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Virtual Agents in 2020: Usage Spikes and the Banking Sector

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

There have been lots of discussions, articles and analyst deep dives into companies’ digital transformations being driven or accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic and the associated shutdowns and mitigation efforts. Many individuals have also undergone a digital transformation of sorts in their own lives, relying more on options such as FaceTime and Zoom to keep in touch with family, friends and work colleagues and increasing time spent on social media and mobile messaging apps. These digital changes in behaviour have, as you’d expect, also impacted the interactions individuals are having with businesses.

Back in April I took a look at the impressive spike in virtual agent traffic starting in late February and early March that surpassed anything Creative Virtual had seen in over 16 years of being in the industry. By 12 April 2020, those virtual agents had reached nearly 50% of the total traffic they had recorded for all of 2019 despite being only about a quarter of the way through the year.

Now that we have reached the halfway point of the year, I was curious to take another look at our virtual agent traffic and once again enlisted the help of my colleague and analyst guru, Lester Lane. When we crunched the numbers, we discovered that those virtual agents have now recorded approximately 75% of the total transactions from last year and are well on their way to a record-breaking 2020. This is mostly due to a sustained increase of traffic through the rest of April and much of May. Towards the end of May, we started to see a drop-off to more average traffic levels as you can see from the usage of the self-service virtual agents included in the graph below.

virtual agent usage

Looking at overall traffic figures gives insights into general trends, but it’s also interesting to dive a bit deeper into individual industry sectors. At Creative Virtual, financial services is one of our biggest industries and one that our team has extensive expertise in collaborating with on virtual agent solutions. In fact, our very first enterprise customer was a large financial services group – and they are still a customer today! (Side note: My colleague Laura Ludmany wrote a great two-part blog series about helping financial organisations deliver customer support during the coronavirus crisis – check out Part 1 here and Part 2 here if you haven’t already.)

When we break down the total traffic figures into a handful of sectors, we see that they all experienced a spike in March and April before most levelled off a bit. However, the Banking sector has continued to see increased usage throughout May, June and the first week of July compared with the first two months of 2020.

virtual agent usage

This sustained increase for the Banking industry isn’t a surprise given the essential nature of many banking activities combined with the temporary closure of branches and people staying home. More people were forced to do their banking online – perhaps for the first time – and took advantage of the instant self-help offered by virtual agent tools on websites and in banking apps. Plus, there was the added support needed for various government schemes and programmes. One of our banking customers’ virtual agent set a new record for highest number of saved calls in April and then doubled April’s total usage in May.

I’m curious to continue to watch how virtual agent traffic fluctuates as coronavirus-related restrictions change. Banks tend to be early indicators of upcoming general trends, so it may be worth noting the spike of activity at the beginning of July. Will there be another surge as companies and their customers experience further digital transformations? Only time will tell.

If your company is looking to add an AI chatbot or virtual agent to your customer service strategy or is struggling with a self-service tool that can’t meet increased demand from users, you’ll want to take a look at the Neutrino release of V-Person™. Introduced to the market in June, Neutrino provides the right tools and guidance to deploy conversational self-service quickly, easily and at large scale.

Virtual Agent Usage Spikes as Self-Service Rescues the Customer Experience

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

Making a call to a customer service contact centre can be a frustrating and time-consuming experience on a regular day. Throw in a global pandemic and all bets are off. Many organisations are struggling with an overwhelming increase in calls and the closure of call centres. Customers are taking to social media to complain about being unable to get through to call centres and being disconnected after waiting on hold for hours. Companies are asking customers to avoid calling them and adding notifications about long call wait times on their websites.

More customers are turning to company websites and apps for support, in some cases out of sheer desperation because they can’t get through to a contact centre agent and in other cases because they have been proactively directed there by the business. Companies with existing online support and easy-to-use self-service tools are at an obvious advantage. These organisations can ‘rescue’ the customer experience by guiding customers to the information they need online while at the same time relieving some of the pressure from their contact centre so agents can better serve customers with questions that need human support.

In a recent blog post, my colleague Laura Ludmany talked about the sharp increase of traffic Creative Virtual’s banking virtual agents had experienced over the previous month. As she pointed out, it’s not unusual for us to see an increase in usage during significant events. However, this sudden spike surpassed anything we’ve seen in the 16 years of the company’s history. With the help of another colleague and analyst extraordinaire, Lester Lane, I took a closer look at our recent virtual agent traffic.

The graph below shows virtual agent traffic globally and across multiple industries for the period of 1 January 2019 through 12 April 2020. Starting from late February, you can clearly see the number of transactions trending sharply upwards and peaking at the beginning of April.

virtual agent traffic

To put this in context a bit more – by 12 April 2020, these virtual agents had reached nearly 50% of the total traffic they recorded for all of 2019, despite being only about a quarter of the way through this year. During the approximately month and a half between 1 March and 12 April 2020, these installs completed 30% more transactions than during January and February of this year.

It’s also interesting to break down the virtual agent traffic by region. The graph below compares traffic from our Europe-based installs and those from North America. Spikes in usage of our European virtual agents start showing up earlier, a reflection of COVID-19 lockdowns and stay-at-home orders becoming more widespread there before North America. The traffic increases also correlate with the timings of announcements about government schemes and stimulus packages in the UK and the US, two of the main countries where Creative Virtual has virtual agents deployed.

virtual agent usage

I’m curious to watch how virtual agent traffic changes over the coming months as coronavirus-related restrictions are eased – and potentially reinstated – and the world continues to transition. Will customers having their first virtual agent experience during the pandemic make those self-service tools their go-to for future support questions, thereby raising average usage figures? Only time will tell.

Hungry for more stats? Download The Inner Circle Guide to AI-Enabled Self-Service which delves into survey responses from customers on their customer service preferences and business leaders on their usage of self-service technologies.