The next generation of IVAs will enable true multi-modal customer experiences


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The rapid evolution of intelligent virtual agents (IVAs) continues to shake up the customer service industry. Gone are the days of anonymous untailored dialogues, siloed conversations, and labor-intensive callback recording and transcript analysis, leaving customers frustrated and employees overworked.

But even though many brands have already implemented conversational artificial intelligence (AI) and IVA technologies into their contact centers, only 20% of solution providers consider their IVAs to be mature enough for automation and personalization at scale. This leaves most contact centers with limited capabilities, held back by siloed data and barely scratching the surface of the benefits such technologies can offer. As a result, over a third of consumers are still not fully satisfied with the digital and automated customer experience (CX) services currently being offered by brands.

With customer trust and satisfaction at a significant low, contact center leaders must look to experienced partners and practical AI solutions that can make a rapid impact on the customer experience today and enable true multi-modal interactions.

The next generation of IVAs

The new wave of IVAs can deliver personalized, cost-effective interactions that blend voice and visual engagement. They allow customers to move through the most efficient path across channels, and between virtual and live agents – leveraging the best of “collaborative intelligence.” Collaborative intelligence combines and amplifies the speed, scale and accuracy of AI and the critical thinking skills and empathy of contact center workers.

This new generation of IVAs builds in multi-modal functionality to improve voice-based self-service. This allows customers to speak to an IVA, then receive a text with a link to an online form, complete with images to illustrate products and options. Moving the interaction online eliminates the need for customers to speak their email address or alpha numerics, removing errors in speech recognition and speeding up simple information gathering tasks.

As for online messengers, more mature IVAs can improve digital experiences for customers with the ability to type or select from pre-set options. Customers can upload files and images, share their location and use call-to-action hyperlinks, such as adding an appointment to the calendar to make their experience even easier. Now equipped with real-time translation, the next generation of IVAs also reduces service costs and allows businesses to use agents that speak one language for multiple markets.

The right channels for the job

The benefits of new IVA solutions are evident, but what does this look like in the real world? Let’s take buying your partner a Valentine’s present as an example. Your partner has asked for a heart-shaped waffle maker that they’ve seen on TikTok, so you ask your voice assistant to add it to your shopping list. You browse options online, using an automated web chat to ask some simple product questions, before being directed to an online payment. You decide to use the retailer’s click-and-collect service, and are returned to the chat where you book a slot and have the option to add this to your calendar.

This is just one example of how multi-modal experiences can elevate an interaction, and customers are becoming more adept at channel-hopping to reach their desired outcome. When they get in touch with businesses to communicate with an agent, they expect the same ease of use and fluidity. An effective multi-modal experience needs to add value for customers, giving them the information and services they need on the right channels for the job. For instance, AI-backed web chat is ideal for simple enquiries or requests that can be easily moved to an app or website, whereas voice and dealing with a human agent is ideal for more complex, high-emotion issues. IVAs can help to route enquiries and assign cases to the most suitable channel or agent based on domain, business hours and skillset.

Break down the barriers to IVA evolution

For AI-powered customer service to evolve we need to focus on removing the barriers to its adoption. For instance, this year’s IBM Global AI Adoption Index found that the top barrier to adoption was having limited in-house skills, expertise, and knowledge. Fortunately, this is where partnerships become invaluable.

Organizations must look to vendors to help them succeed in their IVA journey. With such experts acting as an extension of your team, you can work together to define strategy and criteria for success, and optimize performance on an ongoing basis. Thanks to advanced analytics, leaders can pinpoint where friction can be removed from the customer experience and gain powerful insights across self-service and live channels of where workflows can be added or improved.

As for the technology that underpins self-service success, this can be achieved through open, cloud-based IVA platforms. This set-up allows organizations to innovate rapidly, access relevant NLP and machine learning (ML) engines and build IVAs from a single interface. To make this even easier for in-house teams, pre-built task libraries can offer quick fixes and the flexibility to customize solutions to fit evolving business needs.

Looking ahead, cloud-based IVAs that are underpinned by conversational AI, will provide the self-service CX capabilities needed to streamline operations and cut costs. However, this must be combined with the flexibility and scalability needed to deliver top tier customer service. Ultimately, exceeding customer expectations will be vital to remain competitive during this economic downturn – so now is the time to invest in the solutions that will allow you to embrace the new wave of conversational AI – and the next.


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