• August 4, 2022
  • By Donna Fluss, president, DMG Consulting

IVAs: Self-Service Solutions that Work

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Customers prefer the expediency of self-service, but they will not sacrifice a good experience for convenience. They hold self-service solutions to the same high standards as live agents, expecting accurate, fast, and knowledgeable service, when they want it, in their channel of choice.

What’s more, consumers believe they have the right to interact with an organization in multiple channels and, when appropriate, to pivot between channels, such as when an intelligent virtual agent (IVA) needs to send information to a consumer’s cell phone via SMS during a phone conversation. When it comes to service or sales activities, consumers are thrilled to interact with an intelligent self-service solution that knows who they are, regardless of the channel in which they interact; is able to handle a majority of their requests; and has the sensitivity to know when to transfer them to a live agent.

It's Time to Transition from IVR to IVA

The market is experiencing a major shift from the self-service systems of old—touch-tone-based or speech-enabled interactive voice response systems (IVRs)—to the new generation of conversational artificial intelligence (AI)-based IVAs. Interactive voice response systems were effective for what they were intended to do in the past. They were built to automate the handling of phone inquiries and reduce the volume of calls that needed to be addressed by live agents in order to reduce the cost of service.

But these solutions could support only a limited number of options, as they were presented to customers via nested options. Just as important, these self-service solutions lacked the intelligence to self-identify new use cases as business needs changed, which rendered most of them ineffective after a few years. The vast majority of IVRs on the market have not been overhauled in more than five years.

The new generation of intelligent self-service solutions are conversational and designed to allow customers to make their requests as if they were speaking or writing to a live agent in voice and digital channels. Intelligent virtual agents come with low-code/no-code development environments so that the business (the customer service, sales, or collections department) can make changes when new opportunities or enhancements are needed. (Most companies have their initial use cases built by their IVA vendor, as they lack the knowledge and expertise to do it themselves when they get started.) Intelligent virtual agents are omnichannel by design, allowing organizations to interact with customers in multiple channels, even during the same conversation. As this is something that not even all live agents are allowed to do, customers prefer these self-service systems, particularly when the IVA environment is highly responsive and proactive.

IVAs Are Good for Agents and CX

The leading IVA solutions are already generations ahead of most IVRs, but the innovations keep coming. Today’s IVAs use machine learning (ML) to identify new use cases and make recommendations on how to respond to them. These solutions make this information available to their human managers, who decide whether to add the recommendations to the self-service application. Within the next few years, IVAs will be enhanced to respond properly to human emotion with some level of empathy. Given the large number of complaints about the poor quality of service delivered by live agents today and the increasing scale of inquiries coming into organizations, these innovations are a welcome opportunity for the market.

There are many misconceptions about IVAs, not the least of which is that their primary purpose is to eliminate the need for live agents. (This is not the primary value proposition for IVAs, although it could be a good outcome for companies and their customers.) Enterprises, and public organizations for that matter, are facing substantial increases in interaction volumes (digital and sometimes voice) at the same time as agent attrition rates are increasing. Even if organizations have the budget to staff up, most are unable to hire and retain the qualified resources they need to deliver the CX to which they are committed. Providing self-service is a strategic and tactical necessity for organizations, and automated solutions can be available when live agents are not.

IVAs Are Not Just a Contact Center Solution

Intelligent virtual agents have already demonstrated their value to contact centers and other service departments, but this is just the beginning of the contributions they can make to enterprises. Customers and constituents want to help themselves; they just need the systems to enable them to do so. The use cases for these solutions are increasing as companies roll them out in support of departments and activities across the enterprise, such as marketing, travel and entertainment, event management, human resources, and much more. As IVA expertise and resources become more readily available in the market, the use cases for these solutions will expand throughout companies.

IVAs Are Essential for an AI Transformation

The inclusion of AI technology in contact center and CX solutions is driving the most rapid pace of innovation and improvements ever experienced in the service sector. AI has introduced a basic form of human understanding and intelligence into self-service solutions, which is one reason why they are becoming the preferred method for service. Although AI is still in its early days, it is already demonstrating its ability to enhance the CX while improving quality, productivity, and the employee experience.

Market Outlook for IVAs

The potential for this AI-based IT sector is massive; there are emerging use cases throughout the enterprise, in addition to the existing opportunity to replace all current IVR-based self-service applications in contact centers. Another consideration that will drive rapid adoption of IVAs: These solutions will sell when the economy is strong and at least as well when budgets are tight. This is because IVAs automate the handling of inquiries, transactions, and other types of business activities, reducing or eliminating the need for handling by human agents or other employees, which also cuts operating expenses while improving the experience for customers and the support staff.

The IVA market is expected to experience “hockey stick” growth during the next few years. Now that there are several vendors delivering on IVAs’ promise, additional innovation and breakthrough enhancements in AI are expected to take these solutions to an even higher plane of performance with each passing year. DMG estimates that the number of customers using IVAs will increase by more than 100 percent in each of the next three years, between calendar years 2022 and 2024. Furthermore, we expect this IT segment to experience a 50 percent growth in customers for the following two years, 2025 and 2026.

Donna Fluss, founder and president of DMG Consulting, provides a unique and unparalleled understanding of the people, processes, and technology in the dynamic and rapidly transforming contact center and back-office markets. DMG Consulting delivers expert guidance, industry reports, and primary research that drives the strategic direction of the customer and employee experience, contact center, and back-office markets. Donna can be reached at donna.fluss@dmgconsult.com.

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