Self-Service Is the Channel of Choice—When It Works

For companies that have been trying to offload customer inquiries and interactions to self-service solutions for decades, there’s great news: Self-service is becoming the customer channel of choice. But there’s one caveat: It needs to be effective. These solutions must give customers the information they seek or perform customers’ desired tasks/transactions, and they must be easy to use. This is where the market faces a major challenge. DMG estimates that more than 92 percent of the voice self-service solutions on the market have not been overhauled to enhance their underlying technology, grammars, applications, scripts, or voice user interface (VUI) in the past five years. This means that companies are not benefiting from the shift in consumer preference to self-service.

AI and Self-Service

Nevertheless, the underlying technologies have improved dramatically during the past few years, enabled by artificial intelligence (AI). The performance of the core technologies used in self-service solutions—natural language understanding (NLU), natural language processing (NLP) and natural language generation (NLG)—have benefited from massive research and development investment and the push to innovate by some of the largest technology companies in the world. As recently as five years ago, the concept of a concierge-like voice self-service solution, where a customer speaks naturally to a “bot” that is able to understand what they are asking without forcing them down a structured script of prompts, was highly improbable. Today, it’s happening, though there is always opportunity for improvement in the accuracy of the underlying technology.

Intelligent Virtual Agents and Virtual Assistants

While there are many names for AI-enabled self-service solutions, intelligent virtual agent (IVA) is the most commonly used term for the customer-facing concierge type. DMG defines an IVA as “a system that utilizes artificial intelligence, machine learning, advanced speech technologies (including NLP/NLU/NLG) to simulate live and unstructured cognitive conversations for voice, text, and digital interactions via a digital persona.” Powered by speech technologies, AI, machine learning, analytics, and more, IVAs are the new standard of voice and digital self-service in a channel-optimized format.

Virtual assistants (VAs), which use many of the same technologies as IVAs, can provide agents/employees with context-aware guided support and information that is relevant to each customer interaction. Both IVAs and VAs are proving to be effective at intelligently handling inquiries from external customers and internal employees.

The Value of Transitioning to IVAs

Companies should update their self-service solutions on a quarterly basis, if not more frequently, as new opportunities are identified. The newer AI-enabled conversational omnichannel self-service solutions enable companies to greatly enhance their voice and digital capabilities, using the same product stack. There are two primary objectives for these implementations, which should happen as part of any enterprise and contact center digital transformation.

First, identifying and automating tasks that customers want to perform via the IVA will improve the customer experience and possibly extend the hours of service, if the contact center does not provide live agent support after non-business hours. Second, if customers find the IVA compelling and are willing to use it, more calls, emails, chat sessions, and messaging interactions will be handled by the self-service solution, which means fewer live agents and a decrease in operating costs. With a three-minute call costing $3 to $8, for example, the savings add up.

Even contact centers that already have voice self-service automation (or displacement) rates of more than 80 percent may benefit and have a relatively rapid return on investment (ROI) from the enhanced experience provided by these vastly improved self-service solutions, if they can automate as little as 0.5 percent to 1 percent more of their interactions.

Final Thoughts

Updating or totally redoing voice self-service capabilities should be a standard component of a digital transformation. Now that customers are open to and even showing a preference for self-service, companies should prioritize these projects and migrate from outdated IVRs to concierge-based self-service solutions. IVAs are still relatively new to the market, but the pace of innovation has been outstanding. As all of these solutions are available in the cloud using a software-as-a-service model, companies that acquire these solutions will see ongoing benefits from improvements in the underlying technology and recognition rates.