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6 Reasons a Virtual Agent Will Help You Deliver Great Consumer Experiences

These will help you move from transactional to transformative customer engagement.

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BorcherdingA key aspect of moving from transactional to transformative customer engagement is to identify which tasks are better done by technology than by a service representative. Virtual agents offer a tremendous opportunity to do just that. Still, they are used by less than half of all large companies. And when a virtual agent is deployed, it’s sometimes buried on the “contact us” page of the website. Here are six reasons you should be using a virtual agent extensively across your mobile and web properties.

1. Impatient consumers crave the rapid answers a virtual agent can provide.

Consumers increasingly choose online self-service over other channels when given the option. According to Forrester, web self-service was used by 77% of consumers in 2014, making it the most commonly used channel for the first time.

Use of virtual agents specifically jumped dramatically to 43%, up from 28%. Self-reliant consumers see virtual agents and other self-service tools as the fastest way to get their questions answered. Providing answers quickly is critical for driving customer satisfaction: 77% of consumers say “Valuing my time is the most important thing a company can do to provide me with good customer service,” according to Forrester.

2. A virtual agent can dramatically reduce contact center volume and costs.

There are numerous examples of how using a virtual agent can significantly cut the number of interactions that a live representative must handle. One multinational consumer packaged goods company saw email volume decrease by 80% after implementing a virtual assistant. Companies in a wide range of industries—from consumer durables to retail—have seen similar results.

While much less dramatic, many companies also see a reduction in call volume following the launch of a virtual agent. By reserving your live agents for high-value/low frequency interactions, you can dramatically improve your contact center economics.

3. A virtual agent drives continuous improvement.

Borcherding_2Some virtual agent technologies have excellent reporting capabilities that enable you to monitor the questions being asked and assess your success rate in answering them. This data is tremendously valuable for driving continuous improvement as you strive to be a transformative customer engagement organization. One tip: Look for a virtual agent solution that aggregates similar queries using natural language processing so you don’t have to manually combine similar questions to see trends.

4. A virtual agent can be surprisingly easy to administer.

With the right technology and a robust knowledge base, a virtual agent for a Fortune 1000 company can generally be administered by less than one full-time-equivalent employee. Two elements are critical for making a knowledge tool easy to administer. First, the tool should provide regular feedback on which questions are not answered effectively by the existing knowledge base. Second, the tool should automatically scan your internal documentation to suggest content to answer these questions, allowing your administrator to edit content rather than creating it from scratch.

5. Your service representatives will love your virtual agent.

Consumers often gravitate to online self-service for questions that are simple and routine. These are the repetitive questions your agents are desperately sick of answering. A virtual agent can reduce repetition and agent boredom, and research shows happier agents facilitate happier customers.

6. The knowledge base that drives your virtual agent can power your live agents too.

Once you have populated and curated the virtual agent’s underlying knowledge base, putting this information in the hands of your agents can further increase efficiency and decrease your costs. For example, a large specialty retailer decreased average call handling time by 33% and cut supervisor escalations by 49% after implementing a virtual assistant.

Jeff Borcherding is sr. vice president of marketing for Astute Solutions, a top provider of consumer engagement software. A former P&G brand manager, he believes passionately that the consumer is boss and that the boss should be happy.