The purpose of this study was to measure the increase of e-productivity for firms using a virtual agent on their website. In parallel, we wanted to measure the added value of this technology. The virtual agents are animated characters that some companies use on their websites to mimic interaction with a human customer-service representative. For example, Continental Airline uses ‘Alex’. The avatar humanizes the question-and-answer experience, providing information faster and making the experience more interesting for the users.

We defined e-productivity being the productivity of a website with an integrated avatar. It represents the ratio of what is produced as output (i.e. number of users served, number of questions answered) over what is necessary for the production as input (i.e. implementation and maintenance costs).

The research was composed of two parts; first, 15 in-depth interviews have been conducted with the goal to detect the perception of i) providers of this technology and ii) companies using this technology. This section helped us to develop our understanding of the real world. Second, we did a quantitative research where we collected 945 respondents (point of view of clients after having tested the interaction with the virtual agent). We asked respondents to interact with an avatar and then fill in our questionnaire. We applied this process on eight different service companies’ website with an avatar already integrated.

As results, we found that the presence of the avatar significantly reduces the number of emails/calls received by the companies. It can also make the website more attractive and pleasant. Firms should consider that the virtual agent is another channel of communication helping to create a real-time connection and relationship with the customer. It can also collect data on clients (i.e. their preferences, needs, complaints, etc.) and this is a fantastic opportunity to personalize the service. As the knowledge of virtual agents will evolve in the future, we can estimate that the interactions will be more and more interesting and users increasingly satisfied. The future of website will be its humanization.

May - November 2013
Financial partner: Lausanne Hospitality Consulting

 

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