Self-Service

Learn to Identify the Five Interaction Categories that are Most Effectively Handled by AI-Powered Virtual Agents

Just about everyone has an IVR horror story to share. Being forced to listen to repetitive menus. Getting stuck in an endless cycle of trying to navigate through options that don’t meet their needs. Wanting to throw the phone against the wall in frustration after hearing an automated voice announce, “I’m sorry, but I didn’t get your response.”

We all know the limitations of IVR systems. Yet too many companies still seem bound and determined to deploy antiquated, poorly designed call automation that not only doesn’t work well but is difficult to implement and expensive to maintain. This makes even less sense when there is a more time- and cost-efficient option available.

Over the past several years, the evolution of conversational AI and delivery over the cloud has enabled businesses to go far beyond the boundaries of traditional IVRs. Companies of all kinds are automating more conversations than ever before while maintaining…and often improving … the customer experience by adapting omnichannel solutions utilizing AI-powered virtual agents.

Even in the earliest stages of development, AI-powered virtual agents were able to handle many tasks that were formerly the sole province of live agents. Conversational AI enables virtual agents to automate the routine and repetitive call types that formerly took up much of a live rep’s day. The same type of simplified experience can be scaled to chat and text channels as a unified application. Virtual agents are powered by a centralized cloud-based AI “brain” that connects to a business’ customer data via APIs. With the broad variety of available tools to replicate the best live agent behavior, virtual agents exceed the capabilities of touchtone IVR, directed dialog, and simple chatbots for customer service.

Producing more productive conversational AI solutions is an ongoing process that requires constant monitoring and refinement. This involves machine learning, building out language models, customizing and weighting the acoustics to grammars on every single question to match the phrases companies think they heard versus what they know they are listening for to get the best possible speech recognition. Most suppliers start by focusing on the voice channel, which offers the greatest potential for rapid ROI. They then move onto scaling the application digitally to accommodate chat or text.

The most effective virtual agents can communicate at the real-time pace of a conversation, understand complex dialogue, and perform in a fashion that emulates a company’s top agents on all channels. While every contact center has a pool of live agents, whether in-house or remote, forward-thinking companies now have a pool of AI-powered virtual agents to handle the routine calls and chats that don’t require complex critical thinking or judgment. By doing so, these organizations are positioned to upskill their live front-line reps to handle only the interactions that genuinely require human intervention.

SmartAction, a recognized innovator of purpose-built AI-powered Virtual Agents for customer service, has found that in its experience of designing and deploying new AI-powered virtual agents for voice interactions, the self-service application consistently falls into one of five distinct categories. They have validated this formula with more than a hundred clients encompassing hundreds of use cases across 12 industries.

What are these categories? SmartAction will detail them in a complimentary live webcast, appropriately  entitled “The 5 Categories that Rule Virtual Agents”  on CrmXchange on Thursday, October 1st at 1:00 pm. They will show businesses how to understand and to broadly classify its interactions to ensure that a live human agent should never handle the ones that can be best addressed by AI-powered virtual agents. Among the areas to covered are:

  • Determining which specific categories are best suited for exclusive AI applicability
  • Comprehending the top use cases driving conversational AI adoption
  • Real-world examples from 6 leading companies

The presenters are industry veterans with proven expertise in helping organizations deliver frictionless customer experiences via conversational intelligence. Brian Morin, CMO, SmartAction has been instrumental in helping the company achieve its status as the top-rated Virtual Customer Assistant solution on Gartner Peer Insight and distinction as “The Leader in AI-Enhanced Self-Service” by Frost & Sullivan. Mark Landry, SmartAction’s VP of Product, began his career as a Lucasfilm intern  and become an award-winning screenwriter for Nickelodeon, The Disney Channel, and Amazon Studios. He is a CX designer who has designed human-to-AI interactions for more than 100 brands including DSW, AAA, Electrolux, Choice Hotels, and others. They will be joined by Marilyn Cassedy, Director of Customer Success, SmartAction who oversees the relationships with high-level clients to ensure they are receiving full value.

Register now for this eye-opening webcast. If you are unable to attend the live presentation, a link to the recording will be posted within 24 hours after the presentation.

Unearthing the Most Important CX Initiatives for 2021 Requires Going Far Beneath the Surface

It’s always been a tried and true topic for seminars and webcasts to divine the most significant changes and new directions in a specific industry. Until now, when someone set out to predict what the major trends might be in the following year, they could often just look at what was being forecast in the previous year and update the syllabus of such educational offerings by integrating any new ideas that may have been introduced in the interim.

Of course, viewed through the prism of the world we are now living in, that notion seems like a quaint anachronism, as irrelevant as the Jetson’s 1960s vision of a future of flying cars that fold into briefcases. The clichés used to describe the current situation in the CX/contact center world are mounting …the world has been turned upside down, the way we do business has changed forever, we are living in a new normal, etc. But however tired we may be of seeing these aphorisms, they reflect an undeniable reality. Organizations of all types must find and implement innovative methods to address customers’ momentous needs today to build enduring relationships in the era when Covid-19 is just a jarring memory.

Simply stated, the pandemic has triggered a re-evaluation of the meaning and purpose of customer care. Over the past few months, the emphasis on complex examinations of customer journeys and satisfaction metrics have been supplanted by a focus on the gravity of ensuring that consumers can get the information they need when they need it. Consequently, businesses are now changing the way they will measure and deliver the customer experience in 2021. The sudden transition calls for a new perspective that extends beyond familiar metrics, existing processes, and technology silos.

With the disruption in the workforce due to the lockdowns and furloughs, can businesses be counted on to provide service which makes empathy, understanding and concern integral elements of every interaction? Can CX leaders rapidly reposition themselves to react to the likely long-term alterations in consumer behavior that will undoubtedly come about from this crisis? The challenge is to pivot, innovate and transform operations in a way that enables organizations to not only stand out from the competition, but create new standards of service that truly address the evolving needs of the customer.

In this environment, any educational program that attempts to identify the most critical developments in the next year of the customer experience universe must take a totally fresh approach. On Tuesday, August 11th at 1:00 PM ET, CrmXchange offers a complimentary Best Practices Roundtable discussion that will provide an in-depth examination of the elements that have now become front and center in importance. “CX Megatrends to Watch in 2021” will be presented jointly by experts from two solution providers with demonstrated expertise in revamping contact center operations. Steve Chirokas, Director, Product and Channel Marketing, CallMiner, and Laura Bassett, Senior Director, Product Marketing, NICE inContact, will team up and tap their extensive backgrounds in providing guidance and strategic direction to industry leaders.

The topics to be discussed include:

  • Why Work-from-Home affects the customers’ perception of a brand and the ways that getting it right can positively influence loyalty
  • How to manage remote workers for increases in productivity and enhanced CX
  • In what ways can customer insight, using emotional metrics combined with AI agility, aid agents in taking the next best compelling action
  • How to build momentum toward in-the-moment voice of your customer insight and ensure that responses make for dynamic personalization
  • How to recognize and prioritize digital strategy
  • Specific reasons why moving to the cloud decreases uncertainty during a pandemic

Register now for this enlightening roundtable discussion that will give you updated guidance on what lies ahead. If you can’t attend the live presentation, a link to the recorded webcast will be provided 24 hours after it has been completed.

Melding AI and Virtual Assistants with Humans: The Right Formula for a Superior Customer Experience

By now, just about all of us have encountered an automated system when reaching out to a contact center. According to research cited in a 2017 IBM Watson blog, by 2020, 85% of all customer interactions will be handled without a human agent. Sometimes, such systems work flawlessly: the bot or virtual assistant (VA) understands customers responses easily and the conversation progresses smoothly as they either get the information they expected or complete the process they hoped to finish. In some cases, customers may not even be sure they are interacting with an automated entity.

But while AI continues to provide increasingly beneficial results in the contact center environment and to grow in its capabilities to emulate human behavior, it is not yet the be-all, end-all technology that can resolve every issue. In some instances, the AI system simply can’t process the information that customers supply, leaving them ensnared in a loop of repetitive responses….and the resultant frustration can have immediate and serious consequences. NICE inContact’s 2018 CX Transformation Benchmark, revealed that only 33% of consumers found that chatbots and VAs consistently made it easier to get their issues resolved.

This is precisely why it’s critical to ensure that empathetic human intervention is readily available.

When the human touch is needed, it must be prompt, proactive, professional and above all, responsive to the customer’s needs. While many contact centers are increasing their reliance on AI solutions to reduce headcount and deliver rapid ROI on their technology expenditure, they are also learning that not having enough caring flesh-and-blood agents ready to complement their electronic counterparts can result in diminished loyalty and customer churn. Establishing the right balance between an effective, continuously updated AI program and humans who can seamlessly step in at just the right moment is a necessity in an environment where customer satisfaction has become the most significant business differentiator.

Having the capacity to train an AI system to determine the exact point in a conversation on any touch point where the customer needs to be handed off to a live agent is the most important factor in the process. Analytics plays a key role: data gathered within each individual interaction can provide a treasure trove of relevant information enabling managers to better understand what sets a customer on edge, what makes them feel more comfortable in a conversation that is not going well and what can ultimately drive them to take their business elsewhere. Having the right intelligence readily available also enables management to also pinpoint necessary adjustments in policy, procedure or verbiage.

Of course, as AI increases in intelligence through machine learning, it can also provide additional value-added suggestions such as which department is best equipped to assist customers based on analysis of their specific needs. Leading-edge AI solutions can pair such customers with an individual agent with the right skill set to guide them to successful resolution of their issue.

Companies investigating either implementing or upgrading an AI customer service solution need to develop a strategy that offers optimal potential to enhance customer relationships and improve the quality of interactions on all touch points. In addition, they must explore ways to strengthen collaboration between self-service entities and live agents.

On Thursday, October 3rd at 1:00 PM ET, CrmXchange will present a Best Practices Roundtable on Seamless Customer Experience: Combining AI VA with Live Agents, featuring experts from leading solution providers NICE inContact and Verint. Among the topics discussed will be:

  • Current AI adoption trends: how to get the most of early AI investments
  • How is AI impacting customer service today and what’s ahead in the future?
  • Where AI can add the greatest benefits
  • How to define and implement the right mix of automation and human touch—without damaging consumer trust and undermining relationships in the process of digitization.

This informative roundtable webcast is complimentary and those unable to attend it live can download it approximately 24 hours after it is completed. Register now

How Inconsistent IVR Personas Damage Your Brand

Imagine coming across an Instagram post for a brand you’ve taken notice of a few times before. You love their aesthetic and they have a product you’ve always wanted to buy. You decide that it’s time to make a purchase. First, though, you have a couple of questions.

You call the company, expecting an exchange that’s reflective of the warm, kind, youthful energy they exude on Instagram. What you get, though, is a cold, to-the-point response, making you stop to wonder if you dialed the wrong number.

Interactive Voice Response (IVR) systems may technically be robotic, but they can also be personalized to your brand. Your IVR needs to give your customers the same impression that your website, live agents and marketing campaigns do. If your IVR doesn’t sound on par with your brand, it could easily turn off customers.

Stay True to Your Brand Voice

Your brand’s voice includes specific words, overall language and the general attitude that your IVR persona should convey. You’ll want to record your IVR prompts using a brand-appropriate persona. Refer to the style guide for this – the brush-up won’t just help your IVR, but your entire team of agents, too.

Avoid Common IVR Persona Mistakes

Regardless of the brand voice, there are a few things that no customer wants to experience when they call your support line, no matter what you’re selling. Avoid IVRs that sound too mechanical. Don’t use strange or unnatural language. Limit the different voices customers hear, and use only trained voice actors for prompts. Make sure the IVR is actually helpful ­– the last thing a caller wants to do is use a different avenue of communication to get the help they need.

Instill Trust in Your Customers

Having a consistent brand voice does more than just make your company seem unified. Behaving consistently also instills trust in your customers, which can improve loyalty. Plus, your customers are more likely to recommend your brand to others, come back as repeat customers, and even stick with you should your prices increase.

One Last Thing

Want to know if your IVR persona is truly hitting the mark? Put yourself in the customer’s shoes and call the IVR yourself. Pay close attention to how it speaks to you. If you find the persona jarring, chances are your customers are going to be even more affected by it.

 

3 Reasons Your Contact Center Should Implement Voice-Enabled Self-Service

By harnessing the power of voice technology, your contact center can alleviate some of the stress placed on your workforce and your bottom line. When it comes to important, urgent or complex issues, most people still want to speak with a live agent. However, for simpler tasks like asking basic question, ordering products or checking delivery status, customers would rather depend on self-service. Here are three reasons why you should consider conversational self-service.

  1. You’ll get rid of complicated menu trees.

Old IVR models have lengthy, complicated menu trees that today’s customers don’t have the patience to deal with. With an old touch-tone or directed dialog-based IVR system, the customer would hear something like, “For account balance, say ‘account balance’ or press 1; for bill pay, say ‘pay my bill’ or press 2…” etc. With voice-enabled self-service, though, the customer can say something much more natural, like, “I want to check my account balance,” and be directed to the correct place the first time around. This streamlined approach to self-service means that fewer customers will opt out of the self-service module in order to speak with a live agent.

  1. Customers prefer it. 

Today’s customers don’t just opt to use self-service when it’s convenient, they actually prefer it, and conversational self-service is an even simpler, quicker way to engage with a company than before. The customer will have a similar experience to speaking with a live agent but without hold times, lengthy conversations or even niceties that can sometimes extend a call. The customer experience with conversational IVR is intelligent, personalized and efficient.

  1. The results are impressive and big companies are noticing.

When American Airlines upgraded their IVR system with Conversational IVR from Nuance, the saw a 5% decrease in the number of calls handled by live agents. When they realized their old IVR system had become antiquated (up to nine different voices; only some speech-enabled applications) they decided to modernize with a new system that would offer a more streamlined experience. They’ve gotten excellent feedback, finding that customers love interacting with the new system, which feels very much like chatting with a live agent.

Your customer service performance can only be based on your contact center’s weakest channel, not the strongest. With an advanced voice-enabled self-service system, interaction time is lowered, customer effort is eased and tasks are simplified.