What is an API?
An API, short for Application Programming Interface, is essentially what it says on the tin: An interface that enables different apps to exchange information with each other. In support automation, common examples include an API making it possible for your chatbot to receive info from your CRM, or for your virtual agent to pull data from your back office software.
When an ecommerce customer asks about the status of their order, a customer in travel asks about a seat change, or a fintech customer wants to know how far along their transfer is, a virtual agent can fetch the answer to their questions by calling an API to retrieve the info from the backend software the company is using to store it. In ecommerce, that would likely be a shipping management application. In travel, your airline’s seating database. In fintech, the backend software that manages transactions.
“Imagine an API as a door to an external system. Opening that door helps receive data from that system,” explains Mats Kipper, Senior Product Manager at Ultimate.
The only caveat? The “door” doesn’t just open automatically, and it can’t know what data you want from it until you tell it exactly what you need to know. That’s why we talk about “calling an API”. We’re ringing the doorbell to get in.
How do API integrations make your support more efficient?
Because APIs can be used to provide data from any program and your virtual agent platform, they are critical to a range of tasks that ultimately make your support faster, smarter, and more personalized: As mentioned, an API can help your VA pull information from your CRM. At Ultimate, we use native integrations with all major CRM providers like Zendesk to do this.
One of the perks that come with this is personalized dialogue flows. Native integrations make all the customer data stored in your CRM available for your virtual agent to look up with only a few clicks, the same way a human agent could. So chat dialogues and email conversations can be personalized based on language, location, and many additional parameters. The API is what provides that info to the virtual agent. For example, customers using our Zendesk Sunshine conversations integration can use APIs to modify their avatar in the Sunshine Conversations chat widget.
But even businesses that don’t use one of our native CRM integrations would be able to use their CRM with Ultimate — as long as they’re using an API to (securely!) unlock their customer relationship management data, or willing to call Ultimate's public API — the door to our industry-leading virtual agent platform with all of its joyful automation capabilities. Using custom integrations, we help our customers personalize conversation flows and improve handle times with programs like Shopify, SAP, and Stripe.
Improving automated customer experiences with APIs
Speedy self-service is a huge plus for customer satisfaction, and APIs can help automate certain support requests end-to-end. For example, Papier, an ecommerce company we work with, lets their virtual agent retrieve information from their back office system, Sorted. The way it does this is by calling Sorted’s API to retrieve a shipment status in real time. The virtual agent then passes that information on to Papier’s customers 24/7 via the chat widget.
Decreasing agent handle times with APIs
And even if the dialogue flow or email exchange does require escalation to a human agent, APIs can trigger the escalation and create a seamless agent handover by helping the VA auto-fill data and automatically create tickets. For example, a virtual agent can call an API to help authenticate users, a frequent use case we see among our igaming or fintech customers. Automated authentication helps shorten conversations, minimize admin for human agents, and decrease agent handle times.