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Live chat vs. chatbots: 5 advantages of a virtual agent (and 1 way it can improve it)

February 21, 2020

Live chat was a step in the right direction in digitizing the customer experience, but conversational AI is here to blow the doors off what is possible for the modern contact center

The digital shift that consumers have undergone over the last decade has been seismic. It’s clearly visible in the mass adoption of smartphones, the prevalence of social media and the fact that we now do most of our shopping online. Customer service is, too, undergoing a critical transition from traditional channels such as telephone and e-mail, to online chat - a more modern, immediate contact method that allows consumers to interact with the brands they care about without leaving their digital comfort zone.

At first, incorporating live chat into a company’s customer service strategy seemed like a smart move - it satisfied the criteria of meeting customers in a medium that they enjoy using. But, as it became more popular, the usual customer service pain points - long wait times, availability of staff, managing spikes in traffic, etc. - quickly followed. With the advent of conversational AI, these challenges are now much more easily mitigated. Combining the popularity and ease of access that online chat offers, with the automation potential of artificial intelligence, makes for a perfect pairing that can help a business reduce costs in the contact center by presenting a number of unique advantages.

1) Unlimited scalability

The biggest downside of live chat is that it only has the capacity to help as many customers as there are available customer service reps. This bottleneck can lead to massive queues and unhappy customers who have to wait in line to have even the most simple requests actioned. A virtual agent removes this barrier as it can simultaneously handle an unlimited amount of requests at once, automating things that would normally take time and effort for human support staff.

Conversational AI also has the advantage of being able to scale itself to handle not only enormous volumes of traffic, but also thousands of different topics. Typically, chatbots can manage a few hundred general topics but tend to fall apart as a business’ needs grow. A virtual agent built using conversational AI has the capacity to answer any and all questions about your company without compromising on customer experience and comes with pre-built content across key verticals (i.e. banking, insurance, telco, etc.) helping to drastically minimize deployment timelines.

2) Always available

Giving customers 24/7 access to customer support via traditional channels can be incredibly cost-prohibitive. It requires hiring additional staff outside of business hours and, often, paying a premium to do so. A virtual agent doesn’t care when it works and will happily answer questions for your customers in the evening, during weekends and on public holidays without ever asking for a raise or time off in lieu.

The convenience of allowing customers to get in touch when it’s right for them has a knock-on effect that means that they will be less likely to get in contact during busy periods, lessening the strain on your contact center.

3) Instant action

Even when you do eventually get hold of a customer service rep, it can invariably take time for them to complete your request as they have to adhere to standardized scripts and macros to ensure they don’t go ‘off-brand’. Conversational AI can instantly automate a variety of core business transactions (blocking a credit card, filing an insurance claim, upgrading a mobile data package, etc.) by leveraging existing customer account data.

4) Unrivaled accuracy

Understanding customer queries is the key to maximizing resolution rates. Thanks to advances in Natural Language Understanding technologies, conversational AI is able to answer correctly in over 80% of cases, which helps to bolster trust and confidence in a virtual agent, ensuring that customers leave the interaction with a positive impression and happily return the next time they have any questions.

5) Airtight compliance

Another advantage of a virtual agent over live chat is that it always has the same, exact answers every time. That makes it incredibly useful for meeting compliance standards, whether that means strict GDPR regulations in the EU, or your company’s own internal policies. A virtual agent leaves no margin for error when it comes to transparency, accountability and the protection of data.

Customers also have complete autonomy over their chat logs, able to request and download transcripts as necessary at the click of a button.

6) AI-assisted human chat

The advantage that live chat has over a virtual agent is that, sometimes, a customer just wants to speak to a human. This is understandable as, after all, the entire history of customer service has essentially been human-to-human contact, and while a virtual agent is more efficient, accurate and always available, it can take time for some people to adjust before they realize that a machine can give them all the help that they need.

Luckily, conversational AI can be just as useful in these situations. Instead of deploying a customer-facing virtual agent that interacts directly with your customers, it’s possible to have a friendly robo-helper assisting customer support staff from behind-the-scenes.

An internal virtual agent provides an instant, accurate and consistent source of information about products and services, that can be relayed back to customers in real-time, and has a proven automation rate of over 95%.

As always, the goal should be a great customer experience, no matter if it comes from a virtual agent, a human or both at the same time.