Q&A: Mark Gaydos, VP of marketing, VirtuOz
The head of global marketing at VirtuOz, a company that provides virtual chat agents for the websites of companies like eBay, Michelin and Vodafone, speaks with DMNews senior editor Rose Gordon about automation and leveraging online data.
DMNews: Your company provides virtual agents that respond to customer inquiries online in real-time. What types of businesses are making use of this technology?
Mark Gaydos, VirtuOz: It gets used for both sales and service, so the thing the companies have in common are that the site is critical to their business. The second is companies see a value in automating their interactions with their customers.
I think there's a big need in areas like retail, high-tech consumer, financial services and then probably e-commerce is a pretty big vertical [for us].
DMNews: How does a virtual agent assist an organization's direct marketing plan and CRM goals?
Gaydos: The whole intent is to assist customers. Today, customers are forced to go through search… It's not a high-level of service. You're really depending on the customer to not only find the piece of information but then they have to figure out how it relates to them. A virtual agent does the opposite. It interacts with a customer; it gets them to give the information that's necessary to give them the specific answer that's right for them.
DMNews: Isn't there a danger of a customer becoming more frustrated if the virtual agent can't respond to his or her questions accurately?
Gaydos: Of course there are going to be times that the virtual agent doesn't understand. That's why you have to have an escalation plan. The difference between us and a phone system (IVR – integrated voice response) is usually there's not an issue of dealing with what you're saying. You're not typing with an accent. We deal with spelling errors. We figure about 8% or lower are the number of situations when a virtual agent doesn't understand. We monitor the conversations, so if Rose uses bad language or she asks a question that needs to be escalated or she asks the same question over and over… we can move her to live chat, we can ask her for her phone number so we can call her back, we can offer an 800-number based on who she is.
DMNews: How do you do that?
Gaydos: Sometimes you might program escalation so you might have the virtual agent collect a certain amount of information but have them pass it to live chat agent to close the deal, to sign them up for the deal. You can have the virtual agent ask for the address, and capture that information and than pass that person to the live chat.
I think everyone's had that frustrating IVR situation and usually what it's fail-safe is is pressing 0… Ninety percent of the time, we get the answer. There are three reasons companies use us. Service is big, but people also use us for marketing and for sales that ties into a CRM solution.
DMNews: What other trends are you seeing in digital marketing? What are consumers responding well to?
Gaydos: I think we're seeing more and more use of mobile technology in the equation. I think ‘right channeling' is starting to become more of an issue. Companies are trying to figure out what is the best channel to address different issues for customers based on who they are and what their issue is. I think everyone is trying to figure this out.
DMNews: One of the goals of your technology is to prevent customers from leaving the site with lingering questions. What are some of the other smart tactics that marketers can deploy to ensure a good web experience for customers?
Gaydos: On a more macro basis, I think what's starting to happen is companies are beginning to be more proactive. I think now people want to offer communities, because most people are lazy and they don't want to do more work than is necessary, so the company that can step forward and take care of me proactively, I'm going to be more inclined to work with.
DMNews: What digital technology are brands not yet making full use of?
Gaydos: I think there's a lot of interesting technologies out there, but they're geared toward mass personalization. Instead of you having a generic experience, you have the best experience for Rose. I think that's where everyone's trying to move toward.
The vendors are recognizing that they need to leverage data from other sources. You know a lot about a customer. You know what they've ordered, what their situation is. Now the opportunity is, what are you going to do with it?