Will virtual customer assistants dominate customer service by 2020?

Gartner has revealed that 25% of customer service and support operations will integrate virtual customer assistant (VCA) or chatbot technology across engagement channels by 2020, up from less than 2% in 2017.

Gene Alvarez, managing vice president at Gartner, said more than half of organisations have already invested in VCAs for customer service, as they realise the advantages of automated self-service, together with the ability to escalate to a human agent in complex situations.

“As more customers engage on digital channels, VCAs are being implemented for handling customer requests on web sites, mobile apps, consumer messaging apps and social networks,” Alvarez said.

“This is underpinned by improvements in natural-language processing, machine learning and intent-matching capabilities.”

>See also: Chatbots should be experts, not virtual assistants

Organisations report a reduction of up to 70% in call, chat and/or email inquiries after implementing a VCA, according to Gartner research. They also report increased customer satisfaction and a 33% saving per voice engagement.

“A great VCA offers more than just information,” said Alvarez. “It should enrich the customer experience, help the customer throughout the interaction and process transactions on behalf of the customer.”

A 2017 Gartner survey found that 84% of organisations expected to increase investments in customer experience (CX) technology in the year ahead. Other Gartner predictions for CX leaders to know when developing a customer strategy include:

• By 2019, 20% of brands will abandon their mobile apps

Many brands are finding that mobile applications are not delivering the level of adoption and customer engagement they expected. Original return-on-investment calculations are missing the mark due to the cost of support, maintenance, upgrades, customer care and marketing to drive downloads. Brands are now investing to build presence in consumer messaging apps, such as Facebook Messenger and WeChat, to reach customers where they spend a high percentage of their time.

>See also: 3 tech trends that will revolutionise organisations in UK in 2018

• By 2022, two-thirds of all customer experience projects will make use of IT, up from 50% in 2017

As the number of digital channels expands, self-service or digital commerce interactions are increasing, as well as the move away from human face-to-face or voice-based interactions.

The proportion of projects using IT to improve the customer experience will steadily rise. Those not using technology tend to be projects related to recruiting, training, governing and managing customer-facing employees.

• By 2020, 30% of all B2B companies will employ artificial intelligence (AI) to augment at least one of their primary sales processes

AI in sales allows for more efficiency and effectiveness in business processes, often with up to 30% higher conversion rates when engaging prospects or leads, according to Gartner.

It is becoming an attractive alternative for sales organisations with high volumes of lead processing, opportunities and forecasting processes because it provides fast and accurate support when performing the different sales stages.

• By 2020, more than 40% of all data analytics projects will relate to an aspect of customer experience

Data and analytics is already prominent across marketing, sales, digital commerce, customer service, social media management and field service departments. However, an understanding of the overall condition of the customer’s attitude toward the organisation is lacking for the majority.

>See also: How does autobot technology work?

What matters is not the customer’s attitude about a store, department, process or product, but the level of trust they have in the organisation as a whole and their likely intent to remain loyal.

• By 2020, augmented reality, virtual reality and mixed reality immersive solutions will be evaluated and adopted in 20% of large enterprises as part of their digital transformation strategy

Organisations will have the ability to provide employees, customers and suppliers with a means to obtain real-time information, experience virtual environments and engage in social collaboration without a small, limited display and a limited point of view. Consumers already experience some form of immersive technology, such as Snapchat filters and 360-degree video and photos on Facebook.

Handle with care

Frank Palermo, global head of Digital Solutions at Virtusa believes that the introduction of AI assistants needs to be handled carefully, ensuring the important role human agents play is not undervalued.

“In terms of customer service, there is a growing trend towards using more self-service mechanisms, frequently assisted with chatbot or virtual assistant capabilities. In part, this is because customers have more data available to them than ever before, and so can do their own research and analysis. However, while many consumers want more control and freedom at the beginning of the buying journey, they don’t necessarily want a humanless experience – especially for large or important buying decisions. Usually people want to be self-guided when doing their research or exploring pricing differences to narrow down their options, but then would like to engage with a human sales agent at the end. Human input will always have significant value and companies will need to be careful about ensuring they introduce AI and ‘humanless sales’ in the right places. This is especially true when the stakes are higher. Think of buying a home, or a car, or a life insurance policy – would you really be more satisfied doing this through an app without any human interaction?”

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Nick Ismail

Nick Ismail is a former editor for Information Age (from 2018 to 2022) before moving on to become Global Head of Brand Journalism at HCLTech. He has a particular interest in smart technologies, AI and...