Money & Banking

Intelligent Virtual Agents gaining acceptance among corporates

TE Raja Simhan Chennai | Updated on August 06, 2020

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IVA solutions a key enabler of automation in front office, IT and help desk functions

Will virtual agents replace humans in contact centres? This trend is already happening in many sectors as companies are slowly embracing Intelligent Virtual Agent (IVA) — an automated version of a customer service representative. This trend is happening in the US and APAC regions, and in a small way in India.

IVA solutions are a key enabler of automation in the front office, currently being used primarily for customer support as well as IT and help desk functions due to their large volumes of repetitive queries.

Unlike a Bot, which is programmed for selective purposes and performs repetitive tasks, an IVA is a more sophisticated interactive platform. It understands not just the language but also the meaning of what the user is saying and gives suggestions accordingly.

For example, khUshi, an app created by IIT Madras-incubated Uniphore for PNB Metlife is an example of an intelligent IVR. khUshi is one of India’s first customer service apps powered with Artificial Intelligence and conversation recognition capabilities to provide instant human-like interactive assistance for insurance customers.

“IVA is still in the realm of early adoption today, but that is rapidly changing as enterprises realise what a tremendous opportunity they have to leverage this technology,” said Anil Vijayan, Vice President of research firm Everest Group.

The global IVA market was pegged at $350 million in 2019. There is likely to be a dip in demand in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic but a strong 70 per cent annual growth is expected through 2022. The estimate was boosted 13-22 per cent, anticipating that enterprises will place greater emphasis on cost reduction and improving business continuity in the post-pandemic period, said a recent report by Everest Group.

Usage of IVA has great growth potential and the technology has already started showing results, said Ravi Saraogi, Co-founder & President-APAC, Uniphore, which is one of the two Indian companies featured in the Everest report on IVA.

Uniphore — in which Infosys’ founder Kris Gopalakrishnan is an investor — provides an automation platform where digital agents take over transactional conversations from humans, coach agents during calls and accurately predict language, emotion and intent — all in real-time. Its clients include PNB MetLife, BNP Paribas and NTT Data.

When a person visits the website of a company and is greeted by a pop up window asking how could it help, that is a chatbot that is powered by AI to address simple routine queries. Whereas, an IVA has the conversational ability similar to a human interaction, using speech and thus responds to the specific intent of the customer, said Saraogi.

Conversation is the evergreen consumer interface. The future belongs to those companies which can anticipate customer intent and proactively respond in near real-time. A contact centre is the backbone of service-based companies across industries and is a critical driver of customer experience.

To improve the efficiency and quality of customer experience, companies need to look beyond basic IVAs and their dependence on poorly-equipped human agents. They must approach service holistically and merge the skills of individuals, AI and automation to truly listen to their customers in real-time and understand their conversations better. This will enable them to service customers quickly, efficiently and with first call resolutions, he said.

Customers are facing four times more traffic than earlier, and due to faster adoption of emerging technologies, they are able to reap the benefits of AI. Uniphore’s Conversational Service Automation (CSA) platform companies can utilise IVA to address basic customer queries. By using a CSA platform, companies can be future ready for a situation such as that brought on by Covid-19.

The banking, financial services and insurance (BFSI) sector seems to be an early adopter, constituting 40-45 per cent of Uniphore’s customer base. There is also adoption by the healthcare, pharma, hospitality, travel and retail sectors, he said.

Published on August 06, 2020

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