Virtual Agents Are Not Chatbots
One of our company’s core beliefs is that humans and virtual agents are not in competition. With this conviction, we created Amelia to serve in a manner that enables her to team up with human workers to form a hybrid workforce.
How exactly does a hybrid workforce function? In our view, Amelia shoulders the repetitive work that needs to be done, and she does so at scale and at machine pace. By doing so, she frees humans to handle more creative and high-value work, such as critical thinking and imaginative problem-solving. Additionally, Amelia is able to learn from human workers by observing their actions. When a human performs a task that Amelia is incapable of performing on her own, she studies the human agents’ actions, recommends a new resolution and asks a human manager if she can begin to perform the actions herself.
While many vendors claim to have developed Digital Employees, few have delivered intelligent virtual agents that work with, rather than as replacements for, human workers. These chatbots lack the intelligence necessary to deliver anything more than answers to scripted questions, or the routing of requests to human agents. In this post, we’ll examine the value of hiring virtual agents instead of an unsophisticated chatbot, and how this value translates into actual business growth.
Artificial Intelligence and Digital Employees
Amelia functions as a de facto translator of a company’s enterprise systems. Rather than requiring employees to remember the URLs, user names, passcodes and interfaces of dozens of enterprise systems, Amelia can connect to these systems to help workers enter and find information.
An employee who wants to log vacation days no longer needs to locate a hard-to-find or infrequently used human resources (HR) tool, remember their user name, reset their forgotten password, and attempt to recall how to navigate to the vacation request form. The employee can simply speak their request to Amelia and she instantly logs vacation days, sends the request to the employee’s manager and logs the manager’s response.
How this translates to business value — Think of the time employees waste entering, exiting and navigating enterprise systems. An HR system is among the more basic systems people use at work. Navigating IT helpdesk, finance, CRM, ERP and security systems can be exponentially more complex, even for employees who have been at a company for years. By connecting intelligent virtual agents to back-end software, a company removes the barriers and latency between intent and action. As Amelia is system-agnostic, she can seamlessly integrate with any enterprise process, system or layer. Regardless of scope or scale, she can be tailored to handle every business process requirement.
Simple chatbots are effective at Q&A-style interactions, but they cannot autonomously enter a new client’s information into a CRM tool, and then, unprompted, send a follow-up email in three weeks – chatbots are simply not designed to perform such tasks.
Digital Employees for Customer Service
Think of a customer-facing business process or request that a company handles multiple times each hour every day. Locating store hours, product descriptions, inventory and more have become as easy as typing in a request. Still, companies spend millions of dollars every year fielding these kinds of queries, most often with humans driving these interactions. Call center workers, customer service email respondents and even in-store associates provide the same responses over and over again: “Yes, we have this shirt in a size large,” or “Yes, we’re open on Presidents’ Day.” These basic questions cost a lot of money to answer at scale with live, human agents.
While customers jam up phone lines and inboxes with easily answerable questions, other customers wait on hold. Although quantifying lost revenue from inordinately long hold times may vary from company and industry, it’s obvious that dissatisfied customers, and customers who drop off calls out of frustration, translate into lost business. Amelia can handle thousands of questions at a time and respond to most of them instantly. Those she can’t answer are escalated to human workers who would otherwise have been busy responding to simple FAQs.
How this translates to business value — Businesses using intelligent virtual agents spend less money hiring staff to handle basic tasks, and rededicate that money to hiring and training employees to answer more important questions. Customers no longer wait on hold for long periods of time, receive immediate positive responses through a virtual agent, and in turn tell their social networks about their positive experiences.
A chatbot will probably be able to handle some of these questions, but will still require constant escalation due to the technology’s inability to decipher idiomatic questions, quickly learn new products and processes, and handle multi-context requests. What’s the point of hiring digital labor if human labor is still required to resolve simple issues?
AI and Business Value
AI is no substitute for human ingenuity. With intelligent virtual agents automating mundane tasks, humans have more time to think, brainstorm, test and imagine. Shifting employees from repetitive to challenging tasks enables them to think up new business processes, products, services and more. These employees understand what works and what doesn’t with regard to their company’s business processes and product offerings. By shifting them from repetition to conception, a business can build a qualified team of research and development experts with thousands of hours of collective experience.
How this translates to business value — The ability to develop new products and services does not come easy to every company. With this team of experts who know the ins and outs of their company, businesses can dedicate their time to fixing old processes and products, and creating newer and better ones. Better processes mean more efficiency, which means fewer wasted resources and higher profit margins. Better products mean more sales, more customers and more revenue.
Automating tasks does not truly enable human creativity unless humans are fully freed from rote tasks. If they’re required to constantly oversee and remediate work done by simple chatbots, a business will only realize minimal benefits.
These are just some of the ways that Amelia can improve a business in better and more substantial ways compared to a chatbot. Collaboration between humans and machines is the ultimate opportunity for today’s enterprise, but the level of the machines’ intelligence will ultimately impact how much a business improves. Settle for a chatbot and a company will reap limited rewards. Employ intelligent virtual agents such as Amelia and the opportunities for improvement are far greater.