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Virtual Agents as a Service: why it may be the ideal model for your business

By , co-founder and co-CEO of CLEVVA
South Africa , 15 Nov 2022
Ryan Falkenberg.
Ryan Falkenberg.

A growing number of companies in South Africa and around the globe are looking to offer their customers significantly improved self-service. Many have tried, and failed to build a chatbot capable of doing anything more than responding to basic information or transactional requests. As soon as a customer has a more complex query, issue or complaint, the chatbot immediately hands over to a live agent.

So much was promised with chatbot technology. With low-code teams, you were convinced that within no time you could have an intelligent virtual agent that can speak like a human agent, and perform like one too. The truth is it's not that simple.

While chatbot technology has improved enormously from a natural language understanding perspective, it's the brain department that continues to underwhelm. This is because chatbots are designed to learn off a knowledge base - the same generic content we use to train and support our human agents who then take months of trial and error to ‘join-the-missing-dots’. And while chatbots are capable of learning too, they don’t have the benefit to draw on years of interpersonal learning that humans do. They are expected to learn from the responses of customers, who seldom have the patience to teach them.

Software vendors are very quick to shift the blame to the chatbot developers, or the content quality within the knowledge base. They highlight the almost magical superpowers they can showcase when illustrating their chatbots off a carefully designed and curated demo environment.

The truth is that building, deploying and managing a virtual agent capable of performing like a human expert, and resolving hundreds of complex queries in a consistent, compliant and hyper-personalised way is not easy to do. You certainly can’t do it using standard chatbot logic.

What you need is technology that can capture and automate expert-level thinking. And specialist teams that can build a digital brain capable of engaging at the level of a human expert. When you do, that's when magic really happens. It's when you see your customers truly embrace your digital self-service, with resulting lowered call volumes, improved customer satisfaction ratings and a reduction in your total cost to serve.

Simple software delivers simple solutions

Before digging into the advantages offered by a Solution as a Service model, it’s worth taking a deeper dive into some of the issues with most chatbot software.

The first issue, as noted above, is that chatbot logic is by design limited. While you may hope your chatbot will self-learn to become an expert, don’t hold your breath. They will probably only ever manage to offer your customers basic tier 1 support.

The second issue is that most CX platforms offer chatbot modules. This allows them to promise a multi-channel offering. However, these platforms are all at their core designed to support human agents. Their licensing is largely based on human agents. Why then would they look to offer a chatbot that successfully resolves more queries without relying on a live agent? Wouldn’t it be better to rather have a limited chatbot that keeps many live agents in business? What incentive would they have to cannibalise their own revenue stream?

Why a Solution-As-A-Service model makes sense

Faced with a noisy landscape of chatbot technologies, all using different words to describe the same things, wouldn’t it be better to approach your digital self-service channels the same way many approach your human assisted channels?

Many companies have done the maths and realised the value of outsourcing their contact centres to specialist Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) companies. These customer service specialists eat, breathe and sleep the complex world of contact centre management.

They specialise in handling the complexity of aligning technology with business process and human capability. They assure the client of key service outcomes while they worry about delivering these outcomes - the noise of hiring, training, managing, re-training, coaching, and quality assuring huge numbers of human agents across multiple locations.

The same applies to digital self-service. Not only do you require specialised technologies (not simple extensions off CX platforms), you also require specialised skills. And given the shortage of senior AI skills, something which is a particularly big problem in South Africa, plus the complexity of ensuring your virtual agent effectively resolves significant query volumes unassisted, in a consistent and compliant way, handing this problem over to a specialist partner makes sense.

By outsourcing the build, deployment and ongoing management of your virtual agent, you can be assured that more of your customer queries will get effectively resolved via any digital channel at a lower cost than your current unassisted and assisted channels.

You don’t need to worry about which software they use, or what version it is on. Or how to keep it up-to-date across multiple channels when rules keep changing. Your specialist partner takes care of that. You just focus on your business.

As more and more companies realise the severe limitations of their ‘cheap-as-chips’ chatbot technology, and are forced to acknowledge that automating complex, regulated queries is a lot more complicated than initially thought, they may increasingly look to partner with specialists who can assure them of their desired service outcome without them having to experience the pain required to deliver it.

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