The evolution of simple “chatbots” into intelligent virtual assistants (VAs) has changed the customer service game to benefit both customers and the agents that serve them. Driven by advances in technology and escalating expectations of their customer service centers, organizations are leveraging Salesforce-integrated VAs to improve the employee experience among call center agents—and boost their retention rates—while also reducing per-contact costs.
Chatbots have been around for decades, with varying degrees of success. Early efforts performed reasonably well in answering simple questions; however, they lacked the ability to predict customer intent and to engage in meaningful, dynamic dialogue. Fortunately, advances in artificial intelligence (AI) are transforming the VA experience by effectively mimicking human interaction while addressing more complex issues.
Today's VAs readily leverage the latest in semantic understanding technology to better understand the user’s input, locate the source of needed information, and deliver an accurate, timely response. The way a baby’s mind learns meaning in languages, beyond word selection and connotation, is inspiring the way VAs are built. By developing self-learning, customer intent recognition, and EQ-demonstrating solutions, it is possible to create virtual assistants that think and talk like a skilled human agent. The result: rapid issue resolution across multiple channels (mobile app, web, voice) and increased use of self-service applications, both of which benefit contact center employees.
Advanced AI allows VAs to predict and more accurately identify the intentions behind user requests, and to integrate with Salesforce and other systems of record to formulate responses. This allows VAs to better personalize and respond to customers during interactions, and it allows the customer’s data to be leveraged more effectively.
Furthermore, AI now enables VAs to learn from each interaction to inform future conversations. If sentiment data indicates that a message causes confusion or frustration among users, the virtual assistant can adjust the message to improve accuracy or to deliver information in a more accommodating tone. Machine learning also enables VAs to connect user inquiries with personalized upselling and cross-selling opportunities.
Advanced AI enables virtual assistants to pick up on cues to a user’s frame of mind and deliver the appropriate, high-EQ responses to customers who are worried, angry, frustrated, etc. Two different customers, for example, may be reporting the same issue, but one seems to be indifferent while the other is clearly angry. The VA may use a standard conversation design to respond to the first, while it may choose to seamlessly transfer the second to a human agent, who can address the concern personally and smooth things over with the customer. Most importantly, all the data from the customer’s interaction with the virtual assistant will be preserved for the human agent, ensuring there will be no surprise “start-overs" for the angry customer.
Virtual assistants can help organizations improve retention rates among contact center employees, in addition to realizing millions of dollars in savings and increasing customer satisfaction. Here are three specific ways Salesforce-integrated VAs can substantially improve the bottom line while modernizing the contact center experience for both agents and the customers they serve:
Even B2B customers are comfortable conversing with virtual entities—thanks to the popularity of Siri, Alexa, and their cohorts—and some even prefer virtual interactions to human conversations in customer service situations. In a recent study, 59 percent of respondents said they prefer service that doesn’t involve speaking with a call center rep, and 33 percent said they would like to see all customer service go through virtual assistants.
Contact centers are being challenged to balance innovation, customer satisfaction, and costs. According to Gartner, real-time customer service channels involving humans—such as phone, live chat, and email—cost on average $8.01 per contact, while virtual interactions for simple queries can run as low as $0.10 per contact and have proven to deliver savings at scale. By taking on requests and inquiries that don’t require human interaction, virtual assistants can directly reduce costs while improving the quality of service.
Employee turnover rates in call centers are unusually high compared to other departments—between 30 and 45 percent on average—particularly due to monotonous, simple, and repetitive requests. Loss of good agents negatively impacts morale, and the cost of training their replacements averages about $7,500 per employee.
By automating simple tasks that are better accomplished using a virtual worker—like helping customers change passwords, check order status, and reschedule deliveries—virtual assistants leave their human counterpoints free to help customers with more complex, interesting challenges. Human agents can focus on areas where they add the greatest value, such as focusing on fringe cases, putting out fires, making connections that a robot can’t, and offering that priceless human touch.
Advances in technology have created new possibilities for engaging users through intelligent, Salesforce-integrated VAs. Organizations that leverage these powerful solutions position themselves to increase customer loyalty, reduce per-contact costs, and improve retention among contact center employees. As virtual assistants continue to become more intelligent and capable, new and more complex use cases will continue to emerge, which will revolutionize the way service is delivered globally across an organization, impacting customers, employees, and everyone in between.
Consumer Index 2020, Aspect
“Gartner Says Only 9% of Customers Report Solving Their Issues Completely via Self-Service,” Gartner press release
“Exploring Call Center Turnover Numbers,” QATC
“100 Essential Customer Service Statistics and Trends for 2021,” Nextiva