Web Self-Service Vendor Selection Guide


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A Strategic Map for Evaluating Virtual Agent, Virtual Assistant and Knowledge Management Technologies

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Web Self-Service Vendor Selection Guide

  1. 1. Web Self-ServiceVendor Selection Guide Published by A Strategic Map for Evaluating Virtual Agent, Virtual Assistant and Knowledge Management Technologies
  2. 2. Web Self-Service Vendor Selection Guide About this Guide To say the world of online self-service has changed is like saying smart phones “might Virtual Agents are software catch on one day” – it’s a monumental understatement. In just a few short years, services that engage in we’ve moved from an era of website FAQ’s (Wow, that’s a great experience isn’t it?) and cumbersome site search tools (How do you enjoy getting 1,200 different search automated conversations results from your one question?) to an era of sophisticated Virtual Agents, “Siri” and with customers in online self- the age of the “One Right Answer”. service environments. As organizations come to realize the importance of findiing a web self-service solution that will enable customers to effectively self-serve in a web-based, multi-channel environment, they will invariably encounter a wide variety of options. The purpose of this guide is to provide a vendor-agnostic overview of what really matters in online self-service today—a blueprint for selecting the right partner technology to elevate your online service to where your customers need it to be. Whether your vendor prospects refer to their solution as a “Virtual Agent”, “Virtual Assistant”, “Knowledge Management Platform” or uses some other naming convention, you’ll be able to leverage this guide to get to the heart of what matters most in online self-service. For the purpose of this guide, we will be referring to these next generation online self-service tools as “Virtual Agents”. What Exactly is a Virtual Agent, Anyway? There’s a considerable amount of noise in the customer experience community around the topic of ‘Virtual Agents.’ Fueled in part by the rise of consumer applications such as Apple’s ‘Siri’ native iPhone app, customers are increasingly interacting with virtual entities (sometimes called virtual assistants or virtual agents) as a means to get problems solved and questions answered. At their core, Virtual Agents (VA’s for short) are software services that engage in automated 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, like the corporate web, mobile, social and even the agent environment. The consumer’s willingness to engage in these virtual conversations has introduced tremendous opportunity for organizations in every industry. From regional utilities providers to national ebook retailers, to global financial services companies, organizations of every description are adding some form of virtual agent into their customer’s online customer experience journey. As more and more customer experience professionals explore the new Virtual Agent landscape, many are struggling to arrive at answers to important questions, such as: • What value can a Virtual Agent really bring to my organization? • What choices do I have when considering a solution? • What do I need to know about the different features and options in order to make the most appropriate choice for my organization? This Guide will help provide you with much-needed answers.© 2012 IntelliResponse Systems Inc. 1
  3. 3. Web Self-Service Vendor Selection Guide Virtual Agents: Why Should I Care? Because a Virtual Agent serves as a direct ‘front line’ communication point with your customers, they afford your organization the opportunity to significantly influence the thoughts, opinions and actions of your customers while they are online and interacting with your brand. The best Virtual Agent Specifically, Virtual Agents deliver significant value in these areas: technologies deliver a virtual 1. Cost Reduction - via deflection of phone calls and emails from the contact interaction that is on-par, center and agent effectiveness or better, than the 2. Revenue Generation - via support of cross-selling and upselling efforts interactions offered by 3. Customer Insight - via real-time voice-of-the-customer analytics live Customer Service 4. An Enhanced Customer Experience - by making it easy and enjoyable for Representatives. customers to get answers to their questions when and where they choose. Virtual Agents deliver this broad value because of their ability to engage with, and guide consumers in a virtual conversation – whenever, and in whichever channel, the customer prefers. “Old School” notions like “We want our customers to call us every time they have a question” are all at once antiquated, unmanageable and actually not at all what customers prefer. Here is the dirty little secret of customer service and CRM – Your customers don’t want to talk to you unless and until they REALLY have too! As we mentioned earlier, more traditional online self-service tools, such as Help pages, FAQs and site search fall considerably short of achieving the conversational interaction that is required to make an impact. As such, Virtual Agents represent a major enhancement over antiquated web self-service tools. The best Virtual Agent technologies deliver a virtual interaction that is on-par, or better, than the interactions offered by live Customer Service Representatives—and they do so in a 24x7 manner, 365 days per year, and at a fraction of the operational costs of any contact center. Copa Airlines prominently displays a virtual agent self-service tool on their home page. The ‘Ask Ana’ virtual agent is inviting and engaging to the eye.© 2012 IntelliResponse Systems Inc. 2
