Over the past few years, emergence of social media, mobile smart phones, big data, analytics and cloud has been fundamentally changing our lives and the way we work and interact. These forces have increased customer’s expectations, pushing the enterprises to reconsider their end-to-end customer experience strategy. Customer engagement solutions should focus on providing an enhanced direct experience and help enterprises increase revenue, expand margins, improve customer satisfaction and retention, and offer the much-needed differentiators in this competitive world.
Virtual Assistant technology is a new area that could be integrated with the existing applications, helping users to converse in natural language with a lifelike online avatar that responds to their queries in text or voice. They offer a personalized experience that reduces the need of being in touch with support team; builds a brand image and increases customer satisfaction. It could be integrated with the existing applications as well extending them and adding value to the services they offer.
Here we explore on how Virtual Assistants could be added to the Omni-channel communication solutions and talk about solutions developed for the insurance domain to help streamline and improvise their customer engagement opportunities.
Customer expects the appropriate response to their queries when they visit a support website or contact the helpdesk. They expect their queries answered, problems resolved so that the overall experience becomes a satisfying one. Not meeting their expectations would result in an unsatisfied customer and hence a loss to the enterprise brand. Other challenges in providing high quality service are the poor experience with support via web, phone or email, lack of product knowledge, long call waiting queues and linguistic misunderstandings etc.
Enterprises can significantly increase their brand value and sales by providing customers with fast and correct responses through an effective customer engagement services. It can help them improving their services, increasing customer satisfaction and retention. Enterprises can leverage virtual assistant solutions improving their various customer service functions including enrollment form filling, first notice of loss claim, front desk, meeting reminders and other personalized services.
As the Virtual Assistant solutions are getting popular, a lot of vendors have come up with their solutions in the market. Some of the popular vendors in are market are: Creative Virtual, eGain, INTELLIRESPONSE, next IT, Nuance Nina and ANBOTO.
Challenges in Customer Engagement Services
Here are some of the key challenges faced by the enterprises in managing customer engagements:
• Meeting the ever-increasing expectations of the tech savvy users having various channels for communication, including web, mobile, Facebook, Twitter etc.
• Making a good first impression when a web application or a mobile app is accessed for the first time and thereby increasing the chances of a revisit.
• Providing a personalized support at the time of a new account creation or product registration that may need involving an agent.
• Providing a user-friendly self-service feature that might be faster than talking to a live agent as a preferred mechanism.
A Virtual Assistant is a conversational lifelike, online avatar that can simulate a conversation to deliver voice or text-based engagement on any web application or mobile interface. They can converse in natural language with the avatar to respond to queries, understand questions, offer a detailed step-by-step activities for certain processes and provide cross-sell opportunities depending on interests, etc. It is very effective in scenarios where call rates are very high. They are capable of understanding different languages and can communicate in the natural language. Virtual Assistants can be very successfully implemented to optimize the number of support team size.
A Virtual Assistant not only resolves the query of the customers, but can also be configured to give more information about the promotions and offers. For the example, if we have to fly from one place to another, it will not only inform about the flights, but also provides the details about the hotels where we can stay, promotions and offers, luggage limits, climate of the destination and any other destination specific details that are configured.
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 them to go through the FAQs and find the solution to their problems. At times this is time-consuming and prevents them from performing certain functions and they may call up customer support. Virtual Assistants allow creation of knowledge base and provide an interface where the users can put their queries and get the relevant answers interactively.
Additionally, Virtual Assistants can generate reports showing the frequently asked queries, their trends (of being asked), unanswered or new queries and level of customer satisfaction with the responses and so on. This provides an opportunity to improving the question bank and the response.
Mobile Virtual Assistants
In addition to Virtual Assistants for the web applications, there are mobile based Virtual Assistants that provide a user-friendly interface for a smart phone. They are capable of understanding the user profile, questions and offer a powerful engagement which will be more effective. With advances in speech and voice recognition technologies, the mobile Virtual Assistant can turn the smart phone into voice enabled customer service person. They can recognize the person, understand what the customer is looking for and interact in a conversational way to facilitate a unique way of interaction.
Virtual Assistants are more than a voice enabled help file and have inbuilt intelligence that can help in providing a more personalized help and give the further inputs sensing the context of the help being asked. For example, when we need to book a ticket between two places, the help can also be personalized to ask other questions like type of food preferences, preferred seating arrangement. Users can be asked whether they would be interested in hotel booking at the destination, any vehicle requirements, taxis etc. to add cross-selling to the list.
