Virtual Assistant in Call Centers
Advances in AI technologies let different fields use them to enhance productivity at a minimum cost. Call centers are among those that use AI-powered virtual assistants to answer customer calls and messages. With the rising number of companies in various fields, there is a need for more call centers. As a result, more workforces are required to assist with the calls and messages. The most effective solution to this issue is AI-powered Virtual Assistant, also called a Virtual Receptionist. Virtual assistant that works with voice response technology is especially useful in automating routine processes. The article intends to explain the technologies behind virtual assistants and why virtual assistants should be used for various businesses.
On a side note, contract workers who do assistant jobs for companies remotely are also referred to as virtual assistants, but the article is about AI-powered virtual assistants.
Virtual assistant conversational AI is designed to imitate human interaction. The main technologies used for virtual assistants are speech-to-text (powered by automatic speech recognition (ASR) technology), text-to-speech (TTS), and natural language understanding (NLU). These technologies that utilize large amounts of data are able to understand customers' language, whether it is in the form of a phone call or text. A virtual assistant is integrated into the company databases through API. The aforementioned technologies learn all the information directly from the user's website and other databases. Based on the information provided by those databases, the virtual assistant is able to answer questions asked by the customers. Although virtual assistant can't keep up the conversation as call center specialist does, it is able to provide all the information customers need most of the time. The technologies used for virtual assistants are the same ones used for Apple Siri, Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, and Microsoft Cortana. With these assistants, you can use voice commands to ask the weather, time, date, and specific information from the web, create reminders, timer and alarm, play music, order food, etc.
TTS technology is used for chatbots (chatterbot) and is based on the same idea of call center conversational AI.
ASR, TTS, NLU technologies let virtual assistants adjust their answers according to customers' questions. Using the questions asked by the customers, the assistant continues the conversation with follow-up questions. In case virtual assistant can't answer specific questions, it redirects customers to human agents. In this case, the virtual assistant uses end-of-conversation dialogue such as "Did that answer your question?" If the customer replies with a "No", the virtual assistant redirects the customer to a human agent.
A virtual assistant can help to answer FAQ questions, as well as create an account, change passwords, order a card, make an appointment, and do other similar routine tasks for customers.
In order to make it less monotone, conversational AI is designed to mimic human phrasing and, in some instances, emotional reactions like happiness, sadness, excitement, etc. It is designed to make the person who has a conversation with it more comfortable. The software is even able to analyze a speaker's emotional state by their voice tone.
Virtual assistants offer various benefits to companies that can't be replicated by human agents.
Here's a brief overview of the benefits virtual assistants bring to call centers:
- Saves money for companies
- Shortens the waiting time
- Easy to train and integrate using data provided by the user
- Virtual assistant operates 24/7
- A virtual assistant isn't emotional
- Virtual assistants can handle many requests and remember all the data
- Can be multilingual
- Enables customer center employees to focus on more important tasks
- Can personalize conversation and meet customer preferences
- No need for special office space
Saves money for companies
Having different human agents work 24/7 requires more funds, especially because night shift salaries are usually higher. Installing a virtual assistant for a call center is more affordable and saves money. While companies have to pay human agents for all working hours even if they don't have any calls to answer, most of the virtual assistants work on a pay-per-usage premise. In addition, companies pay human agents for vacations, retirement, food, etc., which add up to a huge amount of money in the long run.
In short, you don't pay full-time for the virtual assistant service you use; you pay for what you use.
Shortens the waiting time
One of the main complaints companies receive regarding customer call centers is a long wait in a queue. Moreover, human agents may sometimes forget certain information and may ask customers to wait on line so they can verify information with colleagues or search on the database. It results in even more waiting time. Since virtual assistant utilizes data stored on company databases, it answers all the questions automatically based on what customer chooses to get information about. The main perk of conversational AI is that it will usually provide all the feedback the average customer needs.
Easy to train and integrate using data provided by the user
As a virtual assistant learns directly from user websites and databases, you don't need any extra work other than waiting for the program to learn all the information on your databases. Depending on the amount of information it needs to learn from company databases, it takes somewhere between 1-3 months for a virtual assistant to be fully functional and ready to use.
Virtual assistant operates 24/7
One of the most useful features of an AI-powered virtual assistant is that it works 24/7 nonstop. Using a virtual assistant that is available all the time reduces the need for human agents to be available at all times. The virtual assistant is able to find answers to all important questions it's been trained to answer to no matter what is the date and time. With virtual assistants being available 24/7, you don't need to spend time making day and night shift schedules for agents, not to mention payments for night shift operators, which we will discuss later in this article. Another perk of its 24/7 availability is that it works even on public holidays when almost all business is closed, and employers are on vacation. This, in return, reduces the workload companies usually have after the holidays. On the first few days after the holidays, call centers arguably receive the highest number of requests, which is not an easy task to handle, especially with a limited number of call center operators. And most of the questions asked during these calls are routine questions virtual assistants can easily answer.