  4. 4. Web Self-Service Vendor Selection Guide What to Look For: A Model for Modern Online Self-Service Today’s Virtual Agent technologies are truly revolutionary, with features that are striking and impressive. Before exploring options, it’s useful to have a clear understanding of how available features and functionality will contribute value to your organization on a measurable and strategic level. Without this understanding, an organization can mistakenly deploy a Virtual Agent that may be rich in “cosmetic” features for example, but ultimately fails to deliver maximum value in core areas like accuracy and scale. This section of the guide provides you with a useful and strategic framework that gives context to the many different types of features that you are likely to encounter during your exploration of Virtual Agent technologies. Specifically, this Guide outlines four categories of strategic value, against which your Virtual Agent deployment should ultimately be measured. These four value categories are: Category 1: Customer Adoption & Conversion Does your Virtual Agent provide a compelling and enjoyable interaction experience that your customer base will enthusiastically adopt? In doing so, does it open the door to conversion opportunities leading to new revenues? Category 2: Customer Confidence Does your Virtual Agent instill within the customer a high level of confidence in the information delivered? Can it provide a single correct answer to commonly asked questions at scale and with a high degree of accuracy? Category 3: Customer Choice Does your Virtual Agent offer customers the ability to choose their preferred interaction channels and languages? Category 4: Customer Research Is your Virtual Agent designed to automatically capture interactions and turn voice-of-the- customer data into a strategic asset? Can the solution make this information available to a variety of company stakeholders in an engaging manner? These four categories are explained in detail below, along with useful descriptions of commonly available Virtual Agent features and functionality that pertain to each category. After reading this section, you’ll have a clear idea of exactly how any given feature maps to strategic value. This will help you to build and deploy an online service solution with a balanced feature set, and one that delivers optimal strategic value across all four categories.© 2012 IntelliResponse Systems Inc. 3
  5. 5. Web Self-Service Vendor Selection Guide Category 1: Customer Adoption and Conversion Adoption is enhanced by both the visual appeal and the functional capabilities of the Virtual Agent. For customers to want to engage with your Virtual Agent, the experience must come across as accessible, inviting, easy-to-use and enjoyable. Conversion opportunities (in the form of cross-selling or upselling) only exist once the customer is enjoying the interaction experience with your Virtual Agent, so it’s essential to make the process as engaging and satisfying as possible. Aesthetically, your deployment needs to be flexible to the degree that your branding can be a seamless, integrated part of the experience. This might involve incorporating your existing corporate brand mascot into your VA, or creating a digital avatar that is new and exclusive to the self-service experience, or simply having a clean, clear “Ask Us” option. Flexibility in style and functionality is key. Some VA solutions are deployed as conversational “chat bots” others focus on a traditional question and answer paradigm. Some are purely text-based conversations, while other deployments (mostly in the mobile channel) make use of voice enabled technologies. In addition, your Virtual Agent must be easily accessible, not buried in the “Contact Us” section of your website. Why build a world class self-service deployment only to force your customers to hunt for it throughout your site? All of these options should be available to you (if not necessarily ultimately deployed) to ensure maximum customer adoption. Decisions about your Virtual Agent should be determined by what is best for your company’s unique needs, and should not be restricted by the limits of any one specific vendor technology. RBC dedicates an entire web page to offering customer advice, with a virtual agent self-service tool displayed front and center. The use of their brand mascot, “Arbie” alongside the tool beckons customers to ask questions.© 2012 IntelliResponse Systems Inc. 4
