People are more dependent now than ever before on digital channels. For everything from digital banking to travel changes to grocery shopping to work – whatever you need to accomplish you can accomplish it remote from home or from anywhere. While this shift was already underway in 2019 and enterprises were developing digital capabilities to serve their customers, it has dramatically accelerated since the COVID-19 pandemic. Businesses need to catch up –  fast. The increased digital activity – sure to be especially heightened during the holiday season that is underway – brings new pressures for call centers and customer service to respond promptly.  Leading brands with a mature digital footprint have raised the stakes by providing prompt and personalized service while reducing customer effort. The inability to meet this rising pressure will result in losing hard-earned customers and a competitive edge, across all industries from travel and transportation to banking and retail.

One technology has emerged to play a crucial role in managing increased customer service demands –virtual agent technology (VAT). A recent study from IBM on the Value of Virtual Agent Technology found that VAT contributes to not only to improving both customer and human agent experience as well as increasing productivity, but also consistent returns on investment for your business and very real cost savings.  96% of respondents exceeded, achieved, or expect to achieve their ROI for VAT investment. Additionally, a recent IBM-commissioned Forrester Consulting TEI study found that a large organization could achieve an average cost saving of USD 5.50 per contained conversation using IBM’s watsonx Assistant™ – a type of virtual agent technology.

Let’s look further at the key benefits of implementing virtual agent technology.

Improved customer experience 

With VAT, customers typically wait less time in the queue and always receive a consistent answer pulled from a single data source rather than a varied response based on the human representative answering the question, regardless of the channel. By proactively identifying customer intent and then automating or escalating responses accordingly, VAT understands what the customer is looking for and helps efficiently finds answers.

VAT doesn’t sleep, get sick or take holidays off, meaning businesses provide 24/7 customer support. With the more advanced types of VAT implementation, customers move between channels without restarting their conversation or explaining the backstory. For example, let’s say a Telco customer adds international coverage to their family’s plan in preparation for a trip. That change is seamlessly reflected when they log-in on desktop to pay their bill, or another family member visits a retail location for a device upgrade. On the next billing cycle, the customer receives a prompt asking if they’d like to keep or remove international coverage.

With fewer friction points, customer satisfaction rates typically increase significantly. In one example, Lloyds Banking Group earned a 92% customer satisfaction rating after it started using VAT. And 99% of respondents in the previously mentioned IBV study reported an increase in customer satisfaction thanks to virtual agent technology.

Increased employee satisfaction + productivity

While a common concern about VAT is replacing human labor, the technology actually has the opposite effect. Because VAT completes lower-level repetitive tasks, representatives focus on more meaningful tasks that require a human touch and critical thinking. Additionally, the VAT interweaves technology and human labor to work together in a collaborative approach, meaning employees have the tools needed to effectively do their job — which increases their job satisfaction. In fact, VAT contributes to a 20% average increase in human agent satisfaction. 

For example, a call center employee working for an airline no longer needs to spend their day handling routine refund requests for canceled flights. With that work automated, the employee spends their time resolving unique, complex requests in empathetic conversations with customers, as well as participating in agile standups and retrospectives with teammates to improve organizational processes. Overall the employee is more satisfied and more productive.

By using virtual agents in customer service, businesses make data-based recommendations for customers, automate manual tasks, and leverage AI to answer frequently asked questions. This ultimately results in reducing human agent handle time by up to 12% on average, and empowering agents to tackle more complex parts of the workflow.

Cost savings and return on investment 

Investing in VAT technology pays off – both short-term savings per customer conversation as well as long-term ROI for your business. More efficient customer service results in not only higher customer and employee satisfaction, but also reduced costs for your organization.

Forrester estimates that for a large organization over three years, with a conservative 25 percent containment rate, the cost savings would be worth more than USD 13 million. For an example of how this has come to life, consider Royal Bank of Scotland. The bank has addressed 50% of inquiries with the technology, with a customer resolution rate of 85%, and they project to save $45 million over 5 years thanks to VAT and hybrid cloud implementation.

In today’s increasingly digital world, implementing VAT will give you a competitive advantage by maximizing the power of your data – both internal customer data and external market data – leveraging exponential technologies such as AI, automation, and advanced analytics powered by hybrid cloud, and ultimately empowering employees to higher value work. Virtual agent technology is a strong example of what we call an ‘Intelligent Workflow’ for customer innovation – leveraging data and technology to transform processes into smarter workflows that increase agility and productivity, build resilience, and reduce costs. Creating intelligent workflows for customer experience will change the trajectory and very nature of work with greater visibility, real-time insights, and the power to remediate problems across multiple business functions.

Learn more about how VAT can empower your organization to continue its journey towards becoming a cognitive enterprise.

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