IVAs Role in Delivering a Great Service Experience

Three years ago, few companies had heard of intelligent virtual agents (IVAs), and fewer were willing to invest in them. Today, companies are trying to put these solutions in production as quickly as they can. (There’s nothing like a worldwide pandemic that requires people to social distance to emphasize the mission-critical nature of intelligent, artificial intelligence (AI)-based, omni-channel self-service solutions.) While COVID-19 has been a harsh wake-up call for the world and has emphasized the need for companies to enhance existing self-service solutions, adoption of IVA applications has been picking up momentum since the middle of 2019, due to the growing importance of the customer experience (CX). While it remains to be seen if companies continue to invest as heavily in CX as they had been doing before the coronavirus pandemic altered the world, they will certainly place increased emphasis on delivering enhanced self-service capabilities, because this is the preferred method of service, when it works.

IVA Trends for 2020

The last 12 – 18 months have seen innovation and what appear to be breakthroughs in the practical applications of natural language understanding (NLU) and AI, which are benefiting the IVA sector. Innovative IVA vendors are applying these advances to their solutions, delivering feature-rich, user-friendly offerings. As recently as 1 year ago, most of the IVA solutions were considered “black box” applications that could be implemented only by the vendors. Now a growing number of IVA solutions come with development environments designed for end users. Even better, the vendors are striving to deliver updated design and development environments that are low-code or, at times, no-code. While there is still work to be done in this area, the improved and simplified development environments are changing the cost dynamics of the self-service market and giving enterprises the control they require. The vast majority of IVA solutions are still designed and implemented by the vendors, due to clients’ lack of internal resources with the necessary skill set, but the solutions are increasingly being maintained and updated by IT and business users.

Many recent IVA enhancements incorporate new or additional AI-based capabilities. Most notable is the ability for IVAs to move beyond linear “interactions” that address one topic to non-linear “conversations” that involve multiple topics or “turns.” A second major area is the use of machine learning (ML) (supervised, semi-supervised, and unsupervised) to increase the effectiveness and value of these applications. Commonly used to train IVA applications, ML is now being applied to help users pinpoint areas where the IVA is not effective and to identify topics that are appropriate for the IVA to handle. In addition, machine learning is instrumental in moving IVAs from reactive to proactive applications that can recognize the need to update a customer’s contact information, or offer additional products or services based on information gleaned from customer relationship management (CRM) or other servicing applications.

Beyond AI, IVA vendors have accelerated implementation speed by packaging pre-built IVA tasks that are vertically or horizontally focused and have established partnerships and integrations with leading voice biometrics and robotic process automation (RPA) vendors. At the same time as IVAs are becoming more feature-rich and robust, they are also increasingly cost-effective, as vendors are offering new pricing options, many of which are consumption-based rather than charging customers for licenses or ports that may or may not be used. DMG expects to see the IVA sector perform well during the pandemic and after as companies invest to enhance their omni-channel self-service capabilities. For a detailed analysis of the IVA market and for assistance in selecting the right IVA partner, see DMG’s 2020 – 2021 IVA Product and Market Report.

DMG Consulting LLC is a leading independent research, advisory and consulting firm specializing in unified communications, contact centers, back-office and real-time analytics. Learn more at www.dmgconsult.com.