  6. 6. Web Self-Service Vendor Selection Guide Customer Adoption and Conversion – Features and Functionality The following is a description of commonly available features and functionality that can help drive customer adoption for your Virtual Agent deployment – look for these when evaluating vendors in this key area of competence. Personas Virtual Agents can be personified using a variety of available options, including: •Human image – a picture of a real human •Digital Character (non animated) – either leveraging a corporate mascot or a character specifically created for the Virtual Agent experience •Animated Digital Character – same as above, with animated body language and facial expressions. Audio Some Virtual Agents can “speak” to the customer, providing a more engaging and enjoyable experience. The audio feature is also useful for the visually impaired. Voice-to-voice and voice-to-text options can be useful in some scenarios, especially in the mobile arena. Display Style: Chat-bot Questions and answers can appear as vertically “stacked” pieces of text, to mimic the look and feel of an online chat with a real agent. The Virtual Agent can greet the customer and ask questions to better understand intent and tasks. This feature makes the experience unfold as more of a two-way conversation. (Alternatively, questions and their answers can appear singularly, without a running stack of historical questions.) Display Style: Pop-up The Virtual Agent conversation can appear as a pop-up box that appears “on top” of the web page behind it. When the customer clicks anywhere other than the pop-up, the box ‘disappears’ behind the web page and out of view. Display Style: On-page With on-page integration, the Virtual Agent “housing” and the web page co-exists on the screen. This allows the customer to navigate through the web site without the Virtual Agent disappearing from view. Directed Browsing (aka “Push pages”) The Virtual Agent can deliver an answer as well as an actual page from the website with additional relevant content. User-Prompted Escalation At any time during the Virtual Agent interaction, the customer can initiate escalation to a live support or sales agent. Trigger-Based Escalation A Virtual Agent can recognize prompts that trigger seamless escalation to an assisted support channel such as email, online chat, or a call center. Some examples of triggers include customer questions such as “How do I cancel my service?”, “I need to speak to a live representative”, or “How do I purchase your premium-level service?” Feedback (User Ratings and Comments) Visitors can submit real-time feedback on the value of the information being provided, as well as rate their level of satisfaction with the Virtual Agent experience. Comment fields can be used to capture specific feedback, and ‘radio buttons’ can be offered for one-click numeric rating. Session Summary / Transcript and Print The consumer can view and print a transcript of their entire session. Conversion Engine Offers can be presented to customers for cross-selling and upselling. The Virtual Agent can recognize prompts throughout the conversation that trigger corresponding offers to be presented automatically. Social Sharing Clients can share any content from their session by clicking from a selection of popular social media sharing buttons.© 2012 IntelliResponse Systems Inc. 5
  7. 7. Web Self-Service Vendor Selection Guide Category 2: Customer Confidence The ability to regularly and consistently deliver accurate answers to customer queries is the core deliverable of any Virtual Agent deployment. Customers interact with a Virtual Agent for one essential reason – they have a question in mind, and they want to easily find the answer to that question. The relevancy and accuracy of the information delivered to customers by the Virtual Agent is the lynchpin of the online customer experience. Inaccurate or irrelevant answers will truncate the engagement, in turn closing the door on conversion opportunities, ending the opportunity to collect further data from the interaction, and increasing escalation costs as customers look to other channels for resolution. Have a Question? How can I order checks? We hope that the following answers your question: Want To Talk? How do I order checks / cheques? Book an Appointment You can order new cheques online, choosing from many options and designs. You Chat Live Escalation options are easy to see. can even view previous online cheque orders. 