Our recent What’s Next seminar, showcasing Visionworks’ success with virtual agents, revealed insightful views and best practices.
Companies that have been slow to embrace AI and automation can no longer afford to do so, as detailed by featured presenter Shawnna DelHierro during the recent What’s Next in Digital Healthcare Experiences seminar hosted by Amelia. (Click here to watch the replay.)
“I think if nothing else, COVID certainly taught us that we don’t have that luxury any longer,” said DelHierro, formerly the Chief Information Officer of Retail Technology for Visionworks of America, a subsidiary of VSP Global.
The pandemic highlighted the urgent need to modernize healthcare’s antiquated operations. Since the industry relies heavily on in-person interactions, when the pandemic hit and people were forced to stay home, health systems around the world faced unprecedented volumes of virtual requests, with limited resources to manage the surge.
For example, Visionworks needed to navigate increasing call volumes, temporary store closures and re-openings, and the contactless delivery of eye care products and services. “We knew that we had to move quickly to be able to serve our patients and our customers, to be able to provide the experience that they were accustomed to,” said DelHierro.
The Visionworks team also knew they couldn’t rely solely on human employees, and that the company’s existing legacy IVR was not agile enough to adapt in pandemic conditions. To truly support their customers, patients, and staff, they needed to deploy AI – and in September 2020, Visionworks hired Amelia as its virtual specialist.
Key Learnings from Visionworks’ AI Journey
Visionworks’ AI journey exemplifies best practices for ensuring a successful and high-value AI deployment. Firstly, it draws attention to the importance of finding a solution that fits both current and future needs — in essence, a solution that is agile and scalable. “When we looked at what was the long term, and maybe what was going to take more time [and] a bit more in the way of investment — both in time and in money – it just made sense to do something that was going to afford us the ability to be more agile in the long run,” said DelHierro.
“When we looked at [a] virtual agent as the option and the opportunity, it made the most sense. It was the solution that could scale, that could pivot when needed… [and] be more universal across the other areas of our business,” she said.
Navigating the pandemic was the company’s initial challenge, but the team also knew that deploying a Conversational AI-powered virtual agent would help them scale to match the ebb and flow of retail and clinical seasonality in the future. Unlike basic chatbots that address single, pre-scripted tasks — for example, providing COVID-19 protocols or store closure information — virtual agents learn and evolve to fit the ongoing needs of customers and the company.
As the pandemic surged on, however, the team knew that first and foremost, Amelia needed to address customers’ immediate needs as they were isolating or quarantining at home. Amelia needed to be capable of handling what DelHierro called the “mission-critical intents,” such as: providing COVID-protocol information, allowing customers and patients to change and schedule appointments, and providing order and shipping status updates.
Amelia was up and running in short order, but it took some time before customers and patients acclimated to the new method of support. DelHierro explained that while the solution was initially met with reservation, as Amelia learned, grew, and developed new skills based off customers’ actual needs and questions, and returned responses faster than most humans, customer experiences improved. Visionworks’ successful deployment shows the value of quickly mobilizing AI and trusting in its ability to improve over time.
Getting Employees On Board with AI
DelHierro also shared insight on how to navigate hesitance from a company’s other most important audience — employees. “Any time that you introduce something like AI, RPA, there’s an immediate kind of point of resistance [from employees] … an inherent fear that it’s going to take jobs,” she said. Anticipating this reaction, the Visionworks team took steps to ensure the workforce was on board with the deployment of Amelia from the very beginning.
“We were really very keen on ensuring that we took partners across the business to educate them on the ‘why,’ to educate them on the capabilities and competencies of the solution, and to be able to drive them to engagement, [and] give the opportunity to really weigh in,” she said. The team conducted an internal “automation roadshow,” during which they spoke with stakeholders from across the enterprise to learn about their pain points and to discuss how AI could help. “As we did that, the excitement started to kind of snowball,” she said.
By including employees in the AI journey, Visionworks established a culture in which a virtual agent, in this case Amelia, is seen as a true digital colleague. “[The] conversation has shifted to: ‘What can we do to utilize our digital colleague more effectively?’ or ‘Is there something that we can do to put [Amelia] to work to be able to generate a solve?’” said DelHierro.
Visionworks’ AI journey is a textbook example for all healthcare organizations looking to successfully adopt AI. From virtual agents enabling care at home, to providing immediate mental health support, to supporting medication management, to recognizing burnout in practitioners, AI is poised for tremendous growth and impact throughout the healthcare industry.