The 2015 State of the Speech Technology Industry: Intelligent Virtual Assistants

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serve," said Ergun Ekici, vice president of emerging technologies at IPsoft, in an email. "In IT outsourcing, service providers are automating an increasing proportion of their delivery to provide a higher quality, more efficient service for their clients. The providers of business process outsourcing will do the same."

IntelliResponse, another self-service vendor, serves a variety of enterprises with IVAs. The company handles more than 75 million transactions per year. While IntelliResponse doesn't solely focus on speech-enabled IVAs, it offers the capability to clients. What's particularly interesting, though, is how the company connects its virtual assistant technology to the customer record. IntelliResponse's efforts could be indicative of what's to come for speech-enabled IVAs."

In 2014, IntelliResponse extended its virtual agent technology and offered solutions that integrate CRM and marketing. The company also created a solution for Salesforce.com that enables contact center agents to retrieve information from a variety of inside resources. The technology not only helps answer customer queries on the spot, but can provide predictive responses for both the customer and the agent with a 90 percent accuracy rate.

"What is the next likely question the consumer or agent will ask? You can do an even stronger job of not only answering that top-of-mind question, but also [the solution] can tell you what the next likely questions are so that the second phone call doesn't have to happen," says IntelliResponse CEO David Lloyd.

In November 2014, IntelliResponse was acquired by customer service solutions provider [24]7. Kathy Juve, chief marketing officer at [24]7, says the company has spent the last seven years focused on building out its customer intent prediction and intent engines, and that [24]7 intends to boost IntelliResponse's technology by front-ending the virtual assistant with its prediction technology.

"Our vision—and this is what we're hearing from customers—is that we'll be able to provide a single platform specifically to handle the virtual assistance-to-chat handoff," Juve told Speech Technology at the time. "In addition, if the virtual assistant is unable to satisfy the customer's needs, [that customer] can call into a contact center or have a chat session with an agent. We'll be able to connect that and transfer the context of that and make it a much better experience for the customer. We think there's tremendous value there for our customers."

Continuity Is King

Continuity, or keeping the context, of self-service interactions is paramount. For example, customers may use a bank app to check their balance, but may also have a question that can't be answered by self-serving. Calling into the contact center should not mean making them repeat qualifying information, such as birth date, as well as their reason for calling, experts say.

"Once access to live assistance is offered, it is important to preserve any context and data collected during a self-service interaction, a continuity of experience," Goebel wrote on his blog. "This means having the ability to seamlessly continue a customer service conversation when switching between channels, or from self-service to live service. An Aspect study from late 2013 showed that 89 percent of consumers say they are annoyed when they have to repeat themselves about the same issue."

Adding context and predictive capabilities are just two of many factors likely to swell acceptance of self-service.

"In the coming year, enterprises will invest hundreds of millions of dollars in intelligent assistants," Miller said in a statement. "If you add their existing investment in supporting technologies like data aggregation, knowledge management, and speech analytics, spending that is influenced by intelligent assistant development will be in the billions. More importantly, they fundamentally change caller or Web surfers' perception of self-service. Their core role is to put the 'self' back into self-service. By engaging in an ongoing conversation, personal virtual assistants are conditioning humans to expect more and better results and outcomes from Web commerce, mobile, and customer care resources."

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