Virtual agent networks: the future of customer experience

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Connecting multiple virtual agents together through a single chat window opens up enormous potential for large organizations.

Conversational AI is already making inroads into changing how customers interact with brands. Gartner predicts that by 2021, 15 percent of all customer service interactions will be handled solely by AI - up 400 percent from 2017. An impressive number that’s only expected to increase as the technology behind virtual agents continues to improve exponentially.

An interesting facet of artificial intelligence is that it doesn’t have to exist in a vacuum. While many companies choose to implement a singular virtual agent to handle all incoming customer inquiries, there is a strong case to be made for larger organizations deploying what amounts to a network of virtual agents.

Large companies tend to fall into the trap of siloing off departments behind a barricade of red tape and processes that can make life difficult for their customers. No one enjoys calling a bank only to be put on hold for 10 minutes because they’ve reached the wrong department, the operator on the other line hurriedly struggling to track down the person they should actually be speaking to. Breaking down these informational silos within an organization can improve the overall customer experience and a virtual agent network offers a unique way of achieving this.

For starters, each department (or sub-company, in the case of multi-organizational structures) can build their own virtual agent complete with unique branding and content. Where the real ‘magic’ happens is via the power of conversational artificial intelligence. Using advanced machine learning and proprietary neural networks like automatic semantic understanding, conversational AI is able to proactively switch customers between virtual agents when it identifies a necessity - and all within the same chat window. This maximizes efficiency and drastically reduces wait times for customers - keeping human operators free and available to answer more complex queries as they arise.

A virtual agent network (or VAN) is also highly customizeable. Each organization sets the parameters that define the network such as whether customers will be switched between virtual agents dynamically based on predictions by the conversational AI, or if manual switching will be handled via buttons and links. Privacy is also a major factor in any network, and a well-deployed VAN complies with GDPR and data privacy mandates across organizations and between departments, as required,

Connecting governmental agencies

There are also practical applications for a network of virtual agents outside of the private sector. In November 2018, the Finnish government, in partnership with Accenture Finland and Boost.ai, launched the world’s first virtual agent network.

“Together with Boost.ai, the Finnish Immigration Service is helping to pioneer a network of virtual assistants that will allow us to better connect users across multiple governmental agencies,” says Vesa Hagström, Director of Development, Finnish Immigration Service. Connecting three previously disparate departments - immigration, taxation and patent & company registration - this unique VAN is designed to help foreign entrepreneurs looking to start a business in Finland that would typically be unable to have all their questions answered by a single virtual agent.

The Finnish immigration department, Migri, has reported a steady decline month-on-month in the volume of inbound calls to its customer center since the launch of the VAN. “After a very successful pilot, we rolled out the service in full by the end of 2018, contributing to the long-term vision of the Finnish government in developing new multi-organizational services for different customer groups.” added Hagström. Whereas previously they were only able to answer fewer than 20 percent of incoming inquiries, having access to a network of connected agents is now helping Migri to not only answer questions on immigration but seamlessly transfer customers to the correct virtual agents in other departments if they have additional queries regarding taxes or company registration.

While a single virtual agent is more than capable of containing the wealth of an entire organization’s knowledge and efficiently answering thousands of customer queries simultaneously, the implications of a network of connected virtual agents powered by conversational AI truly shines a light on the potential for what this technology can offer business and governments in the immediate future.