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How cognitive virtual agents will transform customer engagement

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The average consumer interacts with customer service 65 times in a year. That adds up to more than 270 billion service calls made on an annual basis. Multiply that by an average cost of about $1.00 a call, and you’ve got very big problem for global businesses. Further, 33% of Millennials are only willing to wait 1 – 3 minutes to get a desired response, 52% have hung up on a customer service call, and 56% of Millennials have switched from one company to another because of underwhelming customer service.

What if customer service calls could become an avenue for loyalty and trust and move beyond service into sales, unleashing an ingenious environment in which to find new revenue streams going forward? Technology is finally reaching the point where intelligent digital agents can discourse with humans, using human language – in a very human way – and that reality is poised to fundamentally transform customer engagement.

Cognitive virtual agent vs. chatbot

Voice response units have the ability to understand what we say in order to get us to the right service representative, and chatbots do a fairly decent job of answering one question at a time. But cognitive systems like IBM Watson can now engage in full conversations with the ability to handle multiple related topics. As a result, we can construct virtual conversations that fully meet the needs of customers without them ever having to speak to a human, because in fact, we have trained the system to have a conversation like a human.

These virtual agents are pro-active solutionists, conscientious workers that are dedicated to ensuring a customer is truly satisfied with his or her experience. We’re currently studying what makes a successful customer service agent, and are replicating their very best attributes to create a digital persona people will like – and trust. This poses many potential benefits for businesses, including: 

Building customer loyalty: Cognitive agents are not only allowing providers to streamline business execution, but are also delivering a compassionate, confidence building, personalized customer experience. Statistics show that customers want to be able to communicate with their providers. Further, an inbound call happens to be the most cost effective means of interacting with customers. With a fairly high first rate of contact resolution, customer service calls or chats, have the potential to be key drivers of growth.

Deepening customer relationships: Cognitive agents are on the path to getting good enough to venture into sales—which has the potential to produce a windfall for leading providers who invested and improved this technology early. Once we perfect the art of cognitive customer service, consumers will develop trust in these virtual agents. Businesses will be able to pivot them into selling more complex products and services that require counseling and advice before a consumer will purchase them.

The future starts now

Cognitive agents are at work today and IBM Watson is already helping companies across multiple industries improve first contact resolution as well as deflect customer interactions from higher cost channels. The degree to which service providers can use cognitive agents to collaborate, aid in decision making, and execute transactions with a customer will be the deciding competitive advantage. They are set to change customer service as we know it.

To learn more about the potential benefits of cognitive agents, watch our webinar on Virtual Conversations: ibm.biz/VCWebinar

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