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Helping the IT Help Desk – What you Need to Know about Virtual Support Agents

In this special guest feature, Gabby Nizri, Co-Founder and CEO of Ayehu, lays out the difference between a chatbot and a virtual service agent and identifies the challenges and opportunities that companies face when implementing them. The success of virtual support agents depend on several key factors and this article helps readers identify those factors, ask the right questions, and evaluate whether or not VSAs are right for them. With nearly 20 years’ experience in technology innovation, Gabby is the driving force behind Ayehu. His multidisciplinary background in product engineering, sales and professional services brings together key elements necessary to deliver the company’s IT process automation solution that has proven to be a force multiplier for businesses facing operational IT and cyber security challenges. Since co-founding the company, Gabby has advanced his thought leadership in IT automation and been dedicated to setting the company on a path to strong growth and validation.

IT help desks everywhere are handling a growing number of requests from multiple channels every day. And the more time the service desk spends putting out fires by phone, through email, or in person, the less time they have to focus on resolving the bigger issues and applying their cognitive skills to more meaningful projects.

Are chatbots or virtual support agents the answer? The success of virtual support depends on several key factors. Here’s how to identify those factors and evaluate whether or not VSAs are right for your organization.

Chatbot vs. VSA

The first important piece of the puzzle is understanding the difference between chatbot and virtual support agent technology. While the concept is similar, there is a distinct and critical difference, particularly as it relates to use in the help desk arena. This difference can be summed up in one word: context.

If you’ve ever visited a website and used the “live chat” feature to ask a question, chances are the party you interacted with was a chatbot. And chances are even greater that the responses you received were basic and scripted based on a set of common inquiries. Simply put, chatbots are one-dimensional. They cannot engage beyond the basic communication that they’ve been programmed for.

Virtual support agents, on the other hand, when set up properly, have far greater functionality and flexibility than chatbots. Thanks to underlying technologies like artificial intelligence, machine learning and natural language processing, VSAs are capable of understanding the meaning and intent behind human communication, even if it’s vague or ambiguous.

In other words, VSAs can understand context. As such, they are able to hold realistic conversations, generate authentic dialogue and provide intelligent responses based not only on the data they’ve received (like chatbots), but also on the context of that data.

VSAs and the Help Desk

As mentioned, help desk agents field a mind-boggling volume of incoming requests, the majority of which are routine and repetitive in nature, but important nonetheless. For instance, password resets are a necessary evil in the IT support realm as they are required in order to keep others in the organization productive.

Yet, the process of manually resetting user passwords is not only a tremendous waste of human resources, but it’s also a massive waste of money. In fact, Forrester Research estimates that the average cost of a single password reset is $70. Multiply that cost by the number of times your support team executes this task and it really adds up.

That’s where virtual support technology comes in. VSAs enable the help desk to automate almost all routine, repetitive and manual tasks. Beyond this, however, is where the true value of virtual support becomes evident. In addition to automating the basics, the technology behind VSAs enables them to work alongside human agents, providing the same level of support and assistance.

How it works is remarkably simple. The virtual agent pulls data from various knowledge management resources to respond intelligently to incoming requests. Virtual agents are also capable of taking action on behalf of the end-user without the need for human intervention. This means fewer escalations and a more manageable workload so human support agents can focus their skills on more meaningful business initiatives.  

The Key to Success

Of course, as with any technology, virtual support agents do require work in order to set them up properly. For instance, AI and NLP technologies are essential components to VSA functionality. The most fundamental key to success, however, is the establishment and maintenance of a comprehensive, dynamic knowledge-base. After all, this is the resource from which the VSA will draw its responses. Without in-depth and accurate data, virtual agents will not be capable of operating to their fullest potential.

Gartner predicts that by 2023, 40% of I&O teams will be using AI-augmented automation, resulting in higher productivity with greater agility and scalability. Given the current benefits, coupled with the promise of improving technology, it’s not a stretch to see that VSAs will continue to play an increasing role in making the help desk experience better for everyone.

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