Cloud communications provider Avaya has announced an update to its Avaya OneCloud platform, in which its Virtual Agent is available as a ready-to-deploy, turnkey, configurable service. This would let customers quickly deploy artificial intelligence (AI)-powered virtual agents that could be used immediately.
This complements Avaya's current Google Dialogflow-based agent, requiring developers to create a virtual agent from scratch.
There has been an intense focus on improvement in customer experience (CX) over the past few years because CX is now the top brand differentiator that outweighs price, product quality, and other factors. An interesting data point from ZK Research is that in 2021, two-thirds of millennials changed loyalties to a brand because of a single bad experience. If deployed correctly, virtual agents can significantly cut down on the time an individual needs to interact with a brand to solve a problem, have a question answered, return a product or do another task.
I did use the caveat of "if deployed correctly" because virtual agents can do damage to customer loyalty if the experience is bad, and that's often the case. In its media advisory, Avaya cited some data from Ipsos that found that only one in three customers would recommend that business to others based on their last interaction with a virtual agent. The study also found that only 50% of customers had their issues or concerns resolved via the virtual agent. Much of this is because of the complexity and heavy lifting required to deliver virtual agent solutions.
During the past year, Avaya has embraced the concept of "composability" with respect to its communications solutions. ZK Research defines a composable enterprise as a business that achieves business outcomes by adapting to changes quickly through a combination of packaged applications and application building blocks such as exportable data, application programming interfaces (APIs) and low-code/no-code systems.
Avaya has mountains of data, it has developer APIs for virtual agents, and its new solution addresses the no-code use case. That leaves low code as the only missing piece to having a full, composable set of virtual agent tools, and that's coming soon. In a conversation with Laura Faughtenberry, Senior Product Marketing Manager at Avaya, she told me they were developing a low-code option by leveraging its partnership with a well-known conversational AI provider.
The diverse approach Avaya has taken to product development is highlighted by its range of virtual agent options. At one time, like most tech companies, Avaya built all its own products in-house. Avaya has chosen to build where required and leverage partners where necessary, given the rapid pace of innovation. For instance, it leverages Nvidia's Maxine for AI capabilities in its Spaces meetings product and Google CCAI to bring advanced capabilities to its OneCloud Contact Center solution. I asked Faughtenberry about this, and she summed it up this way: "Why build it when you can utilize something that is already working?"
Since the arrival of CMO Simon Harrison, Avaya has been positioning itself as a company that enables its customers to build best-in-class experiences, and that was much of the thought process around the pre-built virtual agent. Faughtenberry told me: "We have all had those times where we tried to interface with a virtual agent and left the call angry. We wanted to make it simple to deploy the technology to automate interactions enabling the agent to handle more complex tasks ensuring the customer experience is better."
One final point: The virtual agent was built on Avaya's communications platform as a service (CPaaS) cloud back end. It's been my opinion that over time, unified communications and contact center vendors will shift from being product companies to platform providers where the value is in the back end. As mentioned earlier, Avaya has been touting the value of composability, and the virtual agent is an example of a composable solution that can be built on CPaaS, as is Spaces and contact center.
The role of a vendor such as Avaya is to build turnkey products for customers who want pre-built experiences but also provide tools for customers who want a more customized experience. In this case, the newly released virtual agent would meet the needs of many companies that want to offer this as an option. Businesses with more complex needs would use the low-code option or build their own using APIs.