Human Touch or Human Error: Supporting Live Agents with the Right Tools

By Mandy Reed, Marketing Manager (Global)

Critics of intelligent virtual agent, also known as Virtual Customer Assistant (VCA), technology often emphasise the fact that these solutions eliminate the human touch, and without that human interaction organisations are missing out on a key opportunity to build relationships and loyalty with customers. However, they often fail to recognise the role VCAs can play in supporting human interactions. When the ‘human touch’ isn’t properly supported, the organisation leaves the door open for human error that can have a negative effect on customer relationships.

During the time I was stuck at home with my broken foot propped up on a pillow, I did a fair bit of online shopping for gifts (five birthdays and an anniversary in the span of a month!). One order I placed with a major retailer included a roll of wrapping paper. Much to my disappointment and disgust, it was sent to me in a plastic shipping bag with no padding or protection and arrived completely smashed at one end and folded in half. I logged in to my online account and emailed them with an explanation of the situation. The next day I received a reply apologising for the poor choice of packaging for the shipment and offering to send me a replacement at no extra cost and without the need for me to return the damaged roll of wrapping paper – a nice response and a reasonable resolution to my complaint.

When I didn’t receive notification of shipment as promised within a week, I emailed to query the situation and was told the item was backordered. I then asked why it wasn’t showing as backordered on the website and received a reply that there was an issue with the website. With the tentative shipping date over a month away, I asked if it would be possible to cancel the replacement and issue me a refund for the item instead. A customer service agent replied to that email saying he was unable to cancel and refund a replacement item, but as a thank you for my patience would be sending me an e-gift card to use towards my next online purchase. About a week later I noticed a refund from the retailer on my credit card and, upon logging into my account on their website, discovered that the order for the replacement roll of wrapping paper had been cancelled and a refund for the amount issued to my card.

There are a few places in my customer experience where I encountered human error. Obviously the first was the ridiculous choice of packaging to ship a roll of wrapping paper. That aside, the interaction that was most damaging to my relationship with this retailer was the customer service agent telling me my order could not be cancelled, only to later discover that it could be cancelled – and was. It made me wonder about this breakdown in the experience. Did the agent not have access to the information he needed to accurately provide support for this simple request? Would I have received correct information if a different agent had responded to my email instead?

VCAs, while traditionally thought of as online self-service tools, are actually great solutions to use within contact centres as well. They give live agents an easy way to access information in natural language in order to better support customers via channels like email, live chat and phone. Human error is reduced because all agents are able to quickly find the most accurate, up-to-date information to answer customer queries.

A great example of an organisation improving human interactions by using virtual agent technology is Motability Operations. All advisors in their contact centre have access to ‘Ask Mo’, their VCA, in order to quickly and easily find the information needed to provide callers with correct information. Introduced to new advisors as part of their initial training, this solution also includes an option for users to flag incorrect, out-of-date or incomplete content so the information is kept as accurate as possible. It has helped Motability Operations achieve top-ranking customer and employee satisfaction scores in their contact centre and also earned them a Customer Contact Innovation Award. Customers calling their contact centre have confidence that, regardless of what advisor takes their call, they will receive an accurate and effective solution to their query.

My wrapping paper experience has damaged my opinion of a retailer that previously could count me as a very loyal customer. My trust in their online customer service has taken a hit, and I’ll be very hesitant to place an online order with them again. Moral of the story: Regardless of whether you engage customers through a self-service option or human interaction, you must ensure that you are providing them with accurate, consistent information in order to create a positive experience and build loyalty.

To learn more about how VCAs can be used to support contact centre agents, request a live demo of Creative Virtual’s V-Person™ Contact Centre solutions.


Image courtesy of basketman at