Industry Research : Virtual Assistants Cut Call Centre Costs
The advent of virtual assistants increases customer stickiness and cuts costs, says Gartner.
Speaking at the Gartner Symposium, in Cape Town, Johan Jacobs, enterprise application analyst, said virtual assistants will be a competitive differentiator now, but will become standard within the next three years. He is not aware of a single local company that has implemented one, although there are international examples.
Jacobs explained that the virtual assistant is an avatar that lives on a company's Web site. Currently, the sixth generation is being prototyped, which is intelligent and has transactional capability.
Virtual assistants, combined with Web-based chat as an alternative resolution mechanism, can cut as much as 25% of a company's customer service costs, noted Jacobs. BT paid for "Ask Emma" in two months through cutting call volumes and trimmed 700 000 calls a year.
Initially, the assistants were primitive cartoon images that were static and could only communicate via text and were limited in terms of intelligent assistance, he said.
The first generation has all but disappeared and most of the virtual assistants being deployed today are generation three. The sector is also seeing speech-to-speech applications such as Apple's Siri, he noted.
However, Siri lacks personification and transactional ability in the back-end, Jacobs commented. The next stage of virtual assistants – the fourth generation – is a photo rendering of a human image that provides good search results.
The sector is moving towards generation five, which is well integrated with back-end transactional ability. It allows services such as changing flight times and moving cash around.
Currently in prototype form is generation six, which is moving towards being almost exclusively mobile, and integrates back-end transactional facilities, is highly intelligent and can engage in a conversational mode.
Jacobs said there will be a surge in mobile transactions and interactions, and the next interactions will be Web-based, which will trim the need for call centre agents. "Virtual assistants will literally change the face of the future of customer service."
Virtual assistants never take leave, do not ask for pay rises, do not strike and are at work 24/7. "There's not a single disadvantage."
There are two components to virtual assistants: the front-end which can vary across companies, and the back-end which needs to be knowledge-driven, explained Jacobs.
Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent
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Published: Monday, August 13, 2012