Virtual Agents vs. Site Search

Virtual Agents vs. Site Search



Since the dawn of the internet, site search technologies that simply index content have long been the default method that companies have relied on to assist website visitors in finding information ...

Since the dawn of the internet, site search technologies that simply index content have long been the default method that companies have relied on to assist website visitors in finding information through keyword searches. At the time, it seemed like a practical solution. A website visitor simply types in the words they are looking for in the search box of a company’s website, and a list of those search results is generated – sometimes (i.e. often) several pages of results.



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Virtual Agents vs. Site Search Virtual Agents vs. Site Search Document Transcript

  • Virtual Agents vs. Site Search Why Using Site Search to Deliver Online Answers is Hurting Your Business
  • Virtual Agents vs. Site Search Introduction Since the dawn of the internet, site search technologies that simply index content have long been the default method that companies have relied on to assist website visitors in finding information through keyword searches. At the time, it seemed like a practical solution. A website visitor simply types in the words they are looking for in the search box of a company’s website, and a list of those search results is generated – sometimes (i.e. often) several pages of results. Many organizations believe that deploying common site search tools will aid the customer by serving as a type of self-service option. The logic is simple. An organization simply indexes available content on the corporate website or content made available within the corporate environment and allow customers to use these search tools to look for information related to their questions. The goal, of course, is to reduce the costs of servicing customers by supporting their inquiries within the lowest cost channel, the web. Inside... In this report, we conducted an in depth review of both traditional site search and Virtual Agents to help organizations decide the best strategic path to follow when developing their online self-service strategies. We’ll also explore the possibility of both site search and Virtual Agents co-existing in a federated environment, and how this might benefit your organization. © 2012 IntelliResponse Systems Inc. PAGE 3 II. Where Traditional Site Search Falls Short in Providing Online Self-Service PAGE 4 III. Virtual Agents: The Better Way to Deliver Online Self-Service PAGE 7 IV. Is There Room At the Table for Both? Can Site Search Complement Virtual Agents? PAGE 12 V. Get Started Today Over the years though, this method of relying on these traditional site search technologies as an organization’s primary method of delivering online self-service has revealed many flaws. In response to these limitations, a new breed of online self-service solutions emerged, known as Virtual Agents. I. Why Site Search Might Not Be Right For You PAGE 13 2
  • Virtual Agents vs. Site Search I. Why Site Search Might Not Be Right For You The challenge with this search-based methodology, is that customers will, on average, attempt a search no more than three times and less than 50% of searches actually return expected results. When it comes to delivering answers to customer service questions online, this is a problem. While traditional site search functionality does serve a variety of practical purposes, relying on it as a tool for online self-service ANSWERS will, in most cases, simply not deliver the intended results and leave your customers frustrated. Studies show that a truly effective online self-service strategy can have a significant impact on core business objectives including cost savings, customer loyalty and revenue. At its core, great online self-service effectively deflects inquiries from higher cost channels (phone calls, emails or chat) while increasing customer satisfaction. The problem with traditional site search is that it is just not an effective online self-service tool by itself, so what commonly happens is this: 1. Customers are unable to find the answer they are looking for, either because it is not delivered based on their question or it is buried in hundreds of search results. 2. These (now frustrated) customers now escalate to more expensive channels such as phone or chat (not their preference, but it’s all they can do). 3. Or worse, they move on to another provider to get their information. Customers Will Abandon You The fact of the matter is that organizations risk losing their customers if they are not able to provide them with the right online self-service tools. According to a published Forrester Research, Inc. report: “The success of self-service interactions hinges on effortless, easy service. Forty-five percent of US online adults say they will abandon a purchase if they cannot find a quick answer to their question; 66% say that valuing their time is the most important thing that a company can do to provide them with good online customer service.”1 Traditional Site Search Wasn’t Built For Delivering Answers Traditional site search tools are not effectively designed to deliver answers. They are designed, instead, to provide an effective means of searching content when there is little or no customer context - a research approach (think documents and product SKU’s). No one can deny the benefits of search tools when an individual is carrying out research and attempting to find sources of information in a sea of content. The truth is, however, that search tools help identify the possibly related content but they do little to assist the “information seeker” in determining which content has the right context for the types of questions they need answers to. In fact, most search tools do not know anything about the context of the question, as we will see later. Consider the following question asked on a financial institution’s website. “How do I apply?” First of all, most end users would not enter the search phrase that way, as search tools have tried to train us to be walking thesauruses – always thinking about the best possible terms (keywords) to elicit a response. Typically, we might enter a term such as “applying”. Without context, the returned answers could range from available job postings, mortgage applications, credit card descriptions or personal loans. It is at this point that we wait for the customer to “self-select”, to manually build in context by hunting through content that could range to hundreds of entries, in search of a specific answer. © 2012 IntelliResponse Systems Inc. 3
