The untapped potential of next-gen IVAs

Callan Schebella at Five9 explains why Intelligent Virtual Agents are transforming the customer experience for organisations across all industry sectors

In developed countries, we lose 40+ days of our life on hold – the same time it takes, on average, to climb from Everest base camp to its summit. Not only is this a source of white-hot frustration for customers, but it is also a massive drain on precious organisational resources and negatively impacts brand loyalty.

With the technologies now available, namely AI-enabled voice automation, surely the days of hold must soon be over? The short answer is ‘yes’. A new wave of AI-enabled customer service is gathering pace in the form of Intelligent Virtual Agents (IVAs).

Offering a wide variety of conversational self-service capabilities, these human-like virtual agents use speech recognition and text-to-speech in hundreds of languages to deliver instant service to customers without the need to dole out a ticket for the dreaded hold queue. IVAs can even detect customer mood, adjusting responses to whether it senses frustration, satisfaction, or happiness. 

Consumers are now beginning to prefer self-service, as they are increasingly used to engaging with automated voice assistants. Just think of Siri, Alexa, and Google Home Hub. More than half of UK homes have welcomed voice assistants into their homes, enjoying these technologies’ convenience, speed, and responsiveness to help run family life.

As Gartner notes, 70% of self-service interactions may be initiated by speech by 2023, through smart speakers and assistants. 

Using IVAs to respond to common issues, such as querying deliveries or organising returns, could see contact centres automate thousands of calls. Human agents are then free to deal with more complex or sensitive matters without reducing customers to a number in a long queue. 

A more human experience 

IVAs are also becoming increasingly life-like, which helps customers feel more at ease speaking with them. Brands can now create automated self-service experiences using synthesized human voices, including the voice of company spokesperson or a voice actor with key vocal traits that represent their brand. 

Alex Baratta, Ph.D., senior lecturer in language, linguistics, and communication at the University of Manchester, recently coached a voice actor whose voice was synthesized for IVA voice technology, noting, “We look at key elements such as pitch, volume, speed, and intonation.

And within those categories, there are micro-level details that contribute to whether a voice is perceived as warm, engaging, trustworthy, or any other judgments made regarding how we perceive people based on their vocal quality.” 

A synthesized voice is virtually indistinguishable from the original. While this represents the cutting-edge of IVA, organisations are adopting varying technology models to solve their specific business challenges. For example, pre-built IVA application templates can be integrated via low-code platforms.

These platforms enable non-technical users to launch IVAs with minimal experience, kick-starting customised IVA deployments rapidly. While the focus may be on retail right now, other key sectors are responding to a surge in demand with IVAs. For example, Frost & Sullivan reports that over 50% of healthcare providers plan to invest in this technology over the next year. 

A boom is already underway. For example, the use of Five9 IVAs has increased 180% in the last year. More than 82 million calls for healthcare providers, large retailers like Pizza Hut Australia, insurance companies, banks, local businesses, and local governments have been handled by our IVA technology to fulfill customer needs quickly and efficiently. 

Automation and efficiency are increasingly important when 35% of contact centres report unfilled vacancies and 43% anticipate a need for more staff. The shortage of skilled customer service agents compounds the need for alternatives, especially where those digital alternatives can smartly prioritise the calls that need the human touch. 

A “digital workforce” of IVAs that can automate customer engagement is the gift that keeps on giving. Customers are ever more demanding. Worker shortages and increased service demand are expected to continue impacting businesses.

There is a solid case to act now. When technology can offer solutions to so many service issues, why leave such a perfectly wrapped opportunity unopened? 


Callan Schebella is Executive Vice President of Product at Five9

Main image courtesy of iStockPhoto.com 

© Business Reporter 2021

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