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Avaya has extended the capabilities of its contact center platforms to include an enhanced version of Google Cloud Dialogflow CX. This can be employed to create virtual agents infused with AI capabilities that verbally interact with customers.

Residing on the Contact Center AI (CCAI) cloud service provided by Google, the conversational AI capabilities Avaya offers are enabled using an instance of the service dubbed Avaya AI Virtual Agent Enhanced. In collaboration with Google, the company has optimized that offering for its enterprise customers to provide, for example, barge-in and live agent handoff capabilities, Avaya VP Eric Rossman said.

Earlier this week, Google also announced the general availability of its Dialogflow service within the Google CCAI platform.

While Avaya has a long-standing alliance with Google, the CCAI service is only one of several AI platforms Avaya has integrated into its contact center platforms, Rossman said. In some cases, those services are complementary to each other. In other cases, the end customer prefers one AI service to another, Rossman said. But he added that in all cases, organizations are trying to move beyond the simple bots that are now widely employed across websites.

He said that regardless of the AI platform selected, Avaya is dedicating engineering resources to optimizing those platforms and building its own AI models to automate a wide range of processes. Avaya machine learning algorithms, for example, can be applied to Google Cloud CCAI to determine the next best action for an agent. Google Cloud Insights, combined with Avaya AI, uses natural language to identify call patterns, as well as generating sentiment analysis.

Avaya AI Virtual Agent Enhanced is being embedded within the Avaya OneCloud CCaaS and OneCloud CPaaS offerings. The latter is a platform-as-service (PaaS) environment for building applications on top of the core contact center-as-a-service (CCaaS). Those offerings can be deployed on a public cloud, a private cloud, or across a hybrid cloud as IT organizations see fit. Overall, Avaya claims that more than 16 million agents currently access contact center platforms.

Interest in AI-enabled virtual agents that could be employed to augment customer service spiked in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, Rossman said. With more people working from home, the number of service and support calls made to organizations increased dramatically, he added. At the same time, most customer service representatives were also working from home. Virtual agents enabled by AI provide a means to offload many of those calls. “The supply of agents was limited,” Rossman noted.

Of course, the use cases for a virtual agent with speech capabilities need to be carefully considered, Rossman said. He said one of the things that distinguishes Avaya is that it offers a professional services team to work with the end customers on where and how to employ virtual agents.

As AI continues to evolve, organizations will need to make a classic “build versus buy” decision. Google, IBM, Microsoft, and Amazon Web Services (AWS) are all making available AI services that can be consumed via an application programming interface (API). Alternatively, some organizations will decide to invest in building their own AI models to automate a specific task. In the case of virtual agents, Avaya is trying to strike a balance between the two approaches, depending on the use case.

Naturally, not every end customer will want to engage with a virtual agent any more than they did an interactive voice response system (IVR). However, for every customer who prefers to speak to a human, there is another who would just as soon have their issue resolved without having to wait for a customer service representative. In many cases, an interaction with a virtual agent may lead to engagement with a human representative who has been informed of the issue. The younger the customer, the more willing they tend to be to rely on a virtual agent, but there are never any absolutes when it comes to customer service.

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