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Companies Turn to IVAs to Deal with COVID Surges

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ZIM, a global container shipping industry powerhouse, saw a huge surge in customer contacts from shippers who were nervous about vulnerable supply chains, changing cargo routes, border shutdowns, and similar concerns.

ZIM worked with Orange Business Systems to deploy its Managed Contact Center (MCC), which employs automation and AI to route callers to the most appropriate agents based on their latest profiles and interactions.

In-depth data analytics and reporting provided by the solution gives ZIM complete visibility into contact center activities and customer communications. This functionality allows the company to mine data and analyze customer needs. In addition, a dashboard and real-time monitoring system gives ZIM a 360-degree view of call center queues on a dynamic digital whiteboard located in each of ZIM’s call centers. Thanks to such tools, ZIM can take advantage of an optimized response time and have visibility on relevant data for answering the calls.

“We succeeded in maintaining our high level of customer experience across our global branches, despite the COVID-19 pandemic implications, necessitating many of our customer service teams to work from home with very short notice. This was in large part thanks to Orange Business Services’ technology and capabilities,” explains Assaf Tiran, ZIM’s global customer service vice president.

Other Industries Challenged

Not surprisingly, healthcare companies were also stretched like never before when the pandemic hit.

AccuRx, which provides a platform used by doctors to communicate with patients, experienced a massive surge in incoming customer support questions early in the outbreak. The number of queries jumped 10 times the normal amount almost immediately. Its customer support team had to quickly add automation and artificial intelligence to help meet the increased demand without further taxing its already-limited personnel.

With the help of Intercom, AccuRX scaled support with chatbots to instantly resolve new inquiries while collecting critical information that it could pass on to support representatives when needed.

AccuRX set up quite a few auto-­responses using Intercom’s Resolution Bot and deployed Intercom’s Custom Bots to gather data about customers so agents could understand them and their issues before chatting.

In the telecommunications arena, Canadian wireless services provider Koodo Mobile faced the same challenges. It turned to Ada’s automation-first, artificial intelligence-powered customer service platform to meet the demand.

Koodo Support, powered by Ada, saved customers thousands of hours of wait time by automating the customer service experience, freeing up agents to handle the most pressing customer inquiries. The technology has enabled Kodoo’s customers to manage 60 percent of their queries on their own through self-service without ever needing to speak to live agents.

Another industry that suffered greatly during the pandemic was the nonprofit sector. The Trevor Project, a 24/7 suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender youth, saw its call volume more than double. With a record number of calls, chats, and texts coming into its Lifeline program and counselors temporarily forced to work remotely, the Trevor Project needed to enable its staff to quickly transition to a virtual workplace without sacrificing the quality of connections to its clients or security to ensure their privacy.

The Trevor Project leveraged Vonage technology to transition to a full-time remote and 100 percent virtual contact center during the COVID-19 crisis within days. Vonage also enabled the Trevor Project to build custom automated tools that could surface critical information, connecting those in need of support to the appropriate crisis counselors.

Since switching to Vonage Contact Center, the Trevor Project has experienced close to 100 percent uptime and 24/7 on-call support.

Beyond the Contact Center

Customer-facing teams aren’t the only ones using IVA technology to help streamline operations. Organizations are also using it to help other employees who found themselves working from home without the in-person guidance and regular feedback that they would receive in office settings.

“We’ve seen businesses successfully deploy IVAs as an internal resource to support employees,” Snell recalls. “Employee-facing IVAs have helped offload lower-level questions and provided access to knowledge in real time without relying on a manager or HR resource.”

When used internally, IVAs can also provide employees assistance in setting up technology and accessing accounts and solve common challenges like video­conferencing and other IT needs.

The Inference/Opinion Matters research found that 54 percent of IT managers expect employee service automation to play a significant role in their organizations’ resilience; 39 percent expect supply chain automation; and 37 percent flagged robotic process automation. Increasing employee efficiency and productivity topped the list of priorities in respondents’ automation strategies, followed by reducing costs and improving the ability to meet customer demands.

Better Than IVRs

Among the reasons for the increased interest in IVAs, DMG Consulting concludes in its report, is that IVAs have many advantages over what it calls “outdated and inflexible” interactive voice response (IVR) systems. IVAs, it says, can be programmed and implemented rapidly. Additionally, IVAs use artificial intelligence to respond to customer inquiries with concierge-style service; they better support natural language conversations; and when they need to escalate a transaction to a live agent, they can pass on the transaction with context and stay on the line, using machine learning to listen and learn so that they can handle similar transactions more effectively on their own.

IVAs can improve internal business processes as they assist employees by automating tasks, increasing productivity, and improving accuracy.

As an added benefit, conversational intelligence can offer a real-time analysis of customer intents, queries, and even speech patterns during IVA interactions. This, many experts agree, allows businesses to marshal their resources to the greatest areas of customer need without engaging in huge, overly complicated data science projects.

“It’s unfortunate that [the pandemic] had to be the catalyst for organizations to change, but for many, if they don’t right now, they’re going to have a tough time surviving and thriving, because their customers will go elsewhere,” said Ben Smith, global vice president and general manager of customer experience solutions at Verint, during a session at Verint’s Engage virtual conference in early June.

“While we hope the world doesn’t see another crisis on the scale of this pandemic, most contact centers will be much better prepared next time, with an IVA at their side, to weather the storm,” Snell maintains. “Most experts suggest we’re still only in the early innings of this pandemic and that we’ll go through several new phases of operation until we reach a new normal. This is precisely the environment that conversational intelligence helps businesses navigate.”

DMG Consulting further expects that once the post-COVID-19 recovery process is under way and the new normal takes hold, adoption of IVAs will increase even further. 

Leonard Klie is the editor of Speech Technology. He can be reached at lklie@infotoday.com.

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