Just as business leaders and trade journalists had locked in their predictions for 2020, the whole world changed, and few could predict what would happen next.

A global pandemic has impacted businesses across every industry, driving rapid changes to workforce operations and customer expectations. Now, the only thing we can predict is more change, as economic shock waves and social distancing create new models of work and commerce. Turns out that in 2020, businesses will need to be ready for anything.

Intelligent Virtual Agents (IVAs) can play a major role in increasing that readiness. Here, we look at three ways businesses can use IVAs to boost agility during the pandemic and beyond.

Scale for Demand

IVAs are self-service applications that automate many of the routine conversations and back-end processes handled by your sales and service staff. You can use them to rapidly, and affordably, scale your service operation without on-boarding new employees, outfitting additional workstations or outsourcing operations. If unpredictable circumstances impact your service demand or availability – an influx of questions, a wave of staff absences, etc. – you can easily ramp up support to mitigate the disruption for your customers and employees.

IVAs are also now capable of understanding human speech in more than 100 languages and responding via text-to-speech that is almost indistinguishable from a human voice. They can send text messages and create a two-way chat interface. These capabilities allow your business to be available during more hours, across more channels, so you can maintain service levels, provide reliable support to customers and complete transactions.

Additionally, IVAs can be used to automate employee service functions, such as Human Resources support and IT helpdesk, enabling you to assist your staff in setting up remote workstations, accessing important benefits information and staying updated about operational safety.

Identify Ways to Increase Efficiency

IVAs can also help businesses discover opportunities to create efficiencies and do more with less. These opportunities are priceless in an uncertain economy. According to Mckinsey, the top 20 percent of performers during the 2008 downturn reduced costs more quickly and were faster to invest as the economy recovered.

Because virtual agents have natural language capabilities, they can be configured to ask open-ended questions like, “How can I help you today?” or “Please tell me the reason for your call.” Then they use advanced natural language processing (NLP) like Google’s Dialogflow to determine the caller’s intent and solve their problem. Even more powerful, the interactions are easily auditable, allowing you to keep track of what customers say to the IVAs so you can uncover new services and tasks that are ripe for automation.

Plus, advances in NLP have made it possible to automate customer requests that were previously too cumbersome to be handled by an IVR, increasing the amount of inquiries that can be automated. In fact, service leaders now report that as much as 40 percent of today’s live volume could be resolved in self-service channels.

Finally, virtual agents can increase your overall business performance. Gartner, Inc. estimates that by 2025, customer service organizations that embed AI in their multichannel customer engagement platforms will elevate operational efficiency by 25%.

Innovate with Speed

Once you discover new opportunities for automation, IVA technology allows you to bring new self-service applications to market quickly. With the proliferation of code-free development platforms, IVA applications can be built and deployed within days, rather than months. This means you can make changes on the fly as business and consumer needs evolve.

For example, if customers suddenly flood your call center with requests to change their delivery address, you can quickly create an IVA application to automate this process. Are employees increasingly calling in sick? Use IVAs to quickly launch a sick line. Or, maybe market dynamics have enabled you to launch a new product or service. With IVAs, you’ll be ready to take on additional customers and revenue opportunities.

Offering a consistent customer experience that can keep up with evolving market conditions and consumer expectations will give you a competitive advantage, especially during times of uncertainty.

Conclusion

Intelligent Virtual Agents can be a significant tool in your “agility arsenal.” Businesses that use IVAs to become more scalable, efficient and innovative will be well-positioned to face the uncertainties of the present-day crisis – and whatever comes next.

For more information on how IVAs can help you manage the unpredictable, read this guide on scaling service for spikes in demand.