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IVAs: Travel Beyond Inbound Queries

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Image: Feodora - stock.adobe.com
Interactions, LLC, a privately-held stand-alone artificial intelligence (AI) company with revenues of over $100 million, announced yesterday its expansion into the accounts receivable management (ARM) market with the launch of a new product, Virtual Collection Agent (VCA). The company also provided details on VCA’s early success with defining customer ERC, an international business process outsourcing company (BPO).
 
Regular No Jitter readers will remember this slide show from last summer, “Interactions Brings Conversational AI to Food Service,” highlighting a 2019 Interactions launch. Last July, the company launched a product designed for the food service industry, Guest Experience Platform (GXP). Restaurants implement Interactions GXP to digitally transformed phone, digital, and drive-thru orders. In the slide show, I highlighted GXP as an example of how solution providers are delivering industry-specific AI solutions.
 
With VCA, Interactions is tackling an additional vertical market, collections, exemplified by companies like ERC. But the market for VCA goes beyond collections companies. Many enterprises have internal collections operations, from banks to hospitals to large businesses. The graphic below describes some of the features and benefits of VCA.
 

Image: Author
 
Uniquely designed to serve the collections vertical and horizontal markets, VCA handles both inbound and outbound calling. During an industry analyst pre-briefing, Marty Sarim, CEO of ERC, discussed how he and Interactions worked together to develop VCA. “It's no secret that some of the best agents are wasting hours doing mundane tasks that should be automated,” Sarim said. Several years ago, after reviewing what was available in the market, ERC concluded there that no company was addressing the particular needs of the collections market. He also explained that while the core AI technology was becoming available, there were still aspects of a final solution that needed development for the collections use case.
 
ERC decided to look for a partner that was capable of developing the kind of technology the company needed. A few years ago, after looking at many different partners, ERC started a journey with Interactions to develop a virtual agent for collections. ERC’s virtual agent is called Eva, and Sarim reports that the amount of work that went into Eva definitely paid off.
 
The way Eva pays off is in saving agent time. “Our agents don't authenticate consumers, Sarim explained. “You can imagine all that time that saves, roughly 45 seconds per call, depending on the campaign.” Also, ERC agents don't remove any wrong numbers or do address changes. Eva does that.
 
I had the opportunity to address this question to Sarim during the briefing; some contact centers think of deflection as a dirty word, sacrificing customer experience for cost-saving. Do you think that is a fallacy, or that is just not the case in collections?
 
Sarim’s response was unequivocal, “I don't look at deflection as a dirty word. I look at it as a great word, as an efficient word, as a profitable word. It’s a word that says our consumer base is changing, and more and more people want quick service. They don't want to sit and wait on hold till a live agent is available. They'd rather work with an agent that's virtual, that can understand what they're doing.”
 
It’s understandable that in the collections world, consumers may have an even higher propensity to work with an automated agent than with a live one. VCA allows those customers to, “get what they need done and then move on with their life. It also allows our agents to be more productive and use their skill set to do what automation can't,” Sarim explained.
 
While ERC has been working with Interactions on EVA for over two years, its general availability couldn’t come at a more opportune time. Like many contact center businesses, the pandemic has had an impact on the collections market. Regrettably, the number of bills getting turned over to collections will likely only rise as early government subsidy programs end.
 
During the upcoming Enterprise Connect Digital Conference & Expo 2020, on Monday, Aug. 3, Opus Research analyst Dan Miller and I will address the topic, “AI in the Contact Center from Pilots to Mainstream,” from 2:00 p.m. to 2:45 p.m. In addition to the ERC case study described here, Miller and I will discuss several other conversational intelligence and agent assist customer stories that either began or grew as a result of the business changes brought by the pandemic. Register now, and join us!

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