Omnichannel, social media, machine learning, artificial intelligence… contact center managers hear buzzwords like these on a regular basis. Every day, news articles, opinion pieces, and videos are published that explain which technology you absolutely must implement to enhance the customer experience. With so many concepts to choose from, it can be difficult for companies to know which to prioritize. But changing customer expectations are providing big clues about where to focus: intelligent virtual agents.

First, let’s repeat the phrase uttered at every single customer experience conference: “Customer expectations are changing.” While oft-repeated, it is true! Customers everywhere have access to conversational AI: smart machines that they can speak or type to in a natural way. Whether it is in their living room or on their smartphone, these consumer devices can do everything from playing music to turning off the lights to reading you the news of the day. While the actual actions of these products may not be groundbreaking, the fact that people are actually using them is. Never before have humans been so comfortable conversing with machines (except maybe in Star Wars). Though we have had speech recognition and natural language processing for a while, the breakthrough has been in improving these capabilities to the point that the machine reliably understands the human. In addition to becoming more accurate, they are also easy to use, intuitively designed, always available, and aware of who their users are and what they prefer. All of this adds up to people being more comfortable talking to machines because now they actually work.

Unfortunately, most contact centers do not have machines capable of engaging with customers the way they expect. Most companies only utilize basic automation systems for the very simple inquiries and pass all others to their live agents, creating queues and frustration for all. Intelligent virtual agents bridge that gap between customer expectations and the capabilities of technology.

Blending technologies like Artificial Intelligence (AI), Natural Language Processing (NLP), and Speech Recognition – intelligent virtual agents are the machines that customers now expect to talk to when contacting the brands they love. These virtual agents are capable of extending beyond the automation of the past: where legacy systems can only handle simple transactions, intelligent virtual agents can automate complex, repetitive processes that humans are normally handling. More importantly, they do so in the same way as the consumer products outlined above, with easy to use, intuitive design and accurate personalization of each engagement. This effect on the part of automation allows live agents to focus on the human-only inquiries coming into the contact center; those can be defined as requiring empathy or persuasion. This kind of automation is expected on the customer side and is more efficient and cost-effective on the business side, so it is a unique marriage of what both customers and businesses want for the customer experience.

Think about all of the inquiries that come into your contact center that you wish you could automate in order to be more efficient. With intelligent virtual agents, you can automate more of those processes than you ever thought possible before, and the technology continues to improve along with customer sentiment towards it. You will likely begin to see customers, particularly millennials, prefer virtual agents over live ones in the very near future.

That’s why for contact centers, AI and virtual agents are not buzzwords. Just as conversational AI products will soon be in every living room, intelligent virtual agents will be the core of every state-of-the-art contact center.

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This post was co-authored by Charlie Schrier, Director of Product Marketing at SmartAction, a Genesys AppFoundry partner and leading provider of AI-powered customer self-service. Charlie identifies market trends and competitive advantages, and develops multi-media materials that help brands stay ahead of the curve. He and his colleagues at SmartAction are working to fundamentally improve the way customers communicate with the brands they love by building environments where intelligent virtual agents automate complex customer requests in every channel – voice, SMS text, web chat, social media, and mobile.

Juergen Tolksdorf

As Director of Innovations Group, Juergen manages the Technology Partnership Program and AppFoundry Program. Prior to this role, he managed Genesys Solution Strategy and Research and Development groups within Genesys. Juergen joined Genesys in 2009 through an acquisition of a...