  • Virtual Agents vs. Site Search II. Where Traditional Site Search Falls Short in Providing Online Self-Service In general, traditional site search tools are used to enable search and are not specifically oriented towards answering questions. In fact, it would seem that search tool designs are focused on the answers, not the questions. They simply index the body of content made available to their spiders. The challenges in typical search engine design, unfortunately, do not end here. Below are a few of the main short comings of traditional site search when deployed as a tool for online self-service: Search Result Fatigue: Traditional site search indexes all available content - documents, pages, articles, etc. Therefore, when a visitor to your website searches based on a keyword, they will simply have a laundry list of search results returned to them. For a typical large company, this is usually tens of thousands of content assets. The user might be able to sort the search results by relevance but the onus is still on the user to figure out which of these search results contain the correct answer (if the correct answer exists at all!). Multiple responses are simply just too ambiguous for the end user and lead to confusion. In most cases, the user will simply give up looking for the answer. From the same Forrester research paper mentioned above, we discover the following: “...failed self-service interactions are those that customers abandon because they can’t navigate an IVR or a web self-service site or cannot easily locate the right answer in a set of search results and resort to escalating their question to an agent.”2 Limited Quality Control: When organizations have literally hundreds of search results that are being returned to users who are simply looking for the answer to their question, the ability to control the quality of this content greatly diminishes. It doesn’t matter how many advanced search features you have to filter and sort your search results. With that volume of content, outdated and inaccurate content will inevitably find their way into the search results. Most Search Technology Cannot Deliver Proper Self-Service: End users do not think in terms of keywords – they have questions and they want them answered, immediately. Since traditional site search relies on a rules-based approach where the end-user types in keywords to find an answer, there is a total mismatch of the underlying technology and how users should interact with an online self-service solution. Let’s explore some of these technical limitations in further detail: •The Power of Intent: Traditional site search lacks knowledge of the actual intent of the user performing the search. Therefore, different keywords with the same intent can yield a vastly different list of possible responses. •Limited Context: Similar to the above point, traditional site search tools have limited or no context related to the search criteria. For example, a customer conducting a search on a financial services company’s website for the key word ‘interest rates’ could return hundreds of ‘relevant’ documents to peruse. The problem is that without context around the search criteria, the resulting hits could be for GIC’s, RRSP loans, 401K plans, mortgages, bank loans, credit cards, RRSP loans or savings accounts. © 2012 IntelliResponse Systems Inc. 4
  • Virtual Agents vs. Site Search •Keyword Matching: Success for traditional site search is dependent upon a match between keywords and indexed content. One of the challenges is that site search focuses on the ‘answer’ rather than the question. Specifically, when the search tool indexes the available content, it builds a table of words that correlate to the actual documents containing the words or phrases provided by the individual carrying out the search. Metadata - tags within the content -are almost never effectively used by content authors. Even though we’ve all become much more efficient information seekers, we don’t specifically ‘know’ the content that we are searching for, so the biggest challenge is how to pose our question to access the potential results. Governance Issues Related to Centralization and Management of Content: An ongoing challenge in providing site search relates to publishing, providing access to content and the governance models that must be placed around this access. In order to provide results, content must be available for indexing by the search engine tool. In some cases, this indexing may simply be performed on the collection of content available on the public website. In other circumstances, it may include sources outside of the website (e.g., internal documents, databases and other digital content). The challenge faced by most organizations is establishing a governance model around the availability of content for indexing. Simply indexing existing website content typically does little towards developing strongly targeted content to fulfill customers’ search needs. As well, indexing content outside of the web leads to challenges in versioning, access control, content management and providing an effective means of establishing and ensuring that the expertise applied to creating and maintaining content is properly directed. Poor User Experience: Traditional site search does not provide a great user experience since it simply returns * #$! search results based on keyword indexing. Visitors must then hunt and peck through these links to the actual pages, clicking numerous links before they find their answer. But users simply want an answer to their question. Traditional site