A robot AI assistant with headphones.
Image: Adobe Stock by Tensor Spark

The virtual assistant market is heading toward 24% growth next year thanks to advances in and adoption of cloud-based contact services using conversational AI. Tech consultancy Gartner predicts that conversational AI will be a $18.6 billion market in 2023, an increase of 16.2% from 2022.

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Gartner’s newly released data shows the global conversational AI/virtual assistant market is the fastest-growing segment of the contact center sector. Megan Marek Fernandez, director analyst at Gartner said near-term investment growth rates for CC and CC conversational AI and virtual assistants will actually take a breather because of business volatility, but the dip in growth, if there is one, is going to be brief.

“Longer-term, generative AI and growing maturity of conversational AI will accelerate contact center platform replacement as customer experience leaders look to simultaneously improve the efficiency of customer service operations and the overall customer experience,” she said.

Organizations are driving growth in virtual assistants tech

Grand View Research is also bullish on the global virtual assistant market because of an almost universal drive for more efficiency. The research firm reported that AI innovations will propel the market, which was already at $2.48 billion in 2022, to a compound annual growth rate of 24.3% through 2030. The firm said application of AI to virtual assistants in computers and mobile devices will allow virtual assistants to encroach on human-agent territory: It will offer product information, help with navigation and paying bills, and work within a human-in-the-loop context by directing queries to human agents in customer service.

SEE: Across the board, AI driving software investments for enterprise (TechRepublic)

Gartner, in its report, noted that while customer service interactions involving AI are growing, most of these are augmented contact center engagements rather than a completely autonomous virtual agent. Overall, Gartner estimated that around 3% of interactions will be handled via CC AI in 2023, growing to 14% of interactions in 2027.

The firm also predicted that by 2024, worldwide spending for contact center conversational AI and virtual assistants will reach nearly $23.2 million.

SEE: IBM’s WatsonX foundation models for enterprise are in the wild (TechRepublic)

Economic uncertainties won’t capsize CC AI

As for this year, in spite of the likely effects of general economic and political turmoil on on-premise CC programs, Gartner’s report suggests organizations will continue to spend on customer engagement tech because, according to the consultancy, customer-facing projects are solidly in the revenue generation and retention column.

“While many IT investment areas will be weakened as budgets tighten, customer service and support initiatives that have the potential to differentiate the customer experience or streamline customer service operations could receive easier investment buy-in,” said Fernandez. “These factors will help contact center as a service projects receive funding associated with broader corporate digital transformation budgets.”

As part of the cloud migration trend, CCaaS will enjoy greater funding because cloud-based CC services have breadth to support communications channels, plus advanced dashboards, analytics, routing, workforce optimization, knowledge and insight, and conversational AI capabilities, according to Gartner.

SEE: AI, yes, but tech leaders are also bullish on 5G, metaverse, big data (TechRepublic)

Will AI skills inoculate employees from AI?

If AI is enroute to replace human contact center employees in many routine customer engagements, workers themselves see AI skills as the key to longevity and efficiency in their roles, according to a recent Salesforce study on the IT workforce. However, the poll also casts doubt on workers’ confidence in their own abilities to use AI tools in their roles.

Eighty-two percent of business leaders polled for the study said generative AI will lower overall business costs, and 80% said it will increase revenue. Employees are also sanguine about AI: 54% of the 4,000 full-time employees Salesforce queried said they see generative AI as a career slingshot, with a caveat: skills. Unfortunately, 62% said they don’t have enough of them to effectively and safely use AI, and their employers agreed: 70% of business leaders don’t believe their teams are sufficiently trained on generative AI.

In Salesforce’s survey — part of the company’s Generative AI Snapshot Research Series in partnership with polling firm YouGov in May, 2023 — 65% of respondents were upbeat about the potential of generative AI as a supporting technology, because they think it will free them up to focus on more strategic work, saving them five hours per week, on average.

But they acknowledged being deficient in key skills:

  • Forty percent said they don’t know how to effectively use generative AI at work.
  • Forty-three percent said they don’t know how to use generative AI with trusted data sources while keeping first-party data secure.
  • Fifty-three percent said they don’t know how to get the most value out of generative AI.

Employees expect their company to close the skills gap

Salesforce study respondents said they want to learn and are looking to their companies for direction, but said employers are falling short:

  • Sixty-seven percent said they expect their employer to provide opportunities to learn how to use generative AI, but …
  • 66% said their employer doesn’t offer training on the technology.

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