I recently had an opportunity to speak with David Lloyd, CEO of IntelliResponse, a leading provider of virtual agent technology solutions for the enterprise. One of the topics we discussed was the future of web self-service and virtual agent technologies. David Lloyd has been in the web self-service space for well over a decade. He understands the trends and offered some interesting insights into how the marketplace for intelligent virtual agents might evolve.
While market penetration for virtual agents in a consumer self-service setting is still low, Lloyd sees a very bright future for these solutions. Two key drivers for future growth in this area are consumer expectations and the changing goals of businesses that serve consumers.
Consumer Expectations – Hand Holding Preferred
Not all that long ago in the history of the Internet, the typical consumer expected to have to put some effort into finding things on a business’s website. Websites were often cluttered and clunky. If there was a search box or sitemap, we’d dig in and spend some time figuring out what we needed to do to find the information or product we were looking for. But times have changed. Consumers have many businesses and channels, including web, social, and mobile, to choose from. We no longer expect to have to go hunting when we need information. We want the business to reach out to us and proactively find out what we want and need.
A virtual agent that is knowledgeable about the business and always ready to understand us and answer our questions is a perfect way to meet our evolving expectations as consumers. Presented the choice between a website with a static FAQ buried in the footer and one with a smiling virtual agent eager to answer questions, most of today’s consumers are going to choose the latter.
It’s Not Just About Selling Anymore – It’s About Engaging
We’ve transitioned from the first frenzied wave of social media to an era where social has become intertwined with the fabric of business. Progressive companies that meet their customers through social, web, and mobile channels are looking for new, higher levels of engagement with these customers. The more the business can learn about the people who visit their various storefronts and decide to purchase or not purchase their goods and services, the better positioned the business can be to serve these people effectively. It’s about adding value, and really getting inside your customer’s head enables you to create value a lot better than you could if you were just guessing.
Offering smart virtual agents that can answer a consumer’s questions, instead of leaving that person to fend for her/himself, makes a ton of sense. Providing a web self-service option through a virtual agent is akin to asking the customer if you can be of assistance, instead of ignoring them. Not only that, you’re learning from the questions that your customers are asking. (More on this great learning opportunity in an upcoming post on the Voice of the Customer). Today’s successful companies want and need to build a relationship with their customers, and offering smart web self-service options can help them reach that goal.
Where Does This Leave Human Customer Support Agents?
During the conversation with David Lloyd, I made a comment to the effect that, given the technological advances in virtual agent capabilities, the future for human call agents was rather dim. Lloyd disagreed. He indicated that in his experience, companies using IntelliResponse virtual agents find that their human customer support agents take on an even more important role.
Since virtual agents do such a great job fielding the many low-complexity questions, human customer support representatives are able to focus more time helping the consumers who have bigger issues. Customer reps are no longer inundated with lots of simple calls, which means the customers who call in with more complex questions don’t have to spend time waiting on the line growing more and more frustrated. Being able to offer this more timely and higher quality support translates into happier customers, fewer negative reviews, and more positive word of mouth for the company.
Based on all of these trends, Lloyd expects the demand for virtual agent solutions and other advanced web self-service technologies to steadily grow. As these technologies become increasingly smarter and more adept at assisting consumers, they may become a necessity to maintain competitive advantage. If your company or organization hasn’t thought about a web-service strategy yet, it’s probably time to start.