Independent analyst firm CCM Benchmark predicts that virtual agent implementations will be an industry standard in 3 to 5 years, a critical component in customer services and even the main point of contact in 2014.
The firm surveyed 57 global ecommerce leaders in Q1 2011 on their plans for deploying virtual agents as part of their customer service strategy. This group predicts a 100% increase in virtual agents in 2011, with that number skyrocketing to 400% by 2014. Virtual agents are services such as an automated, intelligent, virtual human on a website, assisting consumers during purchases or for customer service in natural language, therefore also often referred as virtual assistants.
In addition to the growth predictions, the majority of respondents cited use of the virtual agent for “right channeling” purposes as the most promising emerging application. Integration of the AI avatars with live chat (66%) and use of the virtual assistant as the point of first contact for all online customer interactions (56%) gained the most interest.
This study meets findings from VirtuOz 2011 user conference, at which 75% of respondents agreed that virtual agents will be used as the first point of contact for online sales and service by 2014.
Additional value drivers highlighted in the study include:
- 67% note eDeflection from higher cost customer service channels as a key benefit of VAs.
- 51% believe that VAs will increase their “customer requests” handling capacity.
- 36% believe virtual agents will provide insight into user trends to determine and optimize new service issues as they arise.
- 33% believe that VAs will address search limitations.
“Ecommerce vendors serve on-line savvy consumers who are demanding more sophisticated self-service tools that offer a richer and more satisfying customer experience,” said Steve Adams, CEO and president of VirtuOz, a US/European provider of virtual agents for online customer service.
Chatbots.org also noted a steep rise of interest in the application of virtual assistants in customer services. The website lists all implementations of virtual humans across the world in three main categories: customer services, e-learning and gaming. The application in the customer service area is growing fast; in 2010, 95% of registered implementations were related to customer service and e-commerce.