There is an emerging trend in the call centre industry where more and more companies are employing what are called the V-Reps or Virtual Representatives. They are automated online personalities (software) that emulate the best in human customer service by providing personalised and immediate answers to customer questions via two-way natural language dialogue. Such v-reps could easily take up mundane call centre work like answering bank account queries, giving out travel information, product information and even answer some IT help desk queries.|
In fact, one of the biggest threats to the $8.4-billion BPO industry in India is not that some other country will be able to take away the work from us but that virtual representatives (v-reps) might take up the jobs of a BPO agent. This gives rise to the fear that many agents may lose their jobs or there will be less demand for fresh graduates from regular colleges, who typically handle these activities.
Globally, companies like Convergys, GlaxoSmithkline, Ford Motors, Amtrax, Deutsche Telecom, Coca-Cola, Bank of America and others have been using v-reps to handle certain customer queries. For instance, Ford has been using a virtual service technician, named Ernie for the last few years to provide 24-hour internal technical support to technicians at various Ford dealerships in the US.
Virtual representatives have become a popular choice since they can help customers and employees find information faster than they can through alternative channels, such as phone or email. V-reps also reduce customer service and technical support costs. The benefits of such agents are that they work round the clock, without a break and can reduce inefficiencies.Whether or not they are assigned human names, these v-reps are actually robots or, more specifically, human-relationship-emulating bots that are powered by artificial-intelligence software.
NativeMinds, a manufacturer of automated customer-service agents in San Francisco, designs its bots to customer specifications. Other companies creating virtual agents include Artificial Life Inc, Finali Corp and LifeFX Inc, to name a few.
In the coming years the companies are expected to employ more such agents to work along side humans. According to sources in Convergys, one of the leading call centre companies, there will emerge a trend where a combination of human and v-reps will be used to answer queries in future. For instance, if a caller wants to register an address change the call can be handled by a virtual agent sitting on a server in the US. On the other hand, if a caller wants to, say, get in-depth information on a new banking product or has a query that a v-rep cannot answer, then the query is escalated to a human agent, based out of its centre in Gurgaon.
Employing V-reps will obviously impact at least some of the routine query handling jobs, but experts do not see them taking over human agents completely. In truth v-reps have a long way to go as human interaction pattern is tough to replicate.