Quick summary: How customer service AI in the form of “virtual agents” benefits customers, customer care agents, and the business
Note: This article is an update to “Using conversational AI to improve your business” and “Conversational AI improves efficiency & customer relationships,” originally published in 2019.
Innovative technologies—from the industrial internet of things to cloud computing—have allowed businesses to iterate faster, organize better, and achieve more. In just the past few years, AI in customer service—particularly virtual agents (VAs) powered by advanced conversational artificial intelligence—has emerged as a game-changing solution for customer care teams.
Virtual agents leverage the power of machine learning and natural language processing to hold sophisticated conversations with humans—in the case of customer service, with agents as well as directly with customers. Today’s VAs have come a long way from the simple AI customer service “bots” many of us remember, empowering brands to deliver a service experience that keeps customers coming back, makes agents’ jobs easier, and creates opportunities both to reduce costs and to increase revenues.
Here we’ll discuss a few customer service use cases where VAs are benefiting customers, agents, and the business as a whole.
How can VAs benefit customers?
Virtual agents enable customers to get their questions answered resolve service issues quickly and easily, 24 hours a day, with no waiting on hold. And because most people are already familiar and comfortable with text messaging, customers adapt quickly to interacting with bots. Eighty-eight percent of customers had at least one conversation with a chatbot in 2022, and 7 out of 10 said they found the experience positive.
How can VAs benefit (human) agents?
Because VAs automatically handle routine conversations and tasks, human agents can move away from monotonous, repetitive requests to focus on more complicated, nuanced conversations like edge cases and escalated issues. Natural language processing allows VAs to “converse” with customers and route them to a human when a complex issue needs resolution—or when they detect that the customer is becoming frustrated or angry. They can identify important information (such as purchase history, location, preferences, etc.) and deliver it to the human agent, who in turn can support customers faster and more thoroughly.
Finally, AI in customer service helps contact center employees perform asynchronous tasks, since agents can participate in only essential portions of conversations and transfer between simultaneous chats as needed. This prioritization allows agents to use their time more effectively.
How do virtual agents improve processes?
If a process normally requires ten steps, five agent touches, and three customer touches, VAs can help teams reach a clearer understanding of how it executes and identify opportunities to prioritize, simplify, and streamline. With incremental learning, as it churns through current and past information, VAs refine their accuracy and abilities over time.
VAs can also be used to combine steps in a process. As human agents proceed with one sub-process, the virtual agent can interact with a customer simultaneously, completing work that the human would otherwise have had to do later.
The savings in time and effort that VAs can deliver can translate into big savings at the bottom line. Gartner predicts that by 2026, conversational AI will reduce contact center costs by $80 billion.
“What if I just want help from a human?”
Sometimes customers just prefer to interact directly with an agent, particularly when they have complicated issues or requests. AI in customer service can help here, too. A VA can “listen in” on a call or chat and suggest solutions to the customer’s problem or point the agent to resources containing the information needed to resolve the issue. Because customer service AI platforms can access multiple sources simultaneously, this “research” takes only a few seconds. The agent can focus 100 percent on the conversation and is spared the frustration of toggling between multiple screens to uncover the information they need.
When your organization implements AI in customer service, particularly virtual assistants, the benefits to both your customers and your agents add up quickly—and that adds up to good news for your business.
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Alexis Greenwood is a manager in the Logic20/20 Digital Transformation practice, focused on offerings development and innovations. In her experience as a business systems analyst, she enabled change through development of low-code platforms, including Salesforce and ServiceNow, custom applications, virtual assistants, and a variety of tools including ERPs, ITSM tools and CRMs.