The rise of virtual customer assistants has been rapid, of that, there is no doubt, and as with any new technology, there have been mixed opinions about its effectiveness. Nonetheless, despite some shortcomings in the initial versions of these solutions, it is already clear that virtual customer assistants have enormous potential in regard to enhancing the customer experience.
Perhaps the key to success when implementing a virtual customer assistant is to determine where it might best sit within the customer journey. Get this right, and it will be able to act as a valuable addition to the human advisor team, greatly improving your customer interactions.
A well-implemented virtual customer assistant – or in the context of a contact center, a virtual customer assistant – can offer your organization a whole host of benefits, many of which sit outside the realm of the benefits traditionally associated with customer service technologies.
Perhaps the main benefit of a virtual customer assistant is that it fits nicely into what is a growing demand from consumers for new ways to solve their problems and interact with brands and services. Part of this is a growing trend amongst customers to use text and instant messaging as their first choices when communicating with a contact center, rather than utilizing the more traditional voice channel.
The rise in the use of text and instant messaging channels goes hand in hand with a growing desire by customers to solve their problems themselves, rather than asking someone else to do it for them. This is driven, at least in part, by the growing number of Millennials within the customer base. The virtual customer assistant, of course, is the perfect response to these trends.
Of course, there are many other benefits that virtual customer assistants bring to the party, both from the perspective of the contact center and from that of the customer.
Probably the most crucial benefit, from the point of view of the contact center, is that implementing a virtual customer assistant should result in dramatic cost savings. It is well known that voice is the most expensive channel for such a center, so implementing a self-service tool that reduces the load on the voice channel is bound to save you money.
In addition to being cheaper than live agents, virtual customer assistants are also an efficient way to deliver customer service. Because responses to customer queries are based on pre-programmed logic, the consumer receives a rapid and pointed answer to their question. Furthermore, they eliminate human errors, such as delayed responses, incorrect information, or even rudeness.
And while it costs less than a human employee, a virtual customer assistant also works much harder, in the sense that it is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, taking no vacation time, sick leave, or even coffee breaks.
From the customers’ point of view, virtual customer assistants can improve their satisfaction, as they are now able to complete a transaction without needing to wait in a queue to talk to an agent, or painstakingly search the contents of an entire website for the answer. And they can use their channel of choice, such as text or instant message, to ask a question, knowing they will get an answer almost immediately.
This is because virtual customer assistants have faster and more accurate access to the client’s information. A virtual customer assistant linked to your company’s database will have immediate access to all the history of use and even behavior patterns that a particular client has, and as it is electronic in nature, it will be able to hunt down the relevant information required at speeds that would make even a superhuman agent blush.
Virtual customer assistants also improve things for agents, in that they offer the ability to solve simple, quick-response needs, which frees up your contact center’s customer service representatives to focus on the kind of complex customer demands and high-touch interactions that actually challenge them – and everyone wants a bit of challenge from their jobs.
There are even virtual customer assistants that have the ability to go a step beyond the standard simple question-answer interface. Using artificial intelligence to be able to understand the intent and sentiment of the query, they are able to translate this into actionable transactions. A good example here would be a situation where a customer wants to add another driver to their vehicle insurance policy. A transactional virtual customer assistant would be capable of actually walking the customer through the entire process required to achieve this, eliminating the need for the client to talk to a human agent.
Another major benefit is that virtual customer assistants can incorporate visual media, which is ideal since humans themselves are very visual creatures. While they do primarily communicate through text, virtual customer assistants are capable of incorporating rich media like picture and GIFs into the conversation. Using images like this can help make virtual customer assistants seem more human, or could even allow them to showcase a product that may be easier to display than to describe. A good example here is if a customer asks a question about a particular product and the virtual customer assistant is able to show them an image of the product, as well as similar products that may also interest the consumer.
Most critically, a virtual customer assistant, these days, is almost indistinguishable from a human and can deliver a seamless, natural human experience. In addition to this, it can give your brand a ‘voice.’ For example, if your brand is a more informal type, the virtual customer assistant can be programmed to use slang and casual language and can refer to the business in the first person.
With so many benefits to offer, the only thing that seems to be holding virtual customer assistants back at the moment is the fact that some of the initial high-profile solutions have demonstrated shortcomings. However, despite these, it should be obvious that they have the potential to contribute to and enhance the customer experience quite significantly.
Virtual customer assistants today are no longer merely a novelty item; they have the potential to further open up your company’s self-service channels while adding a great deal of value to the customer experience. Of course, in order to add this level of value, we need to use virtual customer assistants that truly make the client feel like they are having a conversation with a real human – one that is incredibly knowledgeable and quick to provide the right answers.
Enterprises today are constantly on the lookout for technologies that can save them money and decrease the load on their human agents while improving their ability to service the customer. At the same time, Consumers are increasingly seeking faster ways to resolve their problems and to do it by themselves if at all possible. Virtual customer assistants clearly meet the requirements of both customers and organizations.
Modern brands ultimately want to be where their customers are, and in a world rife with smartphones and social media, where those customers are is on their mobiles, texting, messaging and posting. Therefore, it should be obvious that using virtual customer assistants will become as natural to them as texting a friend.
[About the author] Dylon Mills is the Director of Marketing Content Strategy & Development at Jacada. As such, Dylon’s main responsibilities are to strategize, create and deliver content for Jacada’s product portfolio that align with the global Go-To-Market strategy, corporate positioning, and marketing campaigns. Dylon’s prior work experience includes Product Management at one of the top Fortune 500 Technology companies, Symantec Corporation. Outside of work, Dylon enjoys problem-solving and any project that includes building/tinkering with tools. Dylon holds a BS Consumer Economics from the University of Georgia.