Delivering a Better Service Experience with AI-enabled Virtual Agents

Corporate IT departments have long known the power of automation, with the ability to achieve “better, faster, cheaper” operations and outcomes through technology. Now, these IT departments, including IT service management (ITSM) teams, have the opportunity to combine artificial intelligence (AI)-enabled capabilities with automation to achieve even more. Whether you wish to call it AI, intelligent automation, or something else, there’s no doubt that AI-enabled capabilities – that leverage machine learning and natural language understanding (NLU) in particular – are just what IT departments need to meet the growing needs of their parent organizations and their key stakeholders, especially employees.

What matters most to your organization?

As with any change or improvement, there’s likely a need to focus limited resources on what will make the most significant difference or “what matters most.” Your organization probably has multiple needs for improvement, whether this is financially focused, such as reducing costs or increasing margins. Or customer-focused such as improving the customer experience (CX) or increasing customer retention levels, or even socially-focused related to sustainability. These might all be improved outcomes, but what about knowing how to best improve operations?

This opportunity is where employee experience data comes to the fore. With this data, if collected and used correctly, you are able to highlight what matters most to employees for them to do the work they need to do when they need to do it. Various factors will influence this need, including tackling issues that your IT department might not know about because of the operational focus and limitations of traditional IT metrics.

This measure of employee experience, or the service experience, is critical for understanding whether IT services and support capabilities are helping or hindering employees in being productive and, ultimately, in delivering the outcomes your organization needs.

How AI helps

AI offers similar benefits to traditional automation but expands upon them with increased speed and reduced costs. AI not only amplifies these traditional automation benefits, but significantly improves service experiences too. Virtual agents are a great example of this, as this is where AI delivers relevant knowledge and automated actions to end-users based on the context of their needs rather than keywords or intelligent predictive analytics and as a result, IT issues can be identified and addressed before they get a chance to affect operations and outcomes adversely.

These AI benefits are provided by a variety of AI-enabled ITSM capabilities such as:

  • Chatbots or virtual agents for end-users
  • Virtual assistants for service and support staff 
  • Intelligent search and broader AI-enabled knowledge management capabilities
  • AI-powered ticket triage
  • Intelligent predictive analytics.

The majority of IT professionals already understand the value that AI can bring. For example, a Q4 2021 AXELOS and ITSM.tools ITSM Benchmarking survey found that 71% of respondents believe that AI will improve employee satisfaction, with only 22% thinking not.

A separate 2021 survey by ITSM.tools found that chatbots, or virtual agents, are the most popular AI-enabled capability used across multiple business functions (28%), with an additional 17% usage level solely in IT. Another 31% of organizations plan to adopt chatbots.

These figures might surprise you, but they are an important insight into how the inclusion of AI-enabled capabilities – such as virtual agents – in ITSM tools is helping to drive AI adoption in IT and other business functions.

How virtual agents improve the service experience

The use of virtual agents or chatbots by end-users delivers benefits across all three of “better, faster, cheaper.” However, it’s important to appreciate that virtual agents need to provide better service experiences for employees to use them consistently. It’s only through the higher levels of usage that the anticipated financial benefits of AI adoption can be realized. 

However, don’t be enticed into adopting virtual agents to save money because, as with traditional self-service capabilities, the focus on cost-cutting is unlikely to attract the level of end-user adoption required to deliver the anticipated return on investment. Instead, make the primary focus of virtual agents a better service experience. If this is done right, the efficiency and financial benefits will follow adoption. 

Virtual agents or chatbots improve the service experiences in many ways. For example:

  • Empowering the end-user to self-help in a more intuitive, conversational way – where they can dictate the speed of the interaction and access human help if needed
  • 24/7 IT support availability (especially if the service desk only operates “business hours”)
  • Better meeting end-user expectations (that are increasingly being influenced by superior consumer-world experiences)
  • End-users get quicker access to the information or IT support they need – they lose less productivity as a result
  • Offering more access and communications choices for service and support. 

Importantly, the additional choice is more than simply offering a chatbot – because there are multiple ways in which a virtual agent can be employed and accessed. For example, from within the corporate IT self-service portal, via an app on a mobile device, or within collaborative-working tools such as Slack, Jabber or Microsoft Teams. 

Getting your AI-enabled virtual agent investments right

The IT industry is still learning with AI-enabled virtual agents in the same way that many organizations are still improving their IT self-service capabilities. In fact, there’s much that organizations can learn from the introduction of self-service that can be applied to virtual agents given the similarity between them, i.e. they both involve an employee engaging with technology to receive help, information, or services. Plus, technology providers can leverage the learnings of their existing customer successes in helping new customers with AI adoption.

There are some basic tenets for virtual agent success. These include:

  • Starting with the right primary motivation, ideally better service experiences, not cost-cutting.
  • Recognizing that virtual agents are more than simply technology-based change, with the need for organizational change management tools and techniques to deal with the people-change involved.
  • Appreciating that choice is essential and that some employees will still prefer “the human touch.”
  • Making access to virtual agents easy and the “customer journeys” aligned to how end-users expect to access help, information, and services. Remember that consumer-world virtual agents are the drivers of employee expectations.
  • Ensuring that the service experience and outcomes are superior to phoning or emailing the IT service desk. If they’re not, virtual agent adoption levels will suffer. So make it easy to use and quicker to reach the desired outcome.

If you would like to learn more about delivering a better service experience with AI-powered virtual agents, click here to learn more.