21st-century consumers are more informed than ever before. With infinite information at their fingertips, every individual is able to conduct research in order to make decisions that are knowledgeable, logical, and ethical.
This has had a significant impact on the modern customer experience. A customer can see right through a shallow encounter focused on closing a sale. They can also tell when a business isn't putting in the effort to truly meet their needs.
One of the solutions to the complex demand of personalized and informed customer experiences has arrived in the form of IVAs (intelligent virtual agents). Here are a few of the ways that IVAs are poised to disrupt the customer experience narrative for the better in the coming year.
Defining an IVA
According to cloud contact center solution Five9, an IVA is "an AI-powered application that allows businesses to deliver intuitive resolutions for common questions across voice and digital channels."
In other words, a virtual agent is able to utilize cutting-edge artificial intelligence to answer customer queries. These aren't canned answers, though. While the complexity of the questions may have a limit at the moment, an IVA can deliver personalized "intuitive resolutions" based on each individual situation.
The impressive abilities of virtual agents - as well as the promise of more advanced capabilities to come - has the potential to impact the customer experience in multiple ways in the coming months. Here are a few of the biggest ways IVAs are set up to revolutionize the customer experience in 2022.
Creates More Human Self-Service Experiences
Self-service has had an interesting history. The self-driven customer experience started with things like fountain drinks and gas pumps. However, for years the idea of creating self-service options for more complex customer interactions wasn't desired by the bulk of consumers.
In recent years, this narrative has flipped. Customers have sought out self-service options in increasing numbers, only reaching out to human agents when absolutely necessary. In fact, as far back as 2018 (i.e. pre-pandemic and social distancing), 88% of Americans already expected businesses to have self-service support portals set up, whether they needed them or not.
The only problem with this expectation came from the portals themselves. The AI limitations of even a few years ago made self-service a difficult proposition at best.
That's where virtual agents are making a difference. As more businesses deploy IVAs in their customer experience strategy, they will be able to offer a more natural self-service experience.
IVAs use things like natural language processing (NLP) to "humanize" the experience. NLP creates easier, more informed conversations that lead to better results.
Begins to Connect the Automation Dots
IVAs have already thoroughly proven that they can handle basic activities. Things like checking an account balance or resetting a password can happen in isolated incidents without trouble.
However, these are very limited interactions. There's no doubt that they have a massive impact on companies trying to reduce the number of minor customer interactions that they have to respond to.
At the end of the day, though, IVA's past impact on the customer experience will likely look small when compared to what's coming. Businesses have only scratched the surface of what they are capable of. As the technology continues to develop, intelligent virtual agents should be able to start connecting multiple smaller activities to help with more complicated tasks.
This has the potential to make the customer journey almost exclusively self-service. As virtual agents improve, customers will be able to utilize them as their own personal agents as they search for solutions to increasingly nuanced problems.
Who knows, in the near future IVA may even expand its capability into content moderation solutions to encourage the online community's active participation in protecting the safety & integrity of both brands and end-users on the internet.
Of course, the level of complexity that we'll see in 2022 remains to be seen. Even so, these have become mainstream enough at this point to expect at least some pioneering activity in that area.
Frees Up Resources for Creative Improvement
IVAs have already improved the customer experience by simply being available 24/7. No matter the time of day, time zone, or any other time-based barrier, customers can now get informed, automated help whenever an issue arises.
As we continue to move forward, this refining should continue to improve in more ways than merely time.
For instance, as virtual agents take on more of the lower-level work, human agents can focus more individualized attention on higher-level questions. This can provide a more personalized and positive interaction whenever a customer feels the need to escalate their issue past an automated system.
In addition, this removes countless customer experience costs. This frees up significant quantities of resources, which can then be redirected into more creative research and development.
As companies find that they aren't tethered to their customer service phones around the clock, they can funnel resources into developing ever-improved automated customer experiences.
This won't just happen as a kind gesture to customers. It is in the best interest of the businesses themselves to refine their customer journey in a proactive manner in order to maintain a competitive advantage.
American consumers are statistically more likely to share positive service experiences. This means the company that can cultivate the best IVA system backed by genuine, helpful human agents will be able to create a reputation for customer experience excellence that is maintained by the customers themselves.
In other words, the resources that virtual agents free up can lead to creative improvements in the customer experience, as well, as companies vie to maintain an edge over one another.
From improved self-service experiences to enabling greater human creativity, IVAs have the potential to significantly shake up the customer experience in 2022. And the best part is, the entire concept of an intelligent virtual agent is still in its infancy, leaving plenty of room for continued improvement far into the future.