This week’s report is our evaluation of ActiveAgent, the virtual assisted-service offering of Next IT, a privately held ISV based in Spokane, WA. It’s the third in our research series on virtual agent products. These products use natural language processing (NLP) technology to determine the intent of customers’ questions and to deliver a single answer in response. Yes, that’s right, a single answer. Contrast them with search, which delivers hundreds, thousands, or hundreds of thousands of answers and leaves it to customers to figure out the best one(s). ActiveAgent integrates with ActiveChat, Next IT’s chat offering, and has an API that Next IT’s consultants use for integration with other chat apps.
You might think of virtual agents as cross-channel “Siris” that are specialized to answer questions about a business, its products and services, and its policies and practices. Virtual agents deploy on the web, on social networks, and on mobile devices. Customers (and/or partners or internal users) pose their questions by typing them into text boxes. Virtual agents answer in text with graphics and links. Likely driven by the success of Siri and leveraging technology like Nuance Nina, virtual agents are now supporting voice, too.
All virtual assisted-service offerings are similar in their use of NLP technology to deliver a single answer to a question. All of them take similar effort and cost to deploy. However, each has a distinguishing characteristic strength and differentiator. ActiveAgent’s key strength and most significant differentiator is its capability to deliver very sophisticated answers to complex questions.
Here’s what we mean. We “asked” Jenn, the Next IT ActiveAgent virtual agent for Alaska Airlines, to find “BOS to Seattle departing December 24 returning January 1.” Illustration 1 (© 2011 Alaska Air Group, Inc.) shows our question and Jenn’s response. She used the info in our question to prepare the “Available Flights” page for us (there are also 20 or so flights listed below the fold). She integrated the answer with an external application. There’s nothing left for us to do except pick the flights we want. Live contact center agents couldn’t deliver a better answer, and neither agents nor self-serving customers could answer any more quickly.
Next IT ActiveAgent
Virtual Agents that Deliver Sophisticated Answers to Complex Questions
By Mitch Kramer, Senior Consultant, Patricia Seybold Group, November 29, 2012
Next IT ActiveAgent’s virtual agents can deliver sophisticated answers to complex questions on web, mobile, and social channels. We recommend that large B2C organizations consider ActiveAgent to add cross-channel virtual assisted-service to their customer service application portfolio. Answers and Question Analysis and Matching are the key strengths of the offering.