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Analysis: Patricia Seybold on VirtuOz

NETTING IT OUT

VirtuOz Intelligent Virtual Agent (IVA) is the virtual assisted-service product from VirtuOz, Inc. Organizations purchase subscription licenses of the VirtuOz IVA for cloud deployment. To date, VirtuOz claims that approximately 25 customer organizations have licensed its virtual assisted-service product.

VirtuOz earns very-good grades on our Virtual Assisted-Service Report Card for Virtual Assisted-service—exceeds-requirements grades in all virtual agent technologies (answers, question analysis and matching, and customer service integration) and meets-requirements grades for analytic functionality, product viability, and supplier viability.

VirtuOz IVA is an attractive and useful offering with powerful and flexible capabilities. Use it to deploy virtual agents on web, mobile, and social channels to answer customers’ questions with direct answers, through guided dialogs, or by performing tasks on customers’ behalves within case management and CRM systems.

We recommend VirtuOz for large B2B and B2C organizations in North America and Western Europe that want to add virtual assisted-service to their customer service portfolio to support web, mobile, and social channels for answering customers’ questions across the entire customer lifecycle.

Proxy Response

© 2012 Salesforce.com

This illustration shows a proxy response to update CRM account information.

CUSTOMER SERVICE

Answer Customers’ Questions and Solve Customers’ Problems

Customer service products help organizations deliver answers to their customers’ questions and solutions to their problems through their case management, knowledge management, search, account management, and social network management capabilities, capabilities that support self-service, assisted-service, and social-service channels. These products help answer and solve customers’ questions and problems about products and services, about business policies, processes, and practices, or about the elements of their customer relationships such as accounts, bills, orders, and contracts.

Virtual Assisted-Service

Virtual assisted-service products and services use software to:

  • Solicit and receive customers’ questions, typically within a box on a web page, similar to the box for a chat session. Within the box are a text box into which customers enter their questions and an image of a person, a virtual agent.
  • Analyze customers’ questions to determine its meaning, its intent. Analyses are typically natural language processing (NLP) and linguistic analytics.
  • Match a customer’s question to the answer within a collection of predefined answers that best matches it. Matching also uses linguistic analytics. The collection of predefined answers is a knowledgebase.
  • Deliver the best answers to customers within the box on the web page.

Virtual assisted-service is virtual because it uses software to determine and to deliver answers to customers’ questions. It’s assisted-service because it solicits questions and delivers answers in the style that live agents/customer service reps deliver answers on assisted-service channels. Customers escalate to virtual assisted-service from self-service activities when they have difficulty getting answers to their questions. Virtual agents are the faces of virtual assisted-service technology.

Virtual Assisted-Service Can Be a Low(er)-Cost Customer Service Channel

Virtual assisted can be a low(er)-cost customer service channel. It’s customer service software, not customer service staff. It can lower costs to serve by avoiding or deflecting assisted-service chat sessions and/or contact center calls. It can also prevent or delay abandonment and improve customer satisfaction, delivering answers to customers who might otherwise leave rather than call.

Virtual Assisted-Service Is Not New

Virtual assisted-service is not new. While we’ve been publishing research on it since 2007, virtual assisted-service dates back way more than five years. In fact, more than 45 years ago, there was “Eliza.” Eliza was the first virtual agent that I saw. Well, ok, I didn’t see her. Forty years ago online meant teletyped text. I typed a question. Eliza typed back an answer. And, ok, Eliza wasn’t exactly a virtual agent. She was a virtual Rogerian therapist. More specifically, Joseph Weizenbaum, now a professor emeritus of computer science at MIT, designed and developed Eliza in 1966. Eliza parodied a real Rogerian therapist by rephrasing “patient’s” statements and presenting them back to the patient as questions. For example, the response to "My head hurts" might be "Why do you say your head hurts?" The response to "My mother hates me" might be "Who else in your family hates you?" Eliza was named after Eliza Doolittle, the character in George Bernard Shaw’s play, Pygmalion. You can still get virtual assisted- service from Eliza. Just follow this link: http://www-ai.ijs.si/eliza/eliza.html.

The Best Virtual Assisted-Service—Fast and Accurate

As it is for all customer service, the best virtual assisted-service is fast and accurate. Customers won’t wait very long. They access your sites on fast devices using fast connections on fast networks. Your processing of their questions should never be the bottleneck to their ability to complete their activities or to do business with you.

Accuracy is the key. Customers want the right answer. They’d prefer not to read a list of FAQs to match their questions with yours. (That’s what they expect a virtual agent to do for them, anyway.) They don’t want to wade through pages of possible answers like they’re forced to do when they use Internet search.

VIRTUOZ

VirtuOz, Inc. was founded in 2002 in Paris, France and the company introduced VirtuOz, the virtual assisted-service product in 2004. The firm came to the US in 2009, opened a US headquarters site in Emeryville, CA, and introduced a US version of the product the same year. Currently, VirtuOz is a privately held and venture financed company with a staff of approximately 50 employees.

VirtuOz IVA helps businesses deploy virtual agents that are software avatars built on search and knowledge management technologies. Four features characterize and differentiate this offering:

  1. Application of natural language processing (NLP) technology and text analytics technology to “understand” customers’ questions and match them with a “single right answer.”
  2. Support for three virtual agent response styles: direct (customers ask a question; VirtuOz delivers an answer), guided response (virtual agents provide answers that navigate customers to web pages that contain complex, detailed, or multi-media content), and proxy response wherein virtual agents actually complete tasks on behalf of the user (e.g. process a return, update an account profile, enroll people in a rewards program).
  3. Tight and packaged integration with external applications, currently from Live person, Moxie Software, and Salesforce.com.
  4. Two types of virtual agents: Micro-Agents are special-purpose virtual agents that support a narrow domain, such as shipping, password recovery, or order management. Their specialization makes Micro-Agents fast and easy to deploy. Intelligent Virtual Agents (IVAs) are general purpose virtual agents that support wide domains such as marketing, sales, or support.

This report on VirtuOz is the first report of our new research series on virtual assisted-service. To review the full report, go to: http://www.psgroup.com/VirtuOz-Intelligent-Virtual-Agent.aspx

Reprinted by Permission of Patricia Seybold

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VirtuOz
Patricia Seybold
CRM Idol 2012 Contestant