Can Virtual Agents Prevent Groundhog Day?

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Hollywood is always a source of inspiration and reflection and it has given us many movies over the years that give us time to reflect on life. One such movie that gives us to time to think is ‘Groundhog Day’. Bear with me here, it is a funny movie, but it also can give us a reason to think about our daily lives. Bill Murray starred in ‘Groundhog Day’ and the plot is like many we see on a daily basis in call centres. Most days in a call centre seem like a repeat of the previous day. Only in the movie, it really is a repeat of the previous day!

In ‘Groundhog Day’ our hero gets to relive his day each and every day he wakes up. He can predict with 100% certainty what people will say, what they will be wearing, and where they will be at a specific point in time. It is a form of time travel that we have all probably dreamed about. Who hasn’t wished they had another chance at a first date, job interview, or a chance to relive a special memory?

In each call centre there is a very real sense of Groundhog Day each and every day. While we cannot predict what the caller at the end of the line may be reaching out to us for, we can predict fairly accurately our top-trending calls, and that becomes our focus for training and call-resolution time.

Most call centres already track their top-trending categories to ensure better service for our clients. We do this for a very good reason. If we can predict why a person is calling upon us, we can also train our call centre associates to handle the calls more efficiently. Handling calls more efficiently decreases handle time, which increases number of clients we can service. All a very good thing.

But how many of us really work hard on stopping a client from reaching out to us in the first place? Ensuring that a customer does not need to call us is a great offering that all too often we do not focus on.

Today we all have access to analytic platforms that can paint a pretty telling picture of why our clients have been calling and why they will be calling. We can even predict the time of day that call volumes will peak. With that in mind, we make staffing decisions and focus our training efforts on the ‘known’ factors. But why stop there?

What if we stopped simply predicting why our client will call and worked on implementing a technology that will ensure they do not need to call us in the first place? In other words, using the analytics we have captured to refine other aspects of our company, in this case, our website?

Don’t worry, we will not put anyone out of business! Instead we will make everyone more effective in what they do so well, and we will now have more time to focus on process improvement and proactively servicing our client, knowing that our queues are not on the verge of exploding because someone forgot their password!

How can we do this? you might be asking. Well, you probably used this tool already today, and certainly within the last few days. All of us except for the Luddites amongst us have smartphones, and those phones come loaded with apps to help us survive our day-to-day tasks.

Among these apps are virtual agents / virtual assistants like Siri. Today the use of virtual agents continues to grow, and more and more people have become quite comfortable using them to help them complete everyday tasks. Given that people are comfortable using a virtual agent, why not incorporate a virtual agent on your website to ensure your clients remain in channel?

There are a number of virtual agent products on the market, and each year they are getting more advanced in how they can help. The purpose of this article is not to explore the vendor landscape of virtual agents but rather to examine how, when properly implemented, they will reduce our call volumes, provide a better level of service for our customer and, yes, save us money.

In a prior life I was responsible for attacking call volume in a large contact centre. Specifically, I was tasked with determining what our top 10 calls were, then finding a technology that would reduce the volume of those calls. I stumbled, quite literally, upon the concept of using a virtual agent to ‘capture’ a client when they were struggling and give them the answer they needed without them having to pick up the phone. Once we decided that there could be a market for a virtual agent, we chose our number 4 problem call to test out our proof of concept. That call was a client’s inability to log in because they had forgotten their user name or password.

By inserting a virtual agent on our website, we were able to proactively help our clients get the answers they needed without having to pick up a phone. For security reasons, all sites have a strike counter that will lock an account out if there are too many wrong entries. Once a client had a second strike, our agent appeared in a pop-up window and offered to help them retrieve their password or their user name, if they simply answered a few questions. If a client did not hit that strike counter, they never encountered our agent, which made our agent more effective than having a passive model on the side of a web page.

By getting the client to answer a few ‘unique’ questions, we were able to email them a new password or user name. The questions we had the virtual agent ask were in fact the same questions we would have asked from a script had the client picked up the phone and called us, but instead of calling us, the client got the answer they needed and proceeded with their efforts without having to call in. In the end, those who used the service loved it, and were grateful that they did not have to call us. After all, while we are nice people, nobody ever wants to speak with us.

The end result showed us that a virtual agent can be effective in stopping a client from picking up the phone. In the case of password resets we saw our call numbers drop from number 4 on our most wanted list down to 7. The reason we only saw it drop to 7 was the secure nature of the interaction. Many customers will be reluctant to share sensitive information with a virtual agent, and we knew that going in. As a matter of fact, we chose this scenario because the closed nature of the use case would show us if we truly had a client base for which we could expand the use of a virtual agent into other categories and ultimately reduce inbound call volumes by keeping people on our website.

The end results showed us that our clients were willing to engage with a virtual agent, and we could effectively reduce calls into our call centre through the use of a targeted virtual agent.

If you look into the use of a virtual agent, you will find that you too have some trends that could be resolved with a virtual agent on your website.

Bill Davis has over 20 years of work in the technology field, working on all facets of technology. He is most interested in harnessing new technologies to effectively serve his customers, often in ways they have never thought of. The main focus on his work these days is Customer Experience, and Flawless Execution, or at least as close as he can get to that.

He is an Adjunct Professor at Chestnut Hill College and Eastern University in the Philadelphia area.


Author: Rachael Trickey

Published On: 12th Sep 2016 - Last modified: 6th Feb 2019
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