Reflecting on the recent Intelligent Assistant (IA) conference hosted by Opus Research in San Francisco, I am struck by how the event provided attendees with a glimpse into the future of consumer interactions. Mention the term virtual assistant and the average consumer will think of the speech-enabled assistant running on their smartphone. The Opus conference helped open our minds to a new generation of virtual assistants that can help quench our thirst, order a pizza or guide us through the setup of a home WiFi network.
Dom, Wendy and Chip, respectively the intelligent virtual assistants deployed by Domino’s Pizza, Windstream Communications and The Coca-Cola Company were undisputedly the stars of the event (and I’m not the only one to think so judging from the ABC news coverage below). Executives from these three organizations shared with attendees how transformational these virtual assistants have been to these organizations. For example, Sarah Day, Vice President of Consumer Marketing at Windstream, revealed that Wendy has been so effective at helping their customers address technical support issues that the demand for human agent-assisted support via live-chat has plummeted by 45% over the past year. Ms. Day mentioned how the organization appreciated the cost reduction driven by Wendy, but she also mentioned that Wendy has transformed consumer perception of the Windstream brand from laggard to innovator. Further, she shared how consumers are so impressed by Wendy that they often thank her for the help she has provided and the time she took to assist them, a pleasantly surprising reaction considering that Wendy is after all a virtual persona and not a real person.
Michael Bowers, Director of Contact Center Operations at Coca-Cola, echoed similar results from Chip, the virtual assistant on the Coke website. Mr. Bowers struck an emