Richard Snow's Analyst Perspectives

Interactions’ Virtual Assistant Provides Self-Service Innovation

Posted by Richard Snow on Dec 22, 2012 6:55:23 AM

Organizations have been struggling for years to find effective systems to support customer self-service. One of the most popular techniques has been to deploy an IVR system, but my research into customer experience management shows that nearly two-thirds (61%) of customers using IVR end up taking the option to speak to an agent, and the old saying “customers hate IVR” still prevails. The same research shows that web-based self-service is achieving similar low levels of success.

Interactions, founded in 2004, has developed an entirely different approach. Its Virtual Assistant application listens to customers’ voice input, and responds based on what customers ask or information they provide. The software is programmed to ask questions, and the dialogue is driven by how the customer responds, either by asking further questions or providing information requested by the caller. The application is smart enough to understand normal conversations, so users talk and it reacts, as if they were talking to a live agent.

As it is software, users can program different types of calls to follow the same flow. For example, by listening to typical sales calls, users can set up Virtual Assistant to follow best practices in handling such calls, including offering preprogrammed responses that depend on what customers say. This ensures customers get the same experiences every time they call. Virtual Assistant can also extract data from other software applications; for example, if it recognizes a caller’s name, the system can be programmed to recover information about the caller from a CRM, ERP or other business application. Using this information, Virtual Assistant can personalize its responses or take a different direction in the dialogue.

This might sound like an advanced form of voice-activated IVR, and to a degree it is, but it doesn’t just follow set menus and provide canned responses. Virtual Assistant is programmed to engage in natural dialogues in ways that might happen with a live agent, but with a greater degree of consistency and personalization. From the case studies I have seen, organizations that program it to deliver above and beyond what customers expect from a live agent have achieved considerable business benefits. From what I have seen and heard I believe Virtual Assistant can enable real success for customer self-service, so I recommend organizations investigate how it can help improve their customers’ experiences.

Regards,

Richard J. Snow

VP & Research Director

Topics: Social Media, Customer Experience Management, Social CRM, Interactions, Cloud Computing, Collaboration, Customer Service, Call Center, Contact Center, CRM, Customer Performance Management (CPM)

Richard Snow

Written by Richard Snow

Richard leads Ventana Research’s Customer and Contact Center Performance Management research practice, which is dedicated to helping organizations improve the efficiency and effectiveness of managing their customers, throughout their lifetime and across all touch points, including the contact center. He conducts research exploring the people, process, information and technology issues behind customer operations management, contact center management, and customer experience management. He also works with senior business operations and IT managers to ensure that companies get the best performance from today’s highly complex application products. Richard has worked in management and consulting leadership positions in the technology industry including with Price Waterhouse, Sema Group and Valors. In his work, he has been involved with all aspects of delivering highly complex IT solutions to a variety of clients in the telecommunications, financial services and public sectors. Richard has specialized in delivering customer care and billing solutions for telecommunications operators, and several multi-channel contact centers for organizations in both the public and private sectors.