Intelligent virtual assistants (IVAs) have proven themselves to automate the handling of customer and employee requests and tasks. They are quickly becoming a fixture in the organization’s customer service workforce, becoming the “MVP” of the customer care team.
But IVAs aren’t content to rest on their laurels; increasingly, they are being directed to serve an even higher purpose in the organization. Having proven their mettle and efficacy on the customer front lines, they are quickly graduating to a manager role in the organization—responsible for directing activities and kicking off end-to-end workflows spanning multiple departments to fulfill customer and employee needs.
In turn, they are helping organizations realize the promise of being intelligence-driven via reduced customer and employee effort and by radically streamlining organizational response and cultivating a whole new level of customer-centricity.
The Intelligent Enterprise: Insights to Action
“Insights to action”—it’s been the mantra and aspiration of contact centers and companies worldwide for decades now. The goal? Gain an understanding of what customers want and need in their moment of need, and then be able to fulfill those needs quickly and easily.
However, organizations have been thwarted in making this vision a reality because of organizational drag due to the extensive time and effort needed to gather and discern customer intent (often the primary function of the contact center), and then to codify this intent/need to efficiently inform other business functions tasked with fulfillment.
Enter the “intelligent enterprise”—a paradigm shift that aims to radically revamp business operations to drive out organizational drag and reorient operations to be crucially customer-centric.
Don Schulman, senior managing director and global lead of Functional Excellence for Accenture Consulting, writes extensively on the pronounced need for the intelligent enterprise and offers a concise interpretation of its purpose.
Traditionally, business systems such as enterprise resource planning (ERP) have been at the center of how businesses operate. Schulman argues that function is no longer the central organizing construct of a successful enterprise. Instead, everything an organization does today—from brand engagement, product and service delivery, business operations and customer experience—needs to be oriented around the customer and creating business value.
In other words, the intelligent enterprise is about connecting functional departments by organizing and aligning enterprise resources to identify and quickly and nimbly respond to customer needs.
IVAs: Enabling the Intelligent Enterprise
IVAs use artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, natural language processing (NLP) and natural language understanding (NLU) to automate the handling of customers’ and employees’ requests and tasks. But their use is quickly evolving. According to industry analyst firm Everest Group’s “Conversing with AI—Intelligent Virtual Agents (IVA) Market Report 2019”: “In the last 12-18 months, the market has witnessed a gradual shift from rule-based solutions to AI-driven IVA solutions. IVAs have evolved beyond solving basic customer queries and are becoming capable of handling much more complex interactions such as sales and marketing, payment collections, employee support and customer acquisition and retention. Due to their ability to work in synergy with other digital and automation technologies such as robotic process automation (RPA), internet of things, image recognition and analytics, IVAs are becoming capable of enhancing the overall customer experience.”
I agree with Everest Group’s bullish take on IVAs and automation and will take this one step further. I see IVAs and automation becoming potent change agents in the enterprise to enable the intelligent enterprise.
Today, conversational AI and intelligent virtual assistants are automating the process of gathering customer intent while other layers of automation enable the routing and delivery of these insights to the relevant organizational functions and actors. By dramatically improving cycle time and reducing customer and organizational effort, the result is rapid organizational response to customer intent—an insights-to-action straight arrow whose aim is swift and true—cutting through departmental silos and organizational hierarchies.
IVAs automate the gathering of customer intent and lead the process orchestration parade—issuing alerts and triggering workflows to commandeer and activate the necessary enterprise resources for customer care.
There’s an interesting parallel to understand the IVA’s role in the intelligent enterprise and it involves one of the most elegant organizational systems ever designed—the human body. The neuromuscular system includes all the muscles in the body and the nerves serving them. Every movement your body makes requires communication between the brain and the muscles. The nervous system provides the link between thoughts and actions by relaying messages in near-instantaneous fashion. When you touch a hot stove, the nerves send a message to your brain and to your muscles to quickly pull your hand away. When you hear a loud noise, your body might flinch.
So, too, we can think of organizations as having “sensory systems” to detect and understand customers’ wants and needs in their moment of need, and the “muscular system” to do the heavy lifting of operational execution to satisfy customer needs or resolve issues. Just as the body’s systems work autonomically to sense and respond—with today’s next-generation IVA and automation technology, so can organizations sense and respond to customer needs.
This digitization of end-to-end processes and customer journeys offers organizations a treasure trove of thick, rich data around customer intent, issues and resolution. This data makes it possible for enterprises to understand motivations, desires, interaction trends and customer pain points to continually optimize the organization for continuous improvement and even new products and services to address emerging needs.
For example, a major telecommunications company providing fixed-line telephone services, a mobile network, and internet service to consumers and businesses deployed an IVA to support intelligent self-service. As time went by, the company noticed that the IVA was capturing conversations relating to service outages. They soon realized they could use this data to develop a real-time “heat map” of customer-reported network issues to enable the company to better optimize its field support resources. Understanding the intent data from the IVA has allowed the company to significantly reduce the amount of time and effort for client reporting and resolution of issues.
A More Intelligent Use of HR and the Means to Meet Customer Expectations
Putting IVAs at the helm of the intelligent enterprise also gives organizations a more intelligent way to leverage their talent and scale their operations. In the past, people alone were responsible for scaling customer care—an obvious growth gating factor. Today, with IVAs and automation, organizations can manage growing service volumes through unlimited human-like chat support 24/7. This enables organizations to scale their service operations without adding more headcount, while freeing existing customer service teams to handle special situations or more complex inquiries.
IVAs also enable organizations to meet customer expectations—with the greatest of these needs being the need for speed. Multiple studies have shown that the number one thing customers want from customer service is faster response times.
When organizations handle things manually that could be handled in an automated fashion, response times suffer. The way to make the path from insights to action more direct and more expedient is through IVA-led automated journeys.
As well, not all customer issues are created equal. Some issues must be resolved ASAP, while others can be resolved to the customers’ full satisfaction within 24 or even 48 hours. An insurance customer calling to report their home is flooding needs immediate assistance, whereas a customer calling to get a competitive homeowners’ insurance quote may be quite content to receive a response the next day. IVAs can understand which customer issues to prioritize. By providing this prioritization, organizations can streamline customer journeys where speed is most critical; this can dramatically improve the customer experience.
Because they are always friendly and easy to engage with, IVAs appeal to a broad range of customer demographics, but especially so to “digital native” customers that are accustomed to engaging with digital technologies.
IVAs and Automation: Self-Service Is Just the Tip of the Iceberg
Leveraging IVAs for self-service is just the tip of the iceberg. The combination of IVAs with automation to surface customer needs and activate organizational response is the real game-changer.
Intent-level insights give organizations the ability to fully realize the promise of becoming a modern intelligent enterprise via reduced customer effort and streamlined organizational response. Now organizations can be truly customer-centric, dynamic and enlightened as to up-to-the-minute customer needs and intents for continuous improvement in agility and responsiveness.