Leave your old IVR in 2020 and embrace the future of self-service

Most of us are more than ready to move on from 2020, but the past year has given customer service leaders plenty of insights to carry into 2021. New ways of working, along with new consumer needs and preferences, have accelerated digital transformation in the contact center – and businesses that have embraced these changes will have a competitive advantage going forward.

A new year also brings the opportunity to let go of things that may be holding us back and in the contact center, outdated Interactive Voice Response (IVR) technology is one of those things. Intelligent Virtual Agents (IVAs), powered by AI and natural language processing, are the next generation of self-service. Let’s look at a few reasons why businesses that deploy IVAs are poised for a prosperous 2021.

Virtual agents proved they were up to the task in 2020

In the early weeks of the COVID crisis, millions of sheltered-in-place consumers flooded contact centers with requests for information and services to manage their daily lives in quarantine. This was happening at the same time that customer support teams were shifting to remote work. The need for more robust self-service channels to manage the volume surge and support home-based call center workers became clear, and the scalability and speed to market of cloud-based IVAs enabled many businesses to meet the moment.

“Once the pandemic is past and organizations have had an opportunity to assess which of their disaster recovery plans worked most effectively to minimize the impacts of disruption, IVAs will certainly be recognized for their flexibility and contribution during these challenging times,” noted Donna Fluss, President of DMG Consulting LLC, in DMG’s latest Intelligent Virtual Agent Product and Market Report.

IT decision makers seem to agree, according to a recent survey. More than three-quarters (76%) of respondents believe that intelligent self-service automation has helped them remain agile during the crisis, and one-third plan to invest in voice-based virtual agents over the next year.

Customers and contact center agents are counting on easier interactions

Even before the pandemic, more and more customers were discovering that self-service has become a reliable way to solve routine, everyday support tasks quickly. Thanks to IVAs that have the AI and data they need to interact naturally and take the right actions, customers actually prefer using the technology for a number of tasks. These include scheduling appointments, getting product information, checking inventories, placing orders, updating account information, and countless other applications.

When a customer does require live assistance, virtual agents can make the interaction much easier for their human counterparts by passing on relevant information collected during the IVA conversation. This type of support is critical at a time when service reps are balancing surging call queues with the domestic distractions of remote work. Virtual agents can also help reduce the compliance risks of a remote workforce. When it comes time to collect sensitive customer information, live agents can simply pass the call to an IVA, removing them from the loop completely.

Times and tools have changed for the better

Until recently, deploying advanced, speech-enabled virtual agents in the contact center was costly, complicated and time-consuming. Custom applications were needed to enable natural language processing and text-to-speech, requiring big upfront spending, long Professional Services engagements and ongoing maintenance.

With today’s tools and a much more modern process, deploying AI-powered IVAs in the contact center has never been easier. Vendors like Google, Amazon and IBM have made the core technologies behind conversational AI available in the cloud. The latest code-free platforms like Five9 Inference Studio, for example, allow even non-technical business users to build and manage virtual agents that leverage these technologies. This means no upfront technical installation. You pay as you go for the types and volumes of service that you need, which is far more scalable than increasing and decreasing a human workforce as demand ebbs and flows.

As an uncertain economy continues to absorb the impact of an unpredictable virus, the SaaS “pay-as-you-go” model will be attractive to many businesses. Organizations will be seeking flexible, easy-to-deploy solutions that will allow them to adapt quickly when vaccines bring the next new normal. IVAs offer both of these benefits, along with countless others for 2021 businesses and customers.

To learn more about how virtual agents can support you and your customers in the year ahead, check out Inference Solutions’ new ebook, Why Now is the Time to Upgrade from IVR to IVA.