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Conversational AI and COVID-19: impact and future trends

December 8, 2020

How the pandemic has accelerated the adoption of conversational AI and and what’s next

When the COVID-19 pandemic brought the world’s economies to a screeching halt in the spring of 2020, the customer service industry was among the hardest hit. Across all sectors, businesses and organizations saw an unprecedented overnight surge in customer service traffic with phone lines, email inboxes and chat windows flooded by the questions and concerns of people directly or indirectly impacted by the coronavirus.

As large portions of the global workforce went into lockdown, businesses were forced to think creatively about how to manage this new normal. Analysts predicted a seismic jump in digital adoption, with data from McKinsey & Company showing that we had leaped forward five years in consumer and business digital adoption in a matter of only eight weeks.

Along with telemedicine and remote-work technologies, conversational AI is widely recognized as one of the leading technologies that drove digital adoption during the early stages of the pandemic. Chatbots and virtual agents could be developed and deployed with minimal turnaround time in order to help relieve pressure on overworked contact centers.

In a report published in April 2020, the International Data Corporation (IDC) recognized the widespread adoption of conversational AI. Government agencies, healthcare providers, non-profit organizations and businesses in virtually every industry were quick to adopt the technology as an effective method of responding to large influxes of customer calls while many onshore and offshore call centers closed down due to work-at-home policies and social distancing.

Automated customer service in a crisis

Boost.ai’s own data, from our stable of 200+ live virtual agents across 10 industries, backs up these trends. In March 2020, when the first wave of the pandemic hit, we saw average weekly virtual agent traffic increase by over 200 percent in the insurance sector, with public sector and government virtual agents seeing weekly volumes rise by over 300 percent. Our clients were able to quickly mitigate this unexpected uptick in customer service traffic by training their virtual agents to answer questions related to COVID-19 and its impact on their business and customers.

The Norwegian Labour and Welfare Administration successfully automated over 270,000 inquiries at the height of the pandemic’s first wave with a success rate of over 80 percent. Silvercar by Audi piloted and launched a virtual agent for COVID-19 response in a matter of days allowing the luxury car rental company to respond to customers quickly and consistently. Leading Norwegian bank, Sparebank 1 SR-Bank, deployed a unique integration that, combined with Robotic Process Automation (RPA), made it possible for customers impacted by the pandemic to automate the process of home loan forbearance via its virtual agent without needing to speak to a human agent.

Conversational AI, post-pandemic

59% of consumers say that, in a post-COVID-19 world, they care even more than before about customer experience when deciding where to spend their money and what brands to support. Gartner forecasts that when the world does eventually return to a degree of normality, the adoption of conversational AI is expected to increase at a much higher rate than pre-pandemic. Crucially, Gartner also states that the companies already on their way to adopting this technology will have a clear advantage going forward.

Even with multiple vaccines on the horizon, it’s difficult to say when (or whether) we will fully get back to business as usual. What is clear, however, is that the rapid adoption of automated customer service won’t be going away any time soon.