data collection

Virtual Agents in the Contact Center: Data Gathering Made Easy

When it comes to reducing expenses within contact center operations, one of the best ways to do so is to reduce the amount of time that live agents spend on the phone. With that being said, one of the biggest time-consumers of live agent minutes comes from repetitive and tedious data gathering. This happens on virtually every call, as agents generally perform customer identification duties whether or not the system has already done so (more on that later). But there are dozens of other processes in which agents collect information from a customer over the phone, and these calls aren’t just long, they’re expensive. Many companies have been able to significantly reduce live agent minutes and the average handle time for calls by using virtual agents to take over the drudgery of data gathering.

Data gathering for account authentication, product registration, data entry, and other types of form-filling can often be a long, boring, and unproductive use of time for live agents. But because the majority of data points and information cannot be captured by touchtone or single-word command menus, agents are left handling these routine processes—sometimes 30 or more times per day. This may seem like a small number, but it adds up quickly: in a 100-agent contact center with an average handle time of two minutes for data-gathering, that’s 6,000 agent minutes per day! These repetitive calls often come in high volumes, but are low-value, tedious conversations that simply bog down live agents. But with advancements in speech recognition, AI, and cloud-enablement, these upfront data gathering processes can be quickly and efficiently handled by virtual agents before passing on to live agents, if needed, along with all information captured.

With virtual agents, the process of gathering data can be fully contained within automation, so that live agents don’t have to do the boring and redundant tasks. But even if calls are not fully contained, which is known as partial automation, there are still great benefits. The key is that by implementing conversational AI with natural language capabilities, companies are successfully offloading hundreds of thousands of agent minutes and significantly reducing expenses within the call center.

Interestingly, one of the biggest challenges for companies who are using virtual agents for data-gathering and form-filling is change management in the contact center. Even though virtual agents are performing flawlessly, agents tend not to trust the automation at first and re-authenticate callers, adding handle time and customer frustration to the call. A smartly crafted agent education and change management program helps make the AI automation—and the contact center overall—more successful from the start.

One example comes from a leading medical supplier that had large volumes of incoming calls to their contact center that were often tedious and took a long time to complete. Under strict HIPAA regulations, they found that it took their agents around three minutes to properly and securely authenticate each caller. Following the implementation of virtual agents to handle caller authentication, in which three pieces of data must be collected and validated, the company significantly cut authentication times in half to approximately 90 seconds. Not only were callers authenticated more quickly with virtual agents, which is great for customer effort, but the medical supplier also reduced live agent handle times as well. Cloud-based virtual agents seamlessly integrated with existing IVR and contact center platform so the company did not need to upgrade or replace anything in their contact center. Callers were authenticated and contained within automation, and this company was able to limit their reliance on live agents and save costs. This healthcare company is now addressing additional processes like order management and billing, automating approximately 75,000 calls per month. But even with just their initial automation effort, they have experienced a 65% cost savings in their contact center.

This is just one example of front-end data gathering in which virtual agents are outperforming live agents and saving call centers significant time and money. There are several more, especially for processes that are essentially form-filling: product registrations, program enrollments, insurance policy verifications, tax credit verifications, and more.

Check back next month for the third of our four-part series on how virtual agents are automating the contact center!