Virtual Customer Service Agents

“Customers require the effective integration of technologies to simplify their workflow and boost efficiency”- Anne M. Mulcahy

We all know that customer service has been recognized and now firmly established as THE competitive advantage and differentiator. Think of how it would be to have a customer service person that never needs to take a break or a day off. To top this, the person would consistently and without error comprehend a customer’s query and respond with an intelligent and efficient response every time. Irrespective of the channel or manner used by the customer to connect, this employee would unfailing respond in a timely manner and with first time resolutions. This super-hero customer service agent would spur the revenues upwards and create enhanced loyalty in customers and also drastically reduce company costs. Sounds like a dream employee who every company would want on their roles.

This is no ordinary human customer service agent but in fact is a machine. Virtual agents are gaining popularity not just with companies but also with customers because of the intelligence and sophistication they bring. Some companies have already starting using these virtual agents that making rapid advancements and taking the corporate world by storm by their artificial intelligence. These virtual agents, once part of science fiction, are now becoming a reality and a necessity.

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The quest for learning and increased dependence on technology are the major contributors for this shift towards virtual assistance. The deep learning capability of these machines allows them to sift, recognize and analyze data and then provide the most appropriate response based on the patterns that emerge. This ability is highly developed and advanced in these machines as compared to a human agent.

So why is the virtual agent becoming so popular and what is the reason for the rise of its use? Customers as we know are becoming increasingly demanding, tech-savvy and want information and customer service with increase convenience and stability. Companies most often are being unable to keep pace and rise to the occasion creating frustration for both customers and companies. With the pace of customer service not keeping up with the customers the very basis and premise of this service is being undermined. Customers are eager to self-serve but if the company’s processes and customer care methods do not support that, customers look for other ways and companies that will allow them this liberty. The attempt is to raise the bar of the effort being put in to customer service and lower the amount of effort customers have to put in, through the introduction of virtual agents. This is a major gap that needs to be filled.

Companies trying to sustain their customer service efforts, need to gather data that would include the most regular and important questions asked by customers. They must try to answer them using their current resources and it would be apparent as to how much effort goes in to resolving just one such query. And more often than not, they are unable to match up and end up creating awful experiences for customers. They lose customers despite what they consider to be their best efforts.

When someone is investing time and money, they expect more than the usual returns. This is how we can define customers. Whether companies are in agreement with this or not, the fact remains that customers do not want to and should not be made to make an extra effort to get what they want, wherever they want and however they want it. The aim of introducing virtual agents is to lower the customer effort and guide them effortlessly through any transaction, troubleshooting process or query. Virtual agents can practically eliminate customer effort and raise the convenience and satisfaction levels that a customer would experience while interacting with the company.

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The most impressive advantage of virtual customer service agents are their predictive skills. They are programmed to know! This goes beyond just making contact and having the first or second question answered. For instance if a customer calls regarding a newly purchased device or equipment and is getting on to use it. The customer probably would have a question regarding start up, calls and that question gets answered. However, if immediately after the customer has another question, they would need to call back and this may need to be repeated several times. With the predictive skills of the virtual customer service agent, the customer’s query would be resolved and additionally advised on possible next questions in a series. This saves time and hassle for the customers and also reduces the number of calls being received at the contact center. Having all questions pre-empted and answered amounts to great customer experience and enhanced satisfaction. The customer feels important, engaged and is more inclined to returning to the company and give repeat business. Being helped upfront and all questions answered, even the ones the customer themselves do not know that they should ask, works like magic and contributes significantly towards customer loyalty.

Wow! So predictive skills exist and are being used by the virtual customer service agents. So what’s left to indicate that the efficiency of these agents has taken a step forward? With technology moving forward at break-neck speed and customer expectations matching it, it would seem that going forward personalizing this service would be the next big thing. This does not mean that the virtual agents will be engaged in conversation that resolves around problems with your social life and or family life, maybe some years down the line but as of now business related customer problems can be resolved. The virtual agent would be able to know by name for instance, the accounts customers have with their bank.

Companies and customers believe that at the pace this technology is moving, everyone will want to have a virtual customer service agent that would answer queries, provide immediate solutions, predict questions and provide answers. This technology seems poised to become a natural way that people would live and function.

So with so much automation and virtual assistants, will we lose the human touch in such a key function like customer service? That may not happen in the foreseeable future. Even though virtual agents have unlimited patience, infinite amounts of good humor and a logical mindset that remains constant, these virtual agents can deliver excellent customer service. With time as customers who are irate learn to get comfortable with an automated yet soothing voice these automated agents will become even more valuable. We are not saying that humans will not crave human interactions and that will continue, but the enhance capability of virtual agents to resolve customer problems through self-service is one factor that cannot be overlooked. Self-service is becoming the need of the hour and customers would rather choose the time to solve their problems than remain dependent on when the human agents are around to help them in a limited capacity. There’s nothing wrong with that. However, there would be times when extra advice or expertise could be required the virtual agent could help them to a certain extent but post that the customer would most certainly want to connect with a real live agent. For example if a customer’s credit card gets stolen and used, the customer would feel more at ease speaking to a human to guide them through the complex problem which if not sorted out could have some serious backlash.

We know that these automated machines will never take over the contact centers (or the world!) and human interactions will remain intact. However, these virtual employees could raise the standards of the customer service center to new improved levels with enhanced efficiency. They would be able to sort out the lower level problems and let the humans focus on more important issues and creating positive experiences for the customers and enhancing the brand of the company to new highs. The live customer service agents will serve as extensions and ambassadors of the brand by being able to focus on resolving the more critical and complex problems that would make the company and customer move closer to success. All companies want to be the most successful in providing elevated levels of customer service and the introduction of the virtual helping hand should be answer.

“Modern technology has become a total phenomenon for civilization, the defining force of a new social order in which efficiency is no longer an option but a necessity imposed on all human activity.” – Jacques Ellul

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