From voice assistant to agent: How to handoff effectively during customer interactions

July 3, 2023

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Sometimes it’s necessary for voice assistants to hand calls over to an agent during a conversation. Sometimes this is pre-planned, like when a voice assistant takes down a caller’s details before passing them over to an agent to complete a transaction.

But sometimes, this handoff is unexpected, resulting from a technical issue or a caller requesting to speak to someone.

In these situations, customers are already starting to get frustrated. Poor execution during these moments can only make things worse.

To understand how we can create the best handoff experience, let’s first look at why handoffs happen in the first place.

What triggers handoff?

You can design your voice assistant to hand off calls based on whatever triggers you see fit. Some common triggers include the following:

The caller asks to speak to an agent

In some cases, callers explicitly request to speak with an agent. We’ve all had bad experiences with voice technologies at some point, so it’s no surprise that some callers will shout AGENT as soon as they realize they’re talking to a voice assistant.

Even those less skeptical customers may doubt the voice assistant’s capabilities, asking to speak to an agent because they believe their query to be too complex for the system.

The caller doesn’t say anything

Silence can stem from confusion, not knowing what to say, or anticipating a different outcome (such as speaking to a robot rather than a person). Recognizing and addressing silence as a trigger is essential to ensure the caller receives the assistance they need.

There is a misunderstanding

There are instances when the voice assistant may misunderstand or misinterpret the customer’s request. Ambiguous queries, accents, background noise, and poor phone signal can all contribute to misinterpretation. Rather than asking the caller to repeat themselves over and over, it may make more sense to hand the call over to an agent.

How to design the best handoff experience

Handoffs happen for a number of reasons, so how do you create the best handoff experience for your customers and contact center agents?

When the caller asks to speak to an agent

It’s not uncommon for callers to ask to speak to an agent immediately, especially if they have been stung by poor experiences with automated systems in the past.

During these interactions, the voice assistant can encourage the conversation by telling the caller about wait times and asking if they’d like to try the voice assistant first. Another option is having the voice assistant ask for more information about the issue to ensure the call gets routed to the right person.

In the first instance, the caller often gives the voice assistant a chance, learning in the process that it is capable of supporting them. In the second instance, the information provided by the caller can be passed to the agent, who can pick up where the voice assistant left off and handle the caller faster than they could have otherwise.

When the caller is silent

Because silence can carry various meanings, designing responses to all situations is key to the voice assistant’s success and whether the handoff is effective.

If a caller seems unsure or distracted and hasn’t responded, the agent can say, “Hey, are you there?” in an uncertain, apologetic tone. This lets the caller know the voice assistant is aware of the silence and encourages a response in a natural way.

Callers that remain silent can be automatically transferred to an agent. However, further conversation can be encouraged by adapting the voice assistant’s response and tone to different scenarios.

When there has been a misunderstanding

There are often calls with ambiguity or confusion about what the customer is asking. For example, they might mention ‘direct debit’ without specifying what they want to do.

To handle these situations, the voice assistant can clarify by asking, “I understand you’re calling about direct debit. What would you like to do exactly?” This approach helps to understand the caller’s needs more clearly in a way that moves the conversation forward naturally.

The decision as to whether you hand off or encourage further conversation with the voice assistant is under your control and set by your business rules. For example, vulnerable customers or sensitive calls might require immediate handoff compared to routine FAQs.

By asking clarifying questions and gathering additional information during these scenarios, the voice assistant reduces the need for the customer to repeat themselves when handed over to an agent and decreases the time to resolution.

Implementing effective handoff: Technical considerations and integrations

Carrying out an effective handoff from a technical perspective will depend on your specific tech stack and contact center infrastructure.

Voice assistants integrate seamlessly with CCaaS and telephony solutions via Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) or Session Initiated Protocol (SIP).

SIP integrations enable the voice assistant to populate data from the call into a screen pop on your agent’s desktop, such as reservation details, in the case of a hotel booking.

Conclusion

By executing effective handoffs, you can deliver exceptional customer service while alleviating the strain on agents.

This collaboration ultimately leads to a better customer experience by providing quick and accurate responses, personalized assistance, reduced wait times, and seamless interaction with your company.

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