artificial intelligence

Leveraging virtual assistants for creating a better omni-channel customer experience

By Ramakrishnan Iyer and Vinit Jaiswal, IGATE Global Solutions

With changing customer needs and business scenarios, customer engagement solutions need to focus on providing value-adding services and enhanced omni-channel customer experience. Enterprises need to leverage the capabilities provided by the latest technological innovations to provide a much needed differentiator in this competitive world. Virtual Assistant (VA) technology is an emerging technology which can be integrated with the existing enterprise applications on various channels to help customers converse in natural language with a life-like online avatar that responds to their queries with text or voice.

A VA platform can deliver the following benefits:
•    Enable quick self-service options which help in reducing phone calls, emails and personal interactions
•    Enhanced customer experience as a result of ability to provide reliable, cost effective and responsive services
•    Reduce the number of calls made to customer support center resulting in less customer support team
•    Increase overall productivity

What is a Virtual Assistant?
A VA is a life-like, online avatar that can simulate a conversation to deliver voice or text based responses through web and mobiles based applications. Customers can converse with the avatar in natural language that will understand questions from customer, respond to the customer queries, provide a detailed step by step activities to be done for certain processes,  and do cross-selling depending on the customer interests etc. Thus virtual assistants can be effective in scenarios where call rates are very high and will help enterprises reduce the deployment of a number of support team members. They are capable of understanding different languages and communicate in the natural language of the customer.

Web Virtual Assistants
In web applications, though there are online FAQs and user manuals to help the users, they are found inadequate when a user wants to look for some specific information. It may take a long time for a user to go through the FAQs and then identify the solution to their problem. Virtual assistants allow creation of knowledge bases and provide an interface where the user can query and using the key words, provide relevant resolutions which will help solve users’ problems interactively. VA tools can get integrated with the business applications for extracting contextual information. They can also be integrated with the existing IVR systems to route the service request to a real support person for specific cases that can’t be handled by the VA.

Mobile Virtual Assistants
Mobile virtual assistants provide a user-friendly interface on a smart phone application to deliver the functionality similar to a virtual assistant on a web application. They are capable of understanding the user profile, questions and provide a powerful engagement which will be more effective. With advances in speech and voice recognition technologies, the mobile VA can turn the smart phone into voice-enabled customer service device. By understanding the user profile, they can recognize the person and provide a powerful personalized engagement which will be more effective.

Intelligent Virtual Assistant
With new technological advancements, the concept of “Intelligent Virtual Assistant” is developing, which is providing new technology enablers such as:
* Algorithms enabling natural language interactions
* Artificial Intelligence induced by self-learning
* Contextually-aware proactive search of knowledge portals
* Voice-assisted user interface for mobile devices with speech recognition/analytics
* Voice biometrics

Steps for adoption of a Virtual Assistant
With the Virtual Assistant technologies becoming popular, an enterprise desiring to adopt this should do an assessment to determine the following:

• Identify the applications and processes that require a lot of repetitive support in terms of interaction with a customer support agent or going through FAQs?
• Evaluate the Virtual Assistant tools and features and identify the best fit Virtual Assistant tool
• Convert the FAQs into a knowledge base which can be accessed using key words etc.
• Build the virtual assistant applications and integrate with the existing applications
• Optimize the knowledge base by analyzing the typical questions asked by customers, which responses are satisfactory or not and ensure that the virtual assistant one-stop point for all queries
• Check if the applications are accessed on mobile and the need for mobile enabling of the virtual assistant over the mobile application

Solutions implemented using Virtual Assistant
Virtual assistants can be deployed in various domains to provide the enhanced customer experience options.

In the insurance domain, we have developed two POCs leveraging a Virtual Assistant platform catering to insurance domain specific use cases:
•Product Enrollment:  A web based VA solution that provides assisted form filling while enrolling for a new insurance product
• First Notification Of Loss (FNOL) Application: A mobile-based VA solution assisting users to log First Notification of Loss in case of an automobile accident

Virtual Assistants IGATE

According to Gartner, virtual assistants have transformational benefits.  The market for VA is expected to grow with quite a few global intelligent virtual assistant tool vendors emerging like NextIT Corp., Creative Virtual Ltd., VirtuOz Inc., Anboto Group., CodeBaby Corp, IntelliResponse Systems Inc., Nuance Communications Inc., SpeakToit Inc., Artificial Solutions UK Ltd., eGain Communications Corp. etc.

Enterprises can provide on-demand self-service applications which will be available round the clock on any devices or channels of communications. As the technology surrounding VA matures, businesses will be compelled to implement them not just to reap the benefits but also to remain competitive.

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