Once confined to the realm of science fiction, talking to a ‘robot’ is now second nature, thanks to the widespread adoption of chatbots, voice assistants, and the meteoric rise of interest in generative-AI powered interfaces. 
It’s a field that fascinates digital transformation specialist Rik Johnson, who leads Datacom’s Conversational AI practice, and has over two decades’ experience in business process outsourcing (BPO) and Contact Centres, across operations, quality control, pre-sales and digital.  

Rik leads a team dedicated to virtual agents – otherwise known as virtual assistants or VAs – working closely with the operations team to ensure a seamless customer service experience.  

“We work hand in hand with our customers to identify the problems they aim to solve and explore how a VA can assist. Following this we identify suitable platforms and vendors to partner with, design the VA, and develop all the necessary capabilities and integrations. Once launched, we provide ongoing support throughout the VA’s lifecycle, continuously refining its capabilities to enhance its intelligence.”  

Our customers range from organisations with small service desks automating aspects of internal IT or HR functions, to Federal Government clients delivering around-the-clock customer service to every country around the world as we manage hundreds of thousands of interactions annually.

Problem before platform

Despite varying customer needs, our approach to designing solutions remains consistent. Each conversation begins with a deep dive to understand the business problem and the audience to define the use case before selecting the platform.  

“While the new low-code/no-code technologies are exciting, accessible and inexpensive to stand up, deploying a bot without thorough planning can lead to a novelty toy, rather than a truly purposeful solution.” 

“Just because you can build something, doesn’t mean you should,” she cautions. “Effective digital transformation relies on discerning when automation adds genuine value, and when it’s better to preserve human interaction. A negative experience with a poorly designed chatbot can sour perceptions and be challenging to rectify.” 

A tailored chatbot can significantly impact on a business. Rik describes an example of a company whose workforce faced frustration due to a complex employee system. “We developed a VA ‘front door’ to streamline system navigation, enhancing their employee experience and alleviating frustrations with intuitive interaction.”

All part of one team

Technology has always empowered contact centres and customer experience, but Rik says it’s now transitioned into the realm of allyship.  

“There’s much more technology can do to complement and augment the work of customer service agents, expanding their capacity and enabling smarter, faster and more efficient work. VAs act as another teammate within the contact centre team, fulfilling similar service functions.”   

A well-designed VA frees up call centre agents to focus on more fulfilling tasks requiring human skills, while also reducing costs and enhancing the overall customer experience. 

“Seamlessly integrating the virtual assistant with the contact centre is one of my deepest passions,” says Rik. “Understanding its impact on metrics and service is crucial. When the VA and team work together, it creates a rich, rapidly evolving, and valuable VA program, resulting in a great customer experience overall.”

Photograph of Rik Johnson surrounded by trees and bushes
“Effective digital transformation relies on discerning when automation adds genuine value, and when it’s better to preserve human interaction. A negative experience with a poorly designed chatbot can sour perceptions and be challenging to rectify,” says Datacom's Conversational AI Practice Manager Rik Johnson.

The value in getting it right

Rik and her team collaborate with customers to prioritise their automation solutions, sometimes opting for quick wins over solving the biggest pain point, to establish trust and pave the way for future advancements. 

“Getting it right benefits your team, your customers, and your business,” she says, “by using time and resources effectively. Investing in your VA program requires you to understand its performance and impact, which is achieved through feedback, VA metrics and input from the contact centre team.” 

“This allows you to prioritise what you teach the VA to do and what you stop doing because you’re not getting the right outcomes. It’s crucial the VA can effectively manage processes before pushing customers into digital channels. Otherwise, you risk channelling customer frustration to the contact centre, leading to poor experiences, increased costs, and loss of confidence in the VA program. The ultimate goal is to elegantly guide customers to where they can best be served – and that may not always be digital-first.”

Always looking to improve

Optimisation is integral to Datacom’s Conversational AI team, which conducts monthly refinements to maintain effectiveness and end-user confidence in contact centre operations.  

“We invest significant effort refining our VAs, meticulously reviewing conversations and customer language to enhance language understanding and intelligence. It’s a continuous iterative process.” 

VAs vary in sophistication. While an FAQ bot answers basic questions by surfacing information from your website, integration with your CRM or service desk platform is essential to enable personalised service by accessing customer records to push and pull information. Rik says Datacom can help plan and facilitate those integrations. 

For organisations without a knowledge management system (KMS), artificial intelligence (AI) allows input of resources like PDF documents into the brain of the VA, enabling autonomous information retrieval to answer customer enquiries.   

“It’s remarkable technology that’s really helpful for organisations lacking a KMS or dealing with fragmented knowledge sources.” 

Despite the reluctance of some organisations to embrace chatbots, Rik highlights the tangible benefits of chatbots in solving business problems. She believes it’s an area where Datacom is leading the way. 

“We tackle intriguing problems alongside really interesting customers. I’m especially excited about the support we offer local governments, addressing complex community issues despite resource constraints. Our technology amplifies the great work their teams are already doing on the ground, and we eagerly await the emergence of new business challenges where our innovation solutions can drive transformative change.”

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Customer experience Digital process automation