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Virtual agents can take enterprise service management to new levels

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When employees need help with technical issues, such as a resolving a problem with a printer or resetting a forgotten password, they will contact their IT support deskthis may be a walk-up help desk, or an online resource that is reached via email or phone call. Or they may embrace a self-service approach to addressing the issue, such as searching through a knowledge base for information that can assist them. The same options are available to employees submitting service requests, such as asking for a new laptop or seeing access to an enterprise resource planning system.

Behind the scenes, the IT support team is probably following a suite of pre-determined policies to ensure that technical issues and service requests are triaged and tracked appropriately, and, when resolved, or fulfilled, closed to everyone’s satisfaction.

This approach to managing service requests and resolving technical issues is a formal one and referred to as IT service management (ITSM). Wikipedia defines ITSM as, “policies, organized and structured in processes and supporting procedures that are performed by an organization to design, plan, deliver, operate and control information technology services offered to customers.”

ITSM has proven to be an efficient and robust approach to managing technical issues and service requests.

Bridging silos

Now other departments within an enterprise, such as Facilities, Finance, and HR are exploring how to leverage ITSM approaches themselves. But this is still in its infancy.  

Currently, these organizations may have a hotline or shared email box as a single point of contact for employees needing assistance. It’s very likely, however, that each of these organizations has its own touchpoint, or even set of touchpoints. They don’t present a defined interface to the organization—requests are not logged and tracked—expectations are not set.

When employees need help, they contact an individual; when help is sought on a person-to-person basis, the interface is fragmented, with many points of interaction. With no single point of contact and no system of record, everything happens below the radar and nothing is managed. Demand is invisible, work is never tracked, performance isn’t measured, and requests disappear into a “black hole.” This typically results in employees waste time chasing-up to get what they need in order to get it addressed.

In a fragmented service ecosystem, employees are being under-serviced or over-serviced, with either too many options or none. When they need help, they don’t know where to start, or are swamped by choices and must keep a list of phone numbers, email boxes and portal logins. The service ecosystem is complex and siloed, and this fragmentation causes waste.

This is where enterprise service management (ESM) comes in. ESM is a strategic approach to creating a joined-up corporate service ecosystem for higher quality and efficiency for both organizations and employees. ESM is an attempt to adopt the best practices of ITSM and provide a holistic approach to service management across disparate silos within organizations. The intent is to bring corporate services to a level of cohesiveness where performance can be tracked, measured and improved.

Conversational ESM

Now, consider the role of chatbots within enterprises and the potential for symbiosis with ESM practices.

Chatbots are being deployed by organizations for a variety of purposes. Some chatbots are relatively simple and limited to answering questions with pre-loaded answers, while others are intelligent and possess the ability to learn. The latter, when purpose-built to provide technical support, are often referred to as intelligent chatbots, or virtual agents.

The first generation of virtual agents were specifically developed according to ITSM processes and procedures and are used almost exclusively by IT organizations. The latest generation of virtual agents are being developed for other disciplines within enterprises, such as Facilities, Finance and HR, with the intention of providing better customer service experiences for employees across departments.

Virtual agents enable conversational approaches to the resolution of issues and fulfillment of service requests. Conversations are the way human communicate and are a more intuitive way of requesting assistance than sending an email or searching a web portal for information. It has been shown, for example, that the presence of a virtual agent between a support desk and employees can increase the adoption of self-service approaches to 50% in one study, up from 15%.  

A familiar face

Any virtual agent capable of integrating with the infrastructure used by various different departments streamlines the task of providing a consistent interface to employees across an enterprise, one that has ESM practices at its core. Not only does this make it easier to expand the role of a virtual agent, it almost make it more comfortable for employees to embrace its expanded functionality.

Moreover, as a company expands, as its headcount grows, and as its operations become more complex, the ability of a virtual agent to provide value to the organization increases—a single virtual agent can supply a practically unlimited amount of knowledge and do so for all corporate departments.

Best of all, they become a familiar and friendly “face” to employees.

Always on, always learning

Virtual agents provide more satisfying and productive service experiences for customers in the process.

Best of all, they are always available. They don’t take lunch or need to sleep. And they can be just as helpful and energetic first in the morning as they are last thing in the evening—and in the wee small hours of the night.

The time is right to focus on the role of virtual agents in improving customers’ service experiences. Act now to identify the impact virtual agents will have on your organization and develop a foundation that will enhance business operations and improve the productivity and satisfaction of your customers.

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