search can cause some organizations to deliver a poor user experience for many reasons including: • Search Does Not Follow a Customer’s Thinking Patterns: When preparing to perform a search, almost all of us spend a considerable amount of time thinking about the types of terms that will deliver a result. The problem is that the tendency to follow this pattern of thinking is to either provide very broad terms which result in an overwhelming sea of results, or a narrow set that generates little or no content. Either set of search results is a disappointment to the end user. • Self-Selection is Inefficient: A customer who has made the conscious decision to use the search capabilities within your website has just potentially saved your organization $7 according to the Published Forrester Report, Websites That Don’t Support Customers Waste Millions.3 However, relying on your content to ‘describe’ itself leads to several problems. With many search results, the customer is more likely to choose the link containing the wrong answer. Additionally, if the customer can’t locate the correct answer, they’ll simply escalate to higher cost channels, eliminating any expected costs saving from traditional site search. • Unsuccessful Search Requires the Customer to Initiate Another Search: This is not news to anyone who has performed even one search. The business problem, however, is that your customer’s impatience with needing to reword their search leads to abandonment - at best of your web self-service, and at worst, of your organization. A regular customer may not be able to ‘leave.’ However, the likelihood that they will begin using far more expensive access channels (call center, for example) means business costs will be driven higher. © 2012 IntelliResponse Systems Inc. 5
  • Virtual Agents vs. Site Search Lack of Multi-Channel Relevance: Search tools were specifically built with the web interface in mind. This is most evident when attempting to self-serve from a mobile device where it’s just not practical for consumers to scroll through pages of search results to locate the correct answer. Another challenge is that first, customers may start in one channel and through a desired path of escalation can end in a different one (whether desired by the customer or the company). Secondly, delivering a consistent response to customers’ inquiries will need to span more than one channel. Consider other widely used customer service channels: corporate website, mobile, social media, email, chat, and the call center. As the customer moves from one service method to another, there is no consistency in the response. The customer likely self-selected an answer from a set of search results. The answer to the same question through email is likely different as is the answer derived from the call center agent. This lack of a consistent set of answers is both a challenge for the customer as well as the organization. Imagine receiving conflicting information on how to apply for a credit card or which over-the-counter medication to take. Limited Reporting on Important Customer Metrics: Organizations gain only limited insights from the data obtained when website visitors use their site search. But customer-centric organizations will want to learn as much as they can from their customers’ interaction on their website. Unfortunately, one of the largest gaps in traditional site search is the lack of tools available to understand performance, results and behavior. Typically, the tools available are limited to reports that may show, for example, the frequency of terms used across searches and other quantitative data points. The challenge though, is that this method of reporting does not typically provide a guide to improving the interaction with customers. © 2012 IntelliResponse Systems Inc. 6
  • Virtual Agents vs. Site Search III. Virtual Agents: The Better Way to Deliver Online Self-Service As a result of the need to deliver better online self-service, Virtual Agent technology was developed. Virtual Agents can help customer service professionals deliver an outstanding customer service experience. Virtual Agents take a much different, and improved approach, than traditional site search does in their attempt to deliver online self-service answers. Virtual Agents are software services that engage in automated, natural language conversations with customers in self-service environments. They empower customers through their journey for answers and task completion by simplifying the process of delivering information across multiple interaction channels, including the corporate website, mobile, social media, and even the agent desktop. Let’s explore the advantages that Virtual Agents have over traditional site search. Advantages of Using Virtual Agents for Online Self-Service One Right Answer: Where traditional site search will deliver a long list of links to articles, pages and documents upon which answers must be found, extracted and/or interpreted, Virtual Agents will simply provide one right answer. On an organization’s website, the end consumer simply types their question in natural language and they get a single, accurate, consistent and approved answer. They might also get a list of relevant questions or the top ten frequently asked questions. Visitors ask their question using everyday natural language. Kobo’s answer page delivers a single, accurate, and approved answer. The customer experience is further enhanced with links to contextually relevant information. © 2012 IntelliResponse Systems Inc. 7
