Are healthcare consumers happy with the replacement of human agents with virtual agents? Apparently not, according to new research.
Twenty four percent of patients have accessed customer service support over the past year with their healthcare provider, according to research by NTT DATA Services. If they spoke with a human customer support agent at that time, they may not next time, as 54% of organizations are in the process of developing an automation plan for customer service processes.
However, patient trust of virtual agents is low—94% say they would prefer to speak with a human for service.
“What we found is that overall, consumers are not happy with the replacement of human agents with virtual agents,” according to Kris Fitzgerald, vice president and chief technology officer for NTT DATA Services. “The purpose of this research was to gain a better idea of what consumers expect from businesses that use automation.”
The research began with the goal of answering key questions:
- How does automation impact consumer expectations for customer service?
- Are consumers and enterprises ready for automated customer service?
- What challenges do enterprises need to overcome to improve the automated customer experience?
More than 1,200 consumers and more than 100 U.S.-based businesses responded to the survey. Consumers were asked how they felt about virtual agents, such as what works well, what is frustrating about them, and could they be used for complex tasks. Enterprises were asked about their internal preparations for automation, such as whether they have a plan in place and whether their technology is capable of upholding an automated system.
“Oftentimes, businesses adopt an automation-related practice without understanding their consumer needs. Customers then have to deal with long wait times, bots that cannot answer their questions, or proving their identity with each new redirection,” Fitzgerald says. “We all know what that is like—waiting on the other end of the phone, repeating your name and phone number with each new segment of the bot’s script. The result is frustrated consumers—only 9% of whom actually trust virtual agents to solve their problem. As it is, companies must rethink how they can help their customers solve problems. Our research expands on how automation can be used effectively to provide a better user experience overall.”
While 51% of the survey respondents agree that virtual agents work well for simple inquiry, quality service remains the top issue for customers. More than 75% of consumers would prefer to have a live agent solve their problem in a longer time period, as opposed to a virtual agent that would solve their problem in two minutes or less, according to the research.
“Efficiency might be important, but businesses are ignoring consumers’ needs for quality. Human agents simply bring a connection that virtual agents cannot bring,” says Daniel Thomas, vice president, automation, integration, and alliances for NTT DATA Services.
“More than that, what we have found is that millennials are not among those who trust virtual agents,” Fitzgerald says. “While they are willing to use the technology to accomplish a task, they agree it needs to be able to provide quality service in the same way that a live agent can. This is where the business should take measures to train both their human employees and their customers. Humans may not be the agents answering the phones, but they can be trained to manage the technology in a way that makes it simpler for consumers to use.”