every day.
IVAs Create Streamlined Customer Interactions
When you consider that definition, some of the ways IVAs improve customer experience become obvious. Because they can better understand what customers are saying, they’re more likely to provide the right answer. And because they’re more likely to provide the right answer, they create happier customers.
While traditional chatbots can only understand basic sentences and simple questions, IVAs are more likely to get to the root of a question no matter how it’s phrased. If a request truly is ambiguous, IVAs can ask for clarification.
Customers usually don’t have much patience to spare by the time they’re calling a helpline. Getting accurate responses and immediate help makes a huge difference for the customer experience and, ultimately, customer retention.
IVAs Can Handle More
When traditional bots are involved, the customer usually has to choose between frustration with an unhelpful program or long waits for a human agent. The chatbot often can’t give them the help they need, but they’re just aren’t enough human agents to handle every call.
I’ve lessened this issue by leading to an increase in the number of customers who can be handled by a bot. Frustration goes down drastically on the customer’s part, and they don’t need to join the queue for human agents. Meanwhile, your agents can reserve their time and energy for the most complicated questions. They’ll feel more challenged and valued in their work while also conserving their time.
IVAs Make You Stand Out Against Competition
As mentioned earlier, one of the best things about IVAs is that they learn to work better over time. Most IVAs are equipped with machine learning capabilities. This means they’re constantly analyzing data from past interactions in order to perform better in future interactions. Thanks to their learning abilities, IVAs give customers a better experience each time they come in contact with you.
The expectations for your own customer experiences get raised, but your IVA can meet them – without extra effort from your team. Meanwhile, the expectations for your competitors’ customer experiences also rise, and unless they also have an IVA, they fall short. In this way, IVAs help your company stand out against the competition as one that values the customer experience.
IVAs Remember Past Conversations
Another benefit of IVAs is that they store data about conversations, which means that they remember every interaction they’ve had with a customer. If a customer contacts you on multiple days or via multiple platforms, their conversation won’t get lost.
Say a customer uses your instant chat feature to ask about a technical issue. Your IVA suggests the most common fix, and the customer signs off to try it. That fix doesn’t work, though, and two hours later the customer calls on the phone to get another suggestion. With traditional chatbots, they’d have to explain their issue all over again, wasting valuable time. But with an IVA, they can simply reference their previous conversation for the bot to access the data on it. It can then pick up where the previous conversation left off and suggest the next step the customer should take.
This massively improves the customer experience. It saves your customers time, helps them reach the best solution faster, and makes them feel more valued.
IVAs Can Use Customer Data
Continuing conversations isn’t the only benefit of collecting customer data. Having this data in your system also means an IVA can upsell or trigger other marketing activities.
IVAs can determine if an interaction went well, and use stored data to suggest additional products it has. They can also look for upsell opportunities across interactions. If a customer asks about purchasing certain types of products, the IVA can store that information and remember that this customer is interested in that product line. When they contact you again months later, you can try to upsell them on new products from that same line.
Customer data can also be used to trigger marketing activities. IVAs can use data from past conversations to note whether callers are potential leads and what types of products they’re most interested in. Many can then send this information to your sales or marketing solutions. From there, automated emails or other follow-up activities can be triggered – all without extra work for your human agents.
If you want your contact center to deliver a great customer experience that benefits both you and your customers, IVAs are excellent investments. Their AI capabilities, machine learning, and data storage help you create smooth, positive experiences for any customer in need.