  • Virtual Agents vs. Site Search Control of Approved Corporate Content: With Virtual Agents, organizations can rest assured knowing that only approved company messaging is being delivered to the end consumer in the form of one right answer. This is a much more feasible approach to providing online self-service as it is next to impossible to maintain quality control measures over the thousands of search results that traditional site search often delivers to end consumers. Remember, your customers aren’t writing a research paper on the many different perspectives on bill payment options that your company offers. They just want a single answer to address question such as, ‘How do I pay my bill?’. The Virtual Agent Technology Advantage: As we just discussed, traditional site search uses indexing and tagging of existing content to deliver a set of links to results that may or may not be prioritized. Comparatively, Virtual Agent solutions do not follow the traditional search paradigm. In fact, the underlying technology of a good Virtual Agent solution supports the way users should interact with an online self-service solution. This has several positive implications: • Understanding User’s Intent: Virtual Agents can deliver the single best answer based on the user’s intent and not simply on the keywords the user might enter. So even though there may be numerous ways to ask the same question, Virtual Agents will yield the same, single consistent answer. • Keeping Things in Context: A Virtual Agent can deliver answers so effectively because it understands the context of the questions being asked. So when a customer is in the mortgage section of a bank or credit union’s website and asks about ‘interest rates’, there is an exceptionally high likelihood their context is relative to mortgages. Virtual Agents that deliver answers within this context will have a much higher relevancy or exactness when compared to site search. • Knowledge Matching: Quite different from the keyword matching approach, Virtual Agent technology works through a knowledge matching process, where incoming natural language questions are matched to the single right answer that a user needs. This approach provides a mechanism which allows the development of question-specific criteria. The criteria can then link to the appropriate results even if they do not specifically contain complete occurrences of the search terms provided by the customer. Enhanced User Experience: Customers might be used to seeing site search & FAQ’s on corporate websites, but as we’ve seen above, they are growing increasingly dissatisfied with these primitive attempts at delivering online self-service. In a published Forrester Research, Inc. report entitled: Understanding Customer Service Satisfaction To Inform Your 2012 eBusiness Strategy: “…more consumers are using online help sections and FAQs, but fewer are satisfied.”4 The good news here is that consumers will attempt to serve themselves online, and with the help of Virtual Agents, you won’t disappoint them. Virtual Agents enhance the user experience and empower the end consumer with the ability to receive instant, accurate answers to their question. With 1 click to the right answer, Virtual Agents are by far the preferred choice of online self-service tool. © 2012 IntelliResponse Systems Inc. 8
  • Virtual Agents vs. Site Search Virtual Agents offer a more interactive and engaging experience compared to the more iterative user experience customers will receive from site search (e.g. navigate, open, read; navigate, open, read, etc.). Additionally, Virtual Agents enhance the user experience in the following ways: • Virtual Agents Support a Customer’s Thinking Patterns: Virtual Agents employ a far more intuitive input method than simply asking for search terms. Virtual Agents prompt customers to ask natural language questions which provides several distinct benefits. First, it is an approach to requesting information that supports the way individuals generally think. Secondly, your organization can glean a significant amount of insight into the intent of the customer, which is of great assistance in building better self-service content (stronger answer content) as well as developing insights into what the customers may be looking for (new products and services). • No Guesswork in Finding the Right Answer: Virtual Agents will deliver one right answer within the context the question was asked and be delivered as the one most relevant piece of information. This approach builds a sense of confidence with the customer that reinforces that customer’s use of the Virtual Agent’s capability for further self-service. • Search Once, with Escalation Options Readily Available: Virtual Agents employ a layered approach to delivering customer self-service which is initiated through finding the right answer. In those circumstances where the answer is not readily apparent or accessible, the ability to handle escalation to email, chat or voice, for example, should be supportable and traceable to understand the path a customer takes. Have a Question? How can I order checks? We hope that the following answers your question: How do I order checks / cheques? You can order new cheques online, choosing from many options and designs. You can even view previous online cheque orders. You must activate your account before accessing online cheque orders. Want To Talk? Book an Appointment Chat Live 1-866-822-6446 Escalation options are easy to see. Branch & ATM Locator To order your cheques: 1. From the Banking tab under My Accounts, select “Account Services” from the left-hand menu. 2. Select “Order New Cheques.” 3. Choose the appropriate account from the dropdown menu and follow the instructions to complete your order. To order cheques for your Royal Credit Line, please contact your RBC Royal Bank branch. © 2012 IntelliResponse Systems Inc. Top Tools & Calculators Foreign Exchange Calculators Savings Calculator Account Selector Credit Card Selector Current Rates RBC’s answer page delivers a single right answer. 9