1-866-822-6446 Branch & ATM Locator You must activate your account before accessing online cheque orders. To order your cheques: Top Tools & Calculators 1. From the Banking tab under My Accounts, select “Account Services” from the left-hand menu. Foreign Exchange Calculators 2. Select “Order New Cheques.” Savings Calculator 3. Choose the appropriate account from the dropdown menu and follow the Account Selector instructions to complete your order. Credit Card Selector To order cheques for your Royal Credit Line, please contact your RBC Royal Bank Current Rates branch. RBC’s answer page delivers a single right answer. How satisfied are you with this answer? Related questions you may find helpful: How do I order drafts or certified cheques? The customer experience is Other questions that may be similar to what you asked: further enhanced with links to Where do I find My Tax Centre ? contextually relevant information. How do I sign up for the RBC Shoppers Optimum Banking Account? How do I order deposit slips? Accuracy: The 80% Rule Simply put, if your Virtual Agent provider cannot guarantee a minimum accuracy rating of 80% or higher upon launch (meaning, for every 100 questions posed a minimum of 80 return a correct answer, immediately from day one) then select another vendor. Any VA technology worth its salt is “self learning”, meaning that the more the tool is used, the smarter it gets – so this accuracy minimum is just that, a minimum at launch. Within six months, your accuracy rating should be well beyond the 90th percentile.© 2012 IntelliResponse Systems Inc. 6
  8. 8. Web Self-Service Vendor Selection Guide Customer Confidence – Features and Functionality The following features help maximize the relevancy and accuracy of your Virtual Agent’s answers. Natural Language & Intent The brains behind any world class Virtual Agent lie in its ability to recognize natural language questions, text speak, shortforms, even misspelled words, and match these customer inputs to a correct answer within a knowledge base. A Virtual Agent must be able to interpret a variety of short word forms, question fragments and other common data input errors. This effectively “cleans up” the question entered by the user by normalizing data, correcting spelling, substituting similes and generally preparing the question so it can be matched to the appropriate answer. While vendors may solve the critical problem of understanding intent in different ways, at their core, they must be able to understand that “Do you accommodate private functions” and “Can my daughter have her birthday party at your restaurant” are essentially the same question and require the same answer. Virtual Agent technology is most effective when it can understand the intent behind natural language queries and map these elements to a single correct answer. Part of this functionality includes the ability of the Virtual Agent to ask for clarification from the customer if necessary, in order to be able to match the question to the right answer. Predictive Search The most effective type of predictive search combines the benefits of auto-complete functionality with the ability to intelligently suggest the best answer to a customer’s question while the customer is typing their question or search term. A handful of possible suggestions can be presented, intelligently ordered in priority according to the most likely match. As the user types more words and characters, the Virtual Agent can reorder the matches in real time and even highlight the match that is the most probable right answer, for an exceptional self-service experience that can speed resolutions and improve answer accuracy by up to 20%. Related Questions Related questions provides a natural, logical path for the customer to follow as they work towards completion of their goal. When the customer views an answer on the web site, related questions appear in a list, containing responses that have been intelligently linked to the current response. This allows for a strategic and prescriptive approach to self-service, as the consumer is provided with new and relevant information as well as follow-up questions or invitations to purchase. Top 10 Questions (Useful Questions… Not FAQs!) A Virtual Agent can create a continuously-refreshed list of the most relevant questions based on what’s actually being asked by consumers – these are not your father’s FAQ’s but rather should be a dynamically generated (and refreshed) list of the most popular questions actually posed by customers over a customizable period of time. Suggested Questions Suggested questions allow responses to automatically present alternative questions based on similar keywords that match additional responses in the content database. This feature automates the process of presenting intuitive information options to users as they are progressing through their Virtual Agent session.© 2012 IntelliResponse Systems Inc. 7
