Why a virtual agent makes sense in good times and bad
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Given recent events, there have been a number of questions and inquiries that have come up around business continuity. While COVID-19 has placed a new emphasis on business continuity, it should not be a temporary conversation that stops once a vaccine is created.
Preparing for the unexpected is critical for every business. It should be done at least yearly, if not more frequently. As Andy Grove, the former founder and CEO of Intel once said, “Only the paranoid survive.” This was also the title of his second book, a classic on how companies must guard against corporate complacency. As business leaders we must be paranoid and plan for all events, expected and unexpected.
The current situation does highlight how technology can help—particularly with disruption, a remote workforce, and the need to keep businesses running. A great example is a virtual agent that is intelligent and leverages natural language processing and machine learning.
Here is how such a virtual agent can add value:
Accessible and reliable
Hardened systems and processes are the best defense to mitigate the effect of any continuity event. Fortunately, a virtual agent is available 24/7/365. The ability to support multiple channels across voice, internet portals, and messaging ensures ubiquitous access through practically any device at any location at any time. And a virtual agent running in the cloud can transition (failover) across data centers in different regions of the country (or the world) if conditions dictate, maintaining accessibility.
Single point of contact
A single known and accessible source of support is vital in any disruption, and a best practice is to establish a support contact that is hardened to survive any disruption so there is no confusion when reaching support. A virtual agent makes this possible as it can be the single point of contact to all support environments and services. Unfortunately, too many organizations use a combination of contacts and solutions such as voicemail, email, support portals, and desktop support kiosks, which can leave an organization confused when one or more of these is no longer available. In times of dislocation, the support team simply doesn’t have the resources to deal with multiple, and possibly redundant, communication methods.
Reliable communication and collaboration
Communication is vital during an emergency or anytime conditions change abruptly. A virtual agent can provide a single source to convey detailed information concerning procedures, closures, diagnostics, policies, and solutions to problems. When disruption occurs, everyone needs access to up-to-date status and the ability to convey their status or the status of their tasks. A virtual agent can provide employees a method to check-in, and further update the status of tickets, projects, or cases they are working on. Likewise, the virtual agent can be a broadcast means to ensure employees receive vital communications over a channel they have access to at any point in time.
Triage and rapid response
Every best practice guide on business continuity planning will stress the need for a rapid pre-planned response. However, when things are chaotic, it is often very difficult to determine what is critical. Volume and dysfunction become the enemy of an appropriate and rapid response. This requires issues to be triaged. And triage under uncertainty is nearly impossible for systems that aren’t intelligent, that can’t understand the intent of the user, and that don’t ask the right questions to determine need.
Virtual agents can have a natural language interface that enables accurate capture of user issues so criticality can be assessed, and the user’s intent is understood, ensuring the issue is routed to the right team or handled directly by the virtual agent. By understanding intent, or understanding that the issue itself is unrecognizable and perhaps never before seen, the virtual agent will ask enough questions to identify the criticality and classify the issue, triaging the issue properly and effectively shielding support from overload due to non-critical issues.
How skilled resources will be made available during critical hours and days of disruption must be specified in a continuity plan. Of course, this is needed in normal times too. So, it only makes good business sense to create a robust self-service capability and automate routine tasks to save money and free skilled experts to deal with complicated issues and higher-value projects. If a virtual agent is employed, you not only save time and money year-round, but you have a scalable, trained digital workforce that can automatically scale and pick up the load when human workers are unavailable. The current environment is a good example as we have seen issues flood support teams dealing with COVID-19 and work from home challenges
By design, the very nature of a virtual agent is unaffected even by the most extreme situations and can conduct business when manual procedures and work schedules are jeopardized. Being highly available, massively scalable, and able to intelligently ask questions of users, issues are naturally triaged and resolved based on their criticality.
Any contingency planning involves hardening systems to ensure they are operational during disruptions, so shifting work to a virtual agent naturally achieves this goal. Use the current situation as a catalyst to drive a stronger, more robust company or organization. Implement technologies that can be swiftly adopted and provide immediate value. Leverage a virtual agent to streamline and improve your service and support, providing the much needed business and operational continuity. Be paranoid and plan to handle the unforeseen in a systematic and practical manner.