A virtual assistant isn't emotional
One of the drawbacks of having a human call center agent is that humans are emotional. Even though call center agents should be polite and patient, it isn't possible to follow these guidelines all the time due to emotional factors. They can reply to customers angrily or can be rude, which lowers customer satisfaction with the company. Emotional factors are non-existent with virtual assistance. Additionally, the virtual assistant doesn't get tired, unlike human agents. Tiredness can be a culprit behind human agents' dissatisfactory conversations with the customers. Additionally, emotionally affected by the conversation with the customer, a human agent may promise something that is not allowed according to company call center guidelines.
Virtual assistants can handle many requests and remember all the data
Once trained, a virtual assistant is able to store all the information it is taught. Human agents may forget answers to certain questions, especially answers involving mathematical accuracy. Inexperienced human agents are prone to give false information or misguide people unknowingly. Even professional human agents may make similar mistakes. Virtual assistant eliminates these kinds of issues since it gives feedback using pre-existing data. Feedback provided by the virtual assistant is always accurate unless the pre-existing data isn't correct. Additionally, since it is automatic, it can handle many requests simultaneously. In comparison, the human agent can handle only one request at a time. As already mentioned above, call centers see the most number of calls during the first few days after the public holidays. Therefore, a virtual assistant is the best way to handle these many requests.
Since virtual assistants work with the data they have been taught, there is always room for improvement. If you need to add new questions or feedback patterns, the only thing you need to do is to let it learn those new patterns. Speech analytics used to analyze customer interaction with human agents can be useful in creating new conversation patterns for a virtual assistant to use.
If there are updates to the database, the virtual assistant can easily be taught new updates and use information in those updates in its conversations.
Can be multilingual
Another huge advantage conversational virtual assistants have over human agents is that their software can be programmed in almost all languages with the right resources. While it is possible that human agents are multilingual and can interact with people in their language, there is a limit to the number of languages they speak. On average, one agent speaks 2-3 languages. A virtual assistant can be trained to learn as many languages as the programmer is able to code. It is necessary to have this kind of technology, especially if the company intends to enter the global market.
Saves customers' time
Customers sometimes attempt many times to get in touch with the customer center agents for simple requests but can't get in contact due to a high number of requests and queues. One of the biggest complaints customers make about some of the large companies is that their customer service is busy all the time and that they aren't able to get in touch with them without spending too much time waiting on line. Having a virtual assistant answer these calls saves customers' time and leaves a good impression on them about the company. A customer would be keener on choosing that company again rather than a company that makes them wait on line for a long period of time.
Enables customer center operators to focus on more specific tasks
Most of the calls and messages contact centers receive are about simple procedures such as creating an account, resetting a password, ordering a card, making appointments. A virtual assistant is very helpful in fulfilling these kinds of requests. As a result, contact center operators don't spend time on these requests and work on more specific tasks that conversational AI can't resolve. It enhances productivity and customer satisfaction.
Can personalize conversation and meet customer preferences
With the data it's been taught, a virtual assistant can personalize the conversation with the customer by accessing the customer's name, surname, location, and other similar information and utilizing that information in the conversation.
While phone calls are still one of the main forms of contact, younger generations prefer texting to calling. In that regard, chatbots are more useful than ever since they meet people's preferences who want to get answers to their questions by sending messages instead of traditional phone calls. Moreover, considering a large portion of any company's customer base consists of younger people, it is logical to use AI-powered chatbots to enhance their experience.
No need for special office
Hiring human agents means a company has to provide them with an office where they can work. Based on company size, they may need a bigger office that requires a lot of maintenance costs. With a virtual assistant, all company may need is server, or it can also use cloud instead. Granted, companies may need a few agents to answer very specific questions virtual assistants may not be able to answer, but there is no need to hire many agents for that purpose. You may not even need to have a server room in your company building for a virtual assistant as they are typically cloud-based software.
WIth all the benefits mentioned above, there is no denying that conversational AIs are the future of customer call center services if the companies want to stay competitive. Virtual assistant increases customer satisfaction with 24/7 working time, shorter waiting time, and the ability to handle many requests at the same time. A virtual assistant is especially more helpful if the company is smaller and can't afford to hire many agents and, therefore, more prone to customer dissatisfaction.