AI-backed voice assistants make customer support efficient yet human

Author

Steve Stover and Samanage

October 12, 2017

Enterprises are constantly evaluating ways to improve the speed and quality of their customer support. Such support has traditionally been delivered over the phone, through a conversation with a human agent. It’s hard not to notice that this has changed in recent years as businesses have adopted alternative support methods in the name of increased efficiency.

These approaches have indeed introduced new efficiencies, but they have also been largely unpopular with customers who view them as too impersonal. Customers expect to have their needs addressed quickly, but they also want empathy and to have their requests easily understood. Most importantly, they want to be quickly passed to a human agent if their concerns are too complex for the technology to process.


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With a variety of time-saving technologies sweeping the consumer market, voice-based virtual assistants stand apart by pairing efficiency with a human touch.

Growing expectations

Customer support and service delivered in real time over a customer’s preferred device has become standard across many industries. And the higher expectations that result from this on-demand service aren’t contained to the consumer space. People now expect rapid, high-quality support from B2B companies, and even from their own employers.

Businesses have taken notice of this trend. According to Forrester, 72 percent say improving customer experience is their top priority.

Technology has fueled time-saving methods for delivering support, like automated phone systems and chatbots that manage frontline contact. The problem is that customers haven’t been happy with this shift, and these technologies have been widely criticized for de-humanizing the support process.

Voice-based technology — a friendlier approach

The success of voice-based virtual assistants has already been observed in the consumer space. Siri sets reminders, makes dinner reservations, pulls GPS directions, and enables a number of hands-free operations. Technologies like Alexa and Google Home can play requested media, read recipes, and manage shopping lists, all through voice commands.

Tens of millions of Americans regularly use these technologies — 41.4 million unique monthly users interact with Siri, and Amazon Alexa has more than tripled its usage in just one year to 2.6 million users in May 2017.

The popularity of these tools shows that users are comfortable engaging conversationally with technology and that people want to receive quick, personalized services in hands-free ways.

These insights are valuable for the enterprise because customers’ preferences aren’t compartmentalized to just one area of their life. A user who would rather make a dinner reservation using voice commands would likely prefer to submit a support ticket through voice commands, too.

Voice-based virtual assistants can play a crucial role within enterprises, both when customers expect a quick resolution to their support needs and when employees expect internal service delivery just as quickly.

Fueled by natural language processing, voice-based virtual assistants can field initial customer support requests and efficiently resolve simple tasks. Even better, they can manage this while providing a more personal experience through a human voice, empathy, and even sometimes humor.

These technologies can also be integrated into IT service desk solutions so that an employee seeking IT support communicates first with the artificial intelligence and is only directed to a human agent if necessary. Using the voice-based virtual assistant, the solution can offer self-help resources and resolve a number of level 1 support requests on its own, relieving human support agents and freeing them to focus on more strategic work.

Humans and virtual assistants pair perfectly

Voice-based virtual assistants present a great opportunity, but they should only be one layer within enterprise service delivery and customer support.

An overwhelming 88 percent of consumers surveyed said they expect a natural transition between automated self-service technologies, like voice-based virtual assistants, and a human agent when purchasing a product, placing an order, or contacting customer service. It’s clear that humans will remain an essential part of service desk and support teams for the foreseeable future. The real challenge for enterprises is in developing a strategy for how technologies can be combined with human agents while ensuring that support conversations smoothly transition from AI to human representatives.

As customer service and support expectations remain high and pressures continue to increase, delivering a great service experience will be crucial for businesses. New AI-backed voice-based virtual assistants provide an opportunity to make support efficient yet human — just the way we like it.

Steve Stover is vice president of product management and alliances at Samanage, an enterprise service-desk, and IT asset-management provider.

This article was written by Steve Stover and Samanage from VentureBeat and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

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