A quarter of customer service and support operations will integrate virtual customer assistant (VCA) or chatbot technology across engagement channels by 2020, up from less than two per cent in 2017, according to Gartner.

Speaking at the Gartner Customer Experience Summit in Tokyo last week, Gene Alvarez, managing VP at Gartner, said more than half of organisations have already invested in VCAs for customer service, as they realise the advantages of automated self-service, together with the ability to escalate to a human agent in complex situations.

“As more customers engage on digital channels, VCAs are being implemented for handling customer requests on websites, mobile apps, consumer messaging apps and social networks,” Alvarez said.

“This is underpinned by improvements in natural-language processing, machine learning and intent-matching capabilities.”

Organisations report a reduction of up to 70 per cent in call, chat and/or email inquiries after implementing a VCA, according to Gartner research. They also report increased customer satisfaction and a 33 per cent saving per voice engagement.

“A great VCA offers more than just information,” said Alvarez. “It should enrich the customer experience, help the customer throughout the interaction and process transactions on behalf of the customer.”

Ryan Lester, Director of Customer Engagement Technologies at LogMeIn, said the research validated a growing trend and indicates a bright future for  AI in the customer service industry.

“As customers become more comfortable with emerging channels of engagement like chatbots, for many, a call center is no longer the ideal place to get an answer to a simple question,” Lester said.

“For many companies, these technologies offer a great and cost-effective way to consistently deliver high-quality customer experiences at scale. We’ve moved far beyond the IVR of days past to a place where AI-powered digital self-service solutions can now self-learn and connect with customers in a more human, personal and contextual way. That being said, the need for human interaction is not extinct. There needs to be a harmony between the bots and humans that helps to balance the efficiency of the chatbots with the emotional intelligence of a human connection.”

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