The intelligent virtual agent (IVA) value proposition is so compelling for both the online consumer and the business provider that leading analyst firm Gartner Research predicts that virtual agents will be the standard technology for customer interactions in two to four years. The aggressive adoption of IVAs is a consumer led revolution in which an increasingly large generation of users, including but not limited to digital natives, are living in an online world where blogging, texting, tweeting, eCommerce, and social networks are the way of life. This Web savvy consumer prefers both their personal and business engagements to be conducted online. The IVA offers a compelling customer experience that aligns with the consumer’s expectations.
While originally adopted for online customer service, virtual agents have morphed into a new marketing engagement model. As the CMO for VirtuOz, which leads the market with the largest number of live enterprise intelligent virtual agents for Global 2000 companies including eBay, SFR, H&R Block and L’Oreal, I have been privy to this emerging marketing trend. Deployed on websites, mobile devices, and social media such as Facebook, intelligent virtual agents are providing a distinctive marketing advantage to companies, allowing them to engage, converse, respond and listen to their customers in unprecedented ways. Some examples of how virtual agents are being used to engage customers include:
- Brand awareness. A popular tire company uses its virtual agent to communicate information about its brand and product tips, while a utility company leverages its virtual agent to disseminate information to consumers on how to be more green.
- Product personalization and selection. Various divisions of L’Oreal use virtual agents to guide consumers in selecting the beauty products that best meet their individual needs (e.g. the right moisturizer for oily vs. dry skin). They not only ensure customer satisfaction but build brand loyalty.
- Merchandising. Virtual agents are also used to facilitate consumers signing up for online loyalty and personal accounts that drive regular customer engagement. Companies can use IVAs to fulfill consumer inquiry and engagement around merchandising promotions such as free t-shirt give aways, or to drive membership in higher-end premier clubs. For example, one high-end coffee company uses its virtual agent as a concierge to assist its premier members in selecting the ideal coffee bean for their sophisticated tastes.
- Assisted selling. A leading software provider in Europe uses its virtual agent to qualify customers for upsell and cross-sell opportunities.
Leveraging advanced natural language processing and predictive intent analysis, IVAs are available 24/7 to immediately engage the user, respond quickly and consistently to users’ online requests, and interactively guide them to the right outcome through a personalized, conversational channel, which in the marketing world, is a formula for success and makes IVAs a natural channel for marketing. As the adoption of virtual agents continues to gain momentum and market acceptance, we expect to see even more innovative ways for the virtual agent to “market” in the age of digital customer relationships.
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Author: Pam Kostka, Chief Marketing Officer of VirtuOz