By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing
Virtual agents. Live chat. Some of you may remember the days when companies wanting to implement customer support on their website believed they had to make a decision: either a virtual agent or live chat; either automated self-service or human-assisted web chat.
This was the common thinking a decade ago when Creative Virtual integrated their virtual agent deployment for a leading telecommunication’s company in the UK with live chat, creating a seamless handover for users within the same template. Around the same time, an online financial services company in the US collaborated with Creative Virtual to add a virtual agent in front of their existing live chat offering to reduce repetitive questions being handled by live agents. Both of these companies were very forward-thinking in their approach to combining these technologies.
Now in 2022, virtual agents and live chat are seen as complementary tools instead of rival solutions. In fact, it’s become best practice to integrate the two in order to improve digital customer support. In the recent webinar ‘Deploy Chatbots to Meet Self-Service Demands’, Gartner analysts talked about the importance of seamlessly escalating customers from virtual agent to live chat agent to create positive, cohesive service experiences.
Instead of a conversation about which of the two technology options to implement, organisations are having discussions about how to incorporate both into their digital customer experience (CX) strategies. Companies that have already done so are seeing a variety of benefits to both their customer and agent experiences, including:
- Customers are always supported with 24/7 access to self-service even outside of live chat hours or when all live agents are busy.
- The most common questions are answered by the virtual agent, reducing the overall number of live chat contacts and the need for agents to answer simple, repetitive questions.
- Virtual agents do the discovery work and pass a complete history of the customer’s conversation to the chat agent, creating a seamless experience for both user and agent.
Adding a virtual agent to an existing live chat deployment
If you already have live chat available to customers and are ready to add a virtual agent, you can jumpstart the project with transcripts from those conversations. By analysing your live chat transcripts, the virtual agent vendor can identify which questions can be answered without human involvement. This analysis can also identify the percentage of live chats that can be deflected with successful automation. It can assist you with identifying key metrics and help build your business case.
Many traditional live chat providers are now offering virtual agents and chatbots as an add-on solution. Unfortunately, often these vendors maintain their focus on driving usage of live agent support. Because of this, the functionality of their virtual agent tools is limited. It’s also not unusual for them to use a pricing structure for self-service that’s similar to their live chat, such as charging by transaction. This makes the virtual agent both poor performing and expensive.
Self-service tools from virtual agent-first vendors deliver better user experiences and more reasonable pricing models. A sophisticated conversational AI platform will support integration with a variety of different live chat providers. This means you can deploy a highly functional virtual agent with seamless handover to your existing live chat solution, providing both successful self-service and easy escalation to human-assisted support.
Adding live chat to an existing virtual agent deployment
If you already have a virtual agent available to customers and want to add handover to live chat, you should start by talking with your virtual agent vendor about your options. Confirm that your existing conversational AI platform supports integration with live chat to handover users within the same template and pass a full conversation history to the live agent. If it doesn’t, then it’s time to find a better virtual agent solution.
Ideally, you’ll already have both a virtual agent platform with flexible integration options and a vendor you trust with expert insights. If they offer their own live chat product, explore that option first. Ask them about their integration experiences with different live chat providers and how their joint solution is better. Ask them for live examples of other similar deployments and for existing client references to get additional insights.
You can use your virtual agent transcripts and metrics to assist with setting up custom rules and triggers for users to be escalated from self-service to live chat. How users have engaged with your virtual agent should inform the set-up of live chat to ensure you are adding it in a way that will deliver the best experience possible for your customers.
Adding both a virtual agent and live chat or changing providers
If you need both virtual agent and live chat technologies, begin your selection process with the virtual agent. Customer engagements will start with your virtual agent, so you want to ensure you are delivering a positive self-service experience even if escalation to a live agent is necessary. A ‘bad’ virtual agent frustrates users and makes the job of your live chat agents even more difficult.
Use the advice shared above and in this Guide to Selecting a Virtual Agent or Chatbot Vendor for selecting a virtual agent platform. If you have an existing virtual agent, either live or in-progress but never deployed, be sure to ask how a new vendor can reuse it so you don’t lose that investment. If you have live chat or contact centre transcripts, also ask about using an analysis of those to jumpstart a new virtual agent.
Then once you have found the conversational AI platform that best fits your organisation and goals, explore the live chat technologies that integrate well with your virtual agent choice. Use the expertise of the virtual agent vendor to help with your selection. They will know from experience which live chat systems deliver the greatest results for your industry, use case, etc. when integrated with their self-service tools. Test some existing joint deployments and talk to other companies using both technologies about their experiences.
Developments in conversational AI over the past decade have enabled a more seamless integration of automated self-service and human-assisted support. With the right technologies, organisations can take advantage of these advancement to deliver improved end-to-end experiences for both customers and agents. Cohesive, convenient customer service is key to building brand loyalty and reducing customer churn. It can provide real business value today and give you a solid foundation for the future.