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February 2005

Personal Preference: Live Agent Or Virtual Agent?

By Tracey Schelmetic, Editorial Director
Customer Interaction Solutions® magazine

If you’re like me, the answer is, “It depends.” If you’re a customer service organization, the trick is in understanding when your customers are likely to want to speak with a human, and when they’re more than happy to interact with a virtual agent. Regardless of what technology vendors will tell you, there are certain things self-service technologies can do, and can do well, and there are certain things self-service technologies simply cannot do.

Speech technology will never be able to calm an angry or belligerent customer, save the business of an unsatisfied, defecting customer or make a potential new customer feel good about himself or herself, leading to that person’s loyal business. Speech and self-service technologies are a long way from being able to optimally handle a confused customer or skillfully upsell and cross-sell an existing one.

On the flip side, many customers like their simpler, more straightforward transactions to be as painless and quick as possible. If a customer wants only to find out if check number 537 was presented to his electric company, it’s safe to assume that he wants it done fast, and would prefer to accomplish the task without the necessity of making opening and closing “polite human interaction chit-chat” with an agent. Self-service technologies don’t get offended if you don’t say “hello” and “goodbye.” They don’t mind if you yell at the dog to quit chasing squirrels in the back yard while they’re directing you (“they” being the virtual agents, not the squirrels) to press one if you’d like to hear options in Spanish. Hanging up on a live agent immediately after she tells you the check was presented last Tuesday may not be against the law, but it will surely earn you an unpleasant tag on your record in the company’s CRM database.

As we all know, no two people are the same in their preferences, so the optimal solution is to ensure both resources are available, live agents and self-service options, in the correct balance, and allow customers to decide which option they would prefer, and when. It’s not unusual that an agent-assisted call can easily be completed via self-service, or that frequently a self-service call must escalate to a live-agent to preserve the customer relationship.

Understanding when to do what can only be done by those who know your call center intimately.

[ Return To February 2005 Table Of Contents ]

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