By Becky Hurley | Jun 15, 2015
Digital Assistants for Company Interfaces
Eight years before James Cameron's introduced Avatar and its computer-generated creatures to moviegoers, CodeBaby had already developed its first digitally-drawn Intelligent Virtual Assistant (IVA) prototype. Its animated IVAs with names like "Jill" or "Bob," however, were designed to go to work rather than to entertain.
CodeBaby's "makers" are master artists, animators, and software/web developers. Workstations churn with creativity as client service employees pull base characters from a library of multi-cultural IVAs and modify them to specific education, information, or sales task needs.
The process begins when in-house client service specialists go through an in-depth customer "discovery session" with a client. Each animated character is then customized, not only to assist with often complex process navigation, but to cement consumer relationships. The company's engineers also created a 'secret sauce' in a tool used to animate and lip sync the characters to the voice-talent recorded audio, McGuire explains. "Our small operation is very similar to the process you would find at a giant animation company like Disney."
Ironically, success has come only after investors and management were forced to rethink the operation's business model and target markets. "Our first IVAs were designed for e-learning companies and educators, but that market proved thin," says McGuire, who has led the company since 2011.
CodeBaby pivoted to healthcare and insurance, and the result has been a significant upswing in clients and revenues. Today company builds custom-designed visual assistants for healthcare providers and exchanges, insurers, financial services companies, and other businesses. Connect for Health Colorado, CareFirst/Blue Cross Blue Shield, Vanguard, American Express, Novo Nordisk, T-Mobile, Staples, and others are already on board.
CodeBaby's virtual assistants handle the heavy-lifting for online customer self-service, education and customer engagement -- in any language, 24/7. They smooth the way for consumers who must navigate multi-layered information and decision-making sites.
The engaging IVAs help navigate benefits selection, healthcare education, and patient engagement. This assist to online self service ultimately drives the visitor to conversion or making a purchase.
"Our products support enterprise companies with a communication or information 'pain point,' McGuire says, adding that IVA technology is cloud-based, saving its customers IT involvement and server space. That's important in a CRM -- Customer Relationship Management -- environment where it's vital to keep labor costs and head counts down.
CodeBaby's built-in analytics also measure sales and "engagement" results. "We've seen increased customer loyalty and sales conversion rates from 400 [percent] to an astronomical 1800 percent when using the IVA over not using one," McGuire says.
More than cool widgets, use of IVAs is expected to grow more than 30 percent over the next five years to $3 billion annually. Virtual assistants, he points out, are the future of digital communications across desktops, tablets, phones and eventually wearable devices.
"CodeBaby has recently become an Oracle Gold Partner, offering our IVA as a part of their solution catalog," McGuire says. "We continually align with partners, consultants, benefit platform providers, and call center consultants. IVAs are a key part of driving costs down and revenues up in these areas."
Challenges: McGuire says a top challenge is identifying "the potential new vertical markets that can benefit from web-based self-service."
Opportunities: Hospitals and other providers. "We currently serve mostly the payor side [insurance companies] of healthcare, but do the behind-the-scenes work for providers as well," says McGuire. "Our IVAs also serve the public and private healthcare exchanges. For hospitals, our virtual assistants keep re-admission rates down by providing discharge apps in the patient's native language. Patients provide more honest answers when interacting with an online character than with a human being, even medical personnel. Where there is a complex online process or need for self-service -- or a need to provide consistent information in multiple languages -- we are the ideal solution."
Needs: "Bandwidth necessary for market coverage," says McGuire. "We're small and privately funded so we have to be selective about the markets we enter."