  9. 9. Web Self-Service Vendor Selection Guide Category 3: Customer Choice Today’s empowered, web-savvy consumers increasingly engage in mobile and social web interactions and now expect stellar self-service experiences across every device, form factor and online destination. Couple this with the expectation that answers be accessible 24x7, across multiple languages and geographies, and there is no avoiding the fact that any Virtual Agent deployment must be nothing short of omnipresent. It is now imperative for companies to offer a seamless and consistent experience in every channel, and then allow each individual customer control over when, where, and how Virtual Agent interaction takes place. To be truly omnipresent, your Virtual Agent must offer a consistent experience across these channels: Website First and foremost, your Virtual Agent must encourage interaction by appearing prominently on your main customer- facing website. Mobile The same Virtual Agent experience should be accessible by any mobile users. In your mobile channel deployment, customers should be able to ask questions on any mobile device in the very same manner that they would on the website, but in an easy-to-view, easy-to navigate experience that is optimized for mobile screens. The overall experience should be simple and satisfying for the customer, without excessive scrolling that is cumbersome on smaller screens. Social The same Virtual Agent experience should be accessible on your organization’s social media channel, such as Facebook. Deploying a Virtual Agent on a social channel is a way to differentiate your Facebook page and increase engagement on the hugely popular site. The social deployment includes the same features available in the web deployment. CSR Desktop Empowering Customer Service Representatives with the very same Virtual Agent technology on CSR desktops is a proven way to speed time-to-resolution and consistency of answers across all interaction channels. International Virtual Agents can support full internationalization (i.e. multiple global languages), making it easier for organizations to provide a truly seamless, global web self-service experience. CIBC is a global bank that uses virtual agent technology to deliver a consistent online self-service experience to customers on the iPad (pictured on the left), mobile phone (on the right) and on their customer facing website.© 2012 IntelliResponse Systems Inc. 8
  10. 10. Web Self-Service Vendor Selection Guide Category 4: Customer Research: The Power of VOC Your Virtual Agent deployment has the opportunity to perform ‘double duty’ by being a highly fruitful and reliable source of voice of the customer insight – the kind of intimate customer insight that is usually procured via costly focus groups, surveys and interviews. The modern VA has the potential to become a high-value, real-time research agent. While many VA’s and web self-service agents focus on the front end engagement aspects, finding one that leverages the wealth of information inside the DATA resulting from millions of customer questions can open up a whole new world of value you may not have believed possible. Ask how your potential technology partners can track and measure all aspects of customer questions and extract key voice-of- the-customer data from these interactions automatically. What’s more, inquire how these insights can be packaged in real-time, in a highly-visual reporting fashion that makes the data easy to understand and actionable across your organization. Visual Reporting The right Virtual Assistant technology will be able to derive actionable themes, trends and insights from customer interactions, and FREE EVALUATION OF YOUR WEB automatically generate visual reports that are useful for marketers, SELF-SERVICE CAPABILITIES customer service managers, customer experience executives, contact center managers, and IT managers. Get a FREE evaluation of your organization’s web self-service Here are some examples of available reporting and voice-of-the-customer capabilities with the Forrester/ features that should be on your ‘must-have’ list: IntelliResponse Online Self-Service •View historical trends in configurable charts and theme clouds Assessment Survey. •View aggregate user ratings Send an email to: •Get an immediate picture of key customer interests with Unanswered / Answered questions summary eval@intelliresponse.com •View consumer thought behavior by seeing a summation of question and response sessions •Compare/contrast user questions in different departments or line of business Similarly, here’s a list of data reporting capabilities you should expect from your technology partner: Data Reporting Features •View every single question asked and response given by using Question Listing Reports •Get an entire snapshot of your knowledgebase and criteria •Learn if any links on your website are dead or broken with the Link Validation Report •View your most frequently asked questions from any timeframe The top customer concerns for an insurance company, •See the countries or regions where your consumers’ questions originate in this example, are automatically presented in this instantly understandable theme cloud. •Find out how many changes are being made to your knowledgebase over time Questions About this Guide? For questions on any part of this Guide, contact IntelliResponse at 1-866-454-0084 or info@intelliresponse.com About IntelliResponse Systems IntelliResponse is the leading provider of virtual agent technology solutions for the enterprise. Our patented Enterprise Virtual Agent solutions create profitable online conversations for hundreds of leading organizations across North America and Europe. For more information about IntelliResponse, visit www.IntelliResponse.com.© 2012 IntelliResponse Systems Inc. 9