Why ignoring artificial intelligence is virtual insanity
2010 is set to be the first credible year of virtual agents. Each month it is estimated that 40,000,000 virtual agent conversations take place across the world and we are expecting a major transition and expansion towards there use in the next 5 years. Virtual agents are also predicted to surpass human contact by 2015. Large well established organisations such as EBay are reported to conduct 200,000conversations a day using them.
Over the last 20 years there has been a significant increase in outsourcing especially with the use of call centres. Typically within customer services there are three focus points; call centres which primarily use phones for inbound and outbound calls, websites for customer self-service options and personal mobile phones which are an extension of the self-service option. Call centres today generally employ two methods of contact with customers on both inbound and outbound calls. The first is using a script to ensure the customer service representative is communicating the correct information to it’s customer in a formal manner, the other is operating without a script.
However, it’s fair to say it has not been all plain sailing for the call centre. They have caused discussion and controversy over outsourcing to locations outside the UK. This can raise issues around language barriers and many consumers reported concerns regarding the consistency of the service and advice they received. One example of this is Government tax advice lines. In most cases more than one operator will deal with a query which often creates confusion over legislation and regulations. Automated agents have been designed to provide an efficient solution to these problems. They serve as customer service representatives combining automated interactions with a human appearance by using two different methods. The first is known as a scripted agent that follows a set text (i.e. ‘press one for adviser’ or listing regulatory requirements for insurance policies). The second method is a natural agent who uses natural sounding language to direct customers to a specific product or service.
As well as providing consistent and accurate information to customers virtual agents have other tangible benefits as witnessed with the recent swine flu epidemic. If the WHO (World Health Organisation) had implemented a centralised virtual agent system that can be translated in to several different languages, the dissemination of developments and advice could be conducted in an efficient, seamless manner. The Financial Services Authority (FSA) too now requires complaints reports every 6 months and these could also be streamlined through the use of virtual agents. Using this kind of artificial intelligence engine has also proved to be 12 times cheaper than using human agents according to a Forrester report published in 2009. This is a key advantage to businesses looking to reduce costs and at the same time increase productivity.
In addition, the rapid growth of the internet has also contributed to the increase in demand. The benefits to online customers are numerous as not only does it save the time and cost of calling a call centre it is also more accessible and available in real time. It seems that the pros are now outweighing the cons when it comes to Virtual Agents for both organisations and consumers alike. It would be virtual insanity to ignore them any longer.
Author: Freddie McMahon, head of customer experience at FusionExperience