Businesses everywhere are under pressure to deliver better service at less cost. Most have looked at some form of digital solution, but do they really work?

Ryan Falkenberg, co-CEO of Clevva, comments: “Virtual agents are constantly evolving and becoming more sophisticated. They are designed to simulate human-like conversations through websites, messaging platforms, mobile apps, phone systems, and even visual representations like holograms.

“The conversational AI industry is predicted to expand from $9,6-billion in 2023 to $47,6-billion in 2033, as a result of technological advancements and improvements in AI. They understand user queries, provide relevant responses, or perform specific tasks.”

e shares six ways virtual agents (VAs) are currently being used worldwide to achieve their goals:

* South Africa: Query resolution, automated – Telecommunications company Telkom offers its customers a virtual agent called Thuso to help resolve technical and billing-related queries via the website, app and WhatsApp channels. Where relevant, Thuso not only helps diagnose the issue but also looks to resolve it by triggering relevant actions in back office systems. Thuso handles over 2,5-million customer queries a year, leaving more time for human agents to handle the high impact, high relationship conversations.

* Brazil: Inbound calls, automated – Telecommunications company TIM Brasil recently ramped up its customer service offering with virtual agent TAIS. In a realistic human voice and with the ability to convey emotion, TAIS takes incoming customer calls, answers consumer questions and resolves problems related to packages and bill payments among others. “Since the launch of the virtual agent, the company reports that more than three million calls have been completed and call retention has grown 75%, all without human intervention,” Falkenberg says.

* Korea: Cutting bureaucracy down to size – The Korean government has developed a smartphone-based virtual agent named GoodPy which provides personalised administrative information for citizens and handles inquiries. It also sends notifications on things like driver’s licence renewals, scholarship applications and fines to more than 12 million citizens and residents.

* UK: Round the clock healthcare support – AXA Global Healthcare’s Remi is a digital text- and voice-based assistant that helps customers 24/7, on any device. Remi engaged in more than 22,000 conversations within the first few months of launching, guiding customers to the right health information and support. It quickly moves users to the most appropriate next step, whether that’s viewing their online account, accessing virtual care services, finding a medical provider, or connecting them to one of AXA Global Healthcare’s personal advisers. It can also give personalised health advice and check symptoms on Mayo Clinic’s clinical assessment platform. The symptom checker provides a report for users, summarising current symptoms, with clear next steps, including potential medical providers, wherever they are in the world.

* UK: Up close and personal – British telecommunications company BT Group is piloting a digital assistant named Aimee, helps its mobile division EE’s customers with a variety of queries – from questions about the weather to queries about bills and services. “Aimee currently understands 60% of customer queries and has a Net Promoter Score of 60 – a very good score in any industry,” says Falkenberg.

* US: Eliminating roadblocks to customer assistance – Recreational vehicle vendor Camping World rolled out virtual agent Arvee when a surge in customers led to lagging call centre response times. As a result of dynamic routing and capacity management, Arvee’s response times are faster and more efficient. Human agents take over more complex conversations when necessary. Arvee’s after-hours lead generation lets live agents keep track of and follow up with customer inquiries.

“Virtual agents like these will increasingly automate the time urgent, high volume, repetitive and rule-bound operational conversations companies need to have with their customers,” says Falkenberg. “This creates space for human agents to have the relationship-building and mending conversations required to build customer and brand loyalty.”