While the term “reimagining” has been a commonly used buzzword in the contact centre industry for years, and one that I’m guilty of using myself in the past, the current coronavirus crisis has forced the industry to move quickly from the realm of imagination to the hard truth of reality.
Artificial intelligence (AI) is a technology category that the contact centre has been fascinated by for the past several years, without feeling any pressure to adopt and implement AI-enabled solutions faster than any other new technology that has been introduced to the industry during the past four decades. However, current circumstances have replaced this relaxed attitude with the need to quickly reevaluate adoption strategies when it comes to AI-enabled solutions that will benefit both customers and employees during these unprecedented times.
To be fair, AI-enabled solutions such as intelligent virtual agents (IVAs) have not gone unnoticed by the industry. In fact, recent research indicates that the introduction of automated intelligent virtual agents ranks among the top five 2020 industry challenges for the contact industry, as illustrated in Figure 1 below.
Figure 1: Top 5 Industry Challenges for 2020 / Source: Saddletree Research
The data above, and all the data that will be shared in this blog, is the result of the 2020 survey of contact centre professionals that was conducted by Saddletree Research in conjunction with the not-for-profit National Association of Call Centres (NACC). This survey has been conducted annually since 2009 and the results are representative of the North American contact centre with a 95 percent confidence level and a margin of error of slightly less than four percent.
Actual deployment of AI-enabled IVAs has been making steady if not spectacular market progress over the past few years. Figure 2 below illustrates actual IVA deployments from 2017 to 2019. As the data shows, penetration reached about 16 percent by 2019, generating revenues of about $14M.
Figure 2: IVA Penetration 2017 – 2019
The customer service challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic have more than amply illustrated the impact that deployment of IVAs could potentially have on the contact centre industry. Consider the tens of thousands of routine calls that have gone unanswered due to sheer volume but could have likely been answered by a conversational IVA. One major airline, for example, experienced 25,000 calls in one day following the pandemic shutdown on March 12. Their usual daily volume of calls is about 2,500. Even with the authorization of unlimited agent overtime and calling in their backup BPO in Las Vegas to take overflow calls, about 20,000 calls went unanswered. This could have been avoided if an IVA had been employed.
IVAs are designed to offload routine calls, such as calls about changing a reservation or cancelling a flight, and freeing human agents to tackle more complex customer inquiries. Like most cloud-based solutions, IVAs are highly scalable and easily deployed. They are the ideal enterprise solution for times like these, with pandemic-driven uncertainty driving up call volumes in nearly every market. As a result, we expect to see a dramatic surge in demand for IVAs in the years ahead and have revised our five-year forecast for this solution accordingly, as illustrated in Figure 3 below.
Figure 3: AI-Enabled IVA Growth 2019 – 2024 / Source: Saddletree Research
As this forecast indicates, IVAs are poised to move to the head of the industry class when it comes to market growth in the years ahead. Driven by greater market understanding of the power of IVAs in both good times and bad, and their usefulness as an enterprise solution that reaches beyond the contact centre, the IVA market is forecast to reach an impressive compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 64.2 percent over the five-year period 2020 – 2024. The future is exceptionally bright for the deployment and growth of AI-enabled IVAs.
AI-enabled IVAs is one of four technology segments that Saddletree identified as offering notably strong growth potential in the post-pandemic era. These growth segments were the topic of my presentation at the Verint Virtual event this past May. If you’re interested in gaining a greater understanding of these four technology growth segments, including AI-enabled IVAs, a download of my session and others can be found here by searching on “Paul Stockford.”
(If you have not previously registered for Verint Virtual, you will need to do that before accessing this session.)