virtual agents for IT support


How virtual agents can transform IT service desks

Although innovative technologies such as artificial intelligence, machine learning and natural language processing have only recently achieved broad public recognition, they are maturing rapidly. Virtual agents founded on these technologies are beginning to have an impact in federal, state and local government, leading to better user experiences and more productive and satisfied technical support agents.

We, the people, expect more

Let’s look briefly at what a typical employee wants from the agency IT support team. From the support-seeker's perspective, it’s all about “me.” After all, the purpose of any support team is to remove obstacles and make employees as productive as possible.

From the user's perspective, a satisfactory interaction with technical support hinges on attributes such as:

  • Assistance on the user's schedule.
  • Access to help any time of the day or night.
  • Conversations free of technical jargon.
  • Communication via familiar messaging applications.
  • Knowledge of the user's basic information.
  • Rapid resolution of issues.

Research shows that a major reason why people avoid interacting with tech support  is because they feel that if they start a conversation, it will result in a draw on their time over which they have no control.

Technology to the rescue

This leaves IT organizations with a significant challenge. At a typical state government agency, a support desk may be responsible for 100,000 end users and receive 3,500 tickets a day -- and these numbers are even larger at in federal agencies. Not only are support agents overworked managing a dizzying array of apps, devices and systems, but they must also provide end users with processes to report technical support issues in ways that align to everyone’s preferred channel and style of communication.

So how does an agency provide tech support that not only helps drive efficiency, but does so in a manner that improves users’ overall satisfaction? The answer lies in building more appealing self-service support experiences by applying breakthroughs in AI, machine learning and natural language processing.

A digital colleague who never stops working

Terminology such as “chatbot,” “virtual assistant” and “virtual agent” are used frequently and often interchangeably. Although the concepts may be similar, some have the potential to transform IT service desks much more than others.

  • Chatbots deflect some tickets by accessing a knowledge base to return the best answer to an end user’s query.
  • Virtual assistants help in the creation of tickets by entering the information provided by end users on their behalf, in addition to the deflection of some tickets.
  • Virtual agents reduce support agents' involvement with routine tasks associated with a ticket by ensuring they are accurate and complete, correctly assigned and closed with the end user’s approval, in addition to the deflection of many tickets.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise, therefore, that IT visionaries within government agencies are quickly leveraging these innovations to transform their service desks.

Industry surveys show the adoption of existing self-service approaches to resolving issues is a disappointing 10%. However, the introduction of virtual agents has been shown to increase the use of self-service to 50-60%.  Not only does this transformation increase end user satisfaction, it also improves the productivity of support teams by up to 30-50%.

Virtual agents and government agencies: The potential is huge

Here are some examples of agencies reaping significant rewards by embracing AI-based technologies to transform their service desks:

  • Federal government: Tasked with improving the adoption of self-service by providing a more intuitive way for users to obtain assistance, an agency deployed a virtual agent with a conversational interface that searched the agency's knowledge bases and procedural manuals to present contextual solutions. This resulted in a threefold increase in the number of issues resolved without a human agent's involvement.
  • State government: Targeting the reduction of telephone support wait times to improve end-user satisfaction, an agency implemented a virtual agent within its interactive voice response system to accurately select and initiate a service catalog request whenever possible. This solution has seen a 45% reduction in the IVR abandonment rate, preventing ticket transfers to a live agent and reducing end-user wait times.
  • Local government: Budget constraints created an urgency to lower IT costs and accelerate issue resolution, so a city used a conversational approach for  triage and resolution of tech issues, implementing a virtual agent to drive self-service uptake and automate more tasks. This resulted in a 30% reduction in costs, along with enhancements to end-user satisfaction and service-desk productivity.

A brighter era

For too long IT service-desk teams have struggled with tools that are inadequate for maintaining complex support triage and request handling, but the future doesn’t have to be a repetition of the past. There is a better era ahead for service management -- an era that leverages AI to improve customer experiences and increase support-team productivity and job satisfaction. It’s about time.

About the Author

William Guinn is the chief technology officer at Serviceaide.

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