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Automated Interactive Customer Contact (Chat, SMS/Text, and Virtual Agent) Solutions have a Strong Future if they are Deployed Wisely
Automated interactive self-service solutions have evolved from interactive voice response (IVR) to include automated chat, SMS/text, and virtual agents (VA). Frost & Sullivan categorizes them as “automated interactive customer contact” (AICC) solutions.
AICC solutions are popular with companies principally because such applications lower costs by shrinking the volume and/or the duration of interactions handled by live agents. AICC applications also enhance the Customer Experience by eliminating agent queues. And by both supplying vital information to customers and allowing customers to conduct transactions if agents are not available, AICC applications provide business continuity/disaster recovery (BC/DR).
But AICC solutions will demonstrate returns on investment to companies only if consumers can easily interact with companies through these applications. The key question facing companies is not whether to deploy AICC solutions, but how best to implement them.
Market Growth Commentary
There is little doubt that AICC solutions are becoming more popular with companies. Frost & Sullivan forecasts continued growth of IVR, which is the largest AICC component, over the next several years.
There also is growing demand for automated chat, which we believe will take a greater share of the Web chat market. We forecast that total annual Web chat revenues will rise from $xx million in 2012 to $xx million by 2017.
At the same time, most AICC solutions have been moving to the cloud. Cloud/hosting allows companies to cut costs even further by avoiding capital outlays, and to adjust solution capacity to match contact volume. Hosting also enables rapid application ramp-up. Additionally, hosting improves BC/DR support by housing solutions at off-site facilities that provide voice, data, and power backup.
The cloud/hosted trend is demonstrated in the widening gap between the revenues from the sales of on-premise and hosted IVR solutions.
We also forecast that annual hosted Web chat revenues will more than double over this period, from $xx million in 2012 to $xx million in 2017. But we believe that on-premise chat revenues will climb more slowly, from $xx million to $xx million annually over the same period.
There are several other key developments that are shaping the AICC market:
- Legacy, Existing IVR Replacements is a Key Driver. Companies are selecting hosted IVR solutions chiefly to replace obsolete on-premise IVR applications. But some hosted IVR sales also are occurring as a result of companies being dissatisfied with their present cloud IVR vendors.
- Greenfield Business. Greenfield deployment is another source of hosted IVR growth. One market is for IVR self-service and call direction to replace direct-inward-dial calls to branches. Another market is for prepaid cards. And as U.S. healthcare reforms set in, healthcare companies will likely deploy added or new hosted IVR (and other AICC) solutions in order to cut costs.
- Increased Business from Existing Clients. Companies are automating greater percentages of live agent call volumes. Companies are seeking to reduce agent headcount even further, and to avoid adding agents (and supporting facilities and technology investments) as business grows.
- Fewer Single Channel “Best of Breed” Solutions. ACD original equipment manufacturers (OEDs) are buying hosted AICC vendors. Examples include Aspect acquiring Voxeo, Avaya purchasing Conversive, and Genesys Telecommunication Laboratories (Genesys) buying Angel, SoundBite, and Echopass. Meanwhile, AICC companies are acquiring proactive customer contact (PCC) vendors.
There are several developments shaping the functionality of, and the market for, hosted AICC applications:
- AICC Application and Performance Improvements. Many consumers are dissatisfied with AICC solutions. Recent Frost & Sullivan research shows that IVR ranked last of the contact center channels in customer satisfaction. AICC vendors are aware of this and have been improving application dialogs and menus. AICC solutions now include personalization that “remembers” customers’ last interactions. AICC tools also use predictive analytics to deliver accurate responses by determining customer intent. Company clients and AICC providers are pinpointing and addressing IVR performance issues – such as when, and why, customers “zero-out to agents.” AICC applications also are being “tuned” to consumers’ behavior by adapting answer speeds, menus, and scripting.
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