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The evolution of automating customer service

The world is being automated and it’s changing our lifes. Our homes are smart, our cars drive themselves and many companies are taking steps towards automating customer service.

The drive towards CX automation isn’t new. It began with rudimentary IVR’s in traditional contact centres, advanced though phone-based automated speech solutions and has evolved via bots, chatbots and virtual assistants as digital channels have become more dominant. Its steady progress has dramatically accelerated as AI technologies have matured. It stands to reason, if artificial intelligence can simulate human intelligence, we can surely create programmes and applications that, with ever more impressive accuracy can simulate human interaction – something that’s crucial when automating customer service.

We wrote a paper that explains where AI has brought CX automation so far but, let’s start by clearing the air and defining some terms in this blog post. As ever, when the hype around emerging technologies reaches fever pitch, new terms emerge that are often used interchangeably or inaccurately. What is, for example, the difference between a chatbot and a virtual assistant? Here are some helpful working definitions…

A bot: A device or piece of software that can execute commands, reply to messages or perform routine tasks. In the customer experience field they’ve typically been used to deliver simple, standard text-based messages, often proactively.

A chatbot: The next step up. Think webchat but without the people. A chatbot is a computer programme that uses natural language processing to simulate human conversation or ‘chat’, and machine learning to intuit appropriate responses to the questions asked of it.

Virtual assistant (VA): You could describe a VA as ‘a chatbot with a face’ – an avatar personality designed to make the chat bot more ‘human-like’. Born in the AI past, they’ve been pretty basic so far; in most cases, little more than a sophisticated FAQ fronted by an avatar. They are a long way from the AI-powered Intelligent VA’s of today…

Intelligent Virtual Assistant (IVA): The new generation of VAs also uses ever more sophisticated natural language processing to understand what’s being said to them with a degree of accuracy that was unimaginable only a few years ago. They also use machine learning to intuit appropriate responses. But the significant evolution is their use of contextual information – the consumer’s location, device or interaction history – to generate increasingly relevant, ’adapted’ responses. This is a giant step towards the simulation of ‘truly human’ interaction and significantly elevates the quality of CX that can be delivered via digital.

To make life more complicated, there are now two types of IVA’s.

The first are the Consumer IVAs you’ll encounter on public platforms – Apple’s Siri, for example, or Google Now. These ‘multi-purpose’ assistants offer general help to consumers interacting with an array of service providers. By virtue simply of the broad ground they have to cover, they typically aspire to do no more than deal with simple searches or information requests.

Enterprise IVAs, by contrast, operate within the customer management environment of a single organisation; they are tailored to that organisation and operate on its proprietary channels – its website, apps, social media spaces, wearables or other connected devices. Their ambition is not just to provide guidance (to answer questions or signpost services) but to engage in constructive discussions with customers that drive towards positive conclusions that satisfy the customer and benefit the organisation.

CX Company focusses on Enterprise IVAs. It has been our core business for more than 10 years and our products are tailored to the enterprise’s specific needs.

To download our paper on the evolution on automating customer service for the enterprise. Please click here.

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Opus research foresees explosive growth in Intelligent Assistants
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