  • Virtual Agents vs. Site Search Multi-Channel Relevance: Because of the smaller form factor of mobile devices, a good Virtual Agent solution will deliver a single answer in an easy-to-read mobile-optimized screen. The IntelliResponse Enterprise Virtual Agent mobile deployment, shown below, allows a customer to key any question into a large question box. The one right answer is then instantly provided on the next screen – regardless of how the question was phrased. Customer service questions are resolved in seconds, with no additional scrolling or searching required. This results in a highly satisfying customer experience, and introduces the opportunity to provide more information that can encourage or support purchase decisions. 1) Your customer types in a question. 2) The one right answer is instantly provided on the next screen. But it doesn’t stop at mobile or the website. Virtual Agents can provide an effective online self-service solution across all social media channels as well as contact center agent desktops. Virtual Agents provide an ideal solution that fundamentally delivers a consistent answer across all customer interaction channels. The individual asking a question about a product would be greeted by the same answer if they called the call center or sent an email. They would receive the right answer to their inquiry regardless of the channel. In addition, if the customer elected to escalate from the web channel to click-tochat or click-to-call, the context related to previous questions asked and responses would be provided to the upstream channel to deliver better customer service. The operator, for example, could see that this customer asked three different questions about the new mortgage product, allowing for better understanding of the customer’s follow-up questions. It is about delivering a consistent meaningful response across channels if escalation is required. © 2012 IntelliResponse Systems Inc. 10
  • Virtual Agents vs. Site Search Voice of the Customer Insights: Virtual Agents help organizations gain access to important voice of the customer data. By consistently assessing the way in which a customer is attempting to answer their questions and the types of content an organization is delivering in response, Virtual Agents can help organizations drive client stickiness and adoption of their website as an effective online self-service option. Virtual Agents can deliver robust reporting, letting customer service professionals see what is answered and how successful their delivered answers are. What types of questions are customers asking? What escalation paths are chosen by customers? What content is never accessed? These are just some of the questions customer service professionals will be able to answer with the help of Virtual Agents. CAVEAT: Remember Scope and Virtual Agent Limitations While modern Virtual Agent technology can be extremely useful for taking your online self service capabilities out of the dark ages, it will not replace all of your customer interaction methods, including phone and e-mail and the value provided by knowledgeable human agents. Modern Virtual Agents are extremely well suited to answering commonly asked ‘informational’ questions (think questions with a single correct answer), but the world is a complex, messy place, so the need to complex messy customer interactions still remains. You can expect any new Virtual Agent platform worth its salt to deflect 15-30% of calls and up to half of your e-mail volume, all while delivering a great online experience to your customers. The only question remaining is: What are you going to do with all that extra agent time and customer goodwill? © 2012 IntelliResponse Systems Inc. 11
  • Virtual Agents vs. Site Search IV. Is There Room At the Table for Both? Can Site Search Complement Virtual Agents? From the previous comparison, you can see how a good, Virtual Agent solution can go a long way in providing a superior level of online self-service when compared to the more traditional site search. However, both still can have a place in the enterprise. Most of our customers deploy website search solutions as well as the IntelliResponse Virtual Agent solution. In fact, many of our customers have integrated the two solutions together. The most effective approach is to deploy a Virtual Agent as the first point of contact, but to provide search as an alternative option, perhaps even in a federated manner such as displayed in the example below from CIBC, one of North America’s largest banks. Virtual Agent ‘One Right Answer’ Service Offering Search Results (455) © 2012 IntelliResponse Systems Inc. 12
  • Virtual Agents vs. Site Search V. Get Started Today Like many other organizations, if you’re solely relying on traditional site search (and FAQ’s) as a means to deliver online self-service, it’s unlikely you’re delivering the kind of online service excellence your customers expect. But improving your online self-service experience doesn’t mean throwing everything you have out the window. IntelliResponse has worked with Forrester to design a vendor-agnostic analysis tool that evaluates the efficiency of your existing online customer service experience. The outcome of this analysis is an objective diagnosis of opportunities for improvement, and an actionable plan on next steps. Contact IntelliResponse to schedule a no-obligation 30-minute assessment of your website’s self-service capabilities. 1-866-454-0084 SOURCES: “Implement Effective Customer Service Metrics”, Forrester Research Inc., August 21, 2012. ”Websites That Don’t Support Customers Waste Millions, Forrester Research, June 20, 2012. “Understanding Customer Service Satisfaction To Inform Your 2012 eBusiness Strategy”, Forrester Research Inc., January 23, 2012. 1, 2, 3 4 About IntelliResponse Systems IntelliResponse is the leading provider of virtual agent technology solutions for the enterprise. We create profitable online conversations for our private and public sector customers around the world. With our patented Enterprise Virtual Agent (EVA) solutions, corporate websites, mobile applications, social media channels and agent desktops can all be transformed by an engaging virtual concierge, empowering customers to ask questions using natural, conversational language and delivering an effective and engaging online experience. Some of the worlds most recognized corporate brands and public institutions trust their customer experience management needs to IntelliResponse including CIBC Bank, ING Direct, Charter Communications, Progress Energy, Copa Airlines, Kobo Books, Penn State University, Yale University and Harvard University. For more information about IntelliResponse, visit © 2012 IntelliResponse Systems Inc. To learn more about taking online self service to the next level for your customers, visit 13