Intelligent Virtual Assistant (IVA)
With new technological advancements, the concept of “Intelligent Virtual Assistant (IVA)” is developing, which is providing new technology enablers such as:
• Algorithms enabling natural language interactions
• Artificial Intelligence induced by self-learning
• Context-aware, proactive search of knowledge portals
• Voice-assisted user interface for mobile devices with speech recognition/analytics
• Voice biometrics
The Intelligent Virtual Assistant can also be used to improve interactions on traditional online web portals, as well as on smart phones. Additionally, they offer a more personalized engagement of the person’s identity while talking. They can also customize recommendations by leveraging the features and capabilities provided by smart devices and accessories (e.g., Geo location, accelerometer etc. and feed provided by smart watch and fitness wearable) extending the boundary of their services and making them context aware. The future generations of Intelligent Virtual Assistant can leverage artificial intelligence using self-learning algorithms to provide more relevant solutions to customer queries.
Virtual Assistant Tools in the Market
According to Gartner, “Virtual Assistants” have transformational benefits. Global Intelligent Virtual Assistant (IVA) will grow at a CAGR of 39.3% over 2013-2018, and the total market shall be projected to climb to more than $2.1 billion by 2019.
The market for IVAs shall be expected to grow with a few global intelligent virtual assistant tool vendors emerging like Next IT Corp., Creative Virtual Ltd., VirtuOz Inc., Anboto Group., Code Baby Corp., IntelliResponse Systems Inc., Nuance Communications Inc., SpeakToit Inc., Artificial Solutions UK Ltd., eGain Communications Corp. Etc.
Virtual Assistant Comparison Matrix
Different customers have different requirements, hence it is important to make sure that we appraise to map the Virtual Assistant tool features as per the requirements so before starting the development we have done some comparison between various tools available in the market and chose the best tool as per their need to develop the proof of concept.
Iactive intelligent, Creative Virtual Ltd, eGain Corp. and Nuance Communication are some of the key Virtual Assistant tools available in the market that covers most of the features like 3D Persona with Emotions, Mobile solutions, concept understanding, multiple questions, Analytics, Social Dialogue, Natural language processing capability, multiple language support, etc. Apart from all these features Creative Virtual is good in reporting and analytics, Nuance (Nina) is good in Voice biometric (person and voice identification) and Iactive intelligent technology is good in features planning and decision-making.
Customer Engagement Solutions using Virtual Assistant
To verify the viability and usability of Virtual Assistant products we developed two Proof of Concepts (POC) based on the use cases from the insurance domain:
• Product Enrolment: A web-based Virtual Assistant solution that provides assisted form filling while enrolling for a new insurance product.
• First Notice of Loss Application: A mobile-based Virtual Assistant solution assisting users to log First Notification of Loss (FNOL) using voice for a vehicle in case of an accident
Virtual Assistant for Assisted form Filling Solution
In a product enrolment form, any user who wants to enroll for a policy will need to enter their personal details and express interest in the product. Typically the form could be complex asking for various details and customers may call up support asking how to fill it. This solution uses a Virtual Assistant to help the user filling the enrollment form by asking questions and considering the user responses as input vales.
Virtual Assistant for First Notice of Loss (FNOL) Solution
When a person driving a car meets an accident, he will need to report the accident to the insurance company at the earliest. Since there are multiple pieces of information to be entered at times additional help would be required and the person will try getting in touch with the support team. This smart-phone-based application uses a Virtual Assistant and provides a voice-assisted solution to capture the information. User will simply need to respond to questions spoken by the tool and respond to them in speaking. The whole process can be completed as a natural conversation.
Virtual Assistant Technology Benefits
Implementing a Virtual Assistant solution for automating the business processes provides many benefits by increasing the efficiency and productivity. With this an enterprise can not only increase the overall customer satisfaction, but also cut the cost involved. Some of the key benefits are as follows:
• Enhanced customer experience
• Increased overall productivity
• Optimized support team
• Reduced cost
• Better monitoring and control
Customer engagement is being no more seen as a nice to have thing anymore and businesses are having a strategic view towards it. Virtual Assistant technology combined together with other emerging technologies is empowering them to revamp their customer engagement platforms. It has huge potentials in the areas where a lot of interactions happen as a routine with a large support team. Enterprises can reap tremendous business benefits through a well thought Virtual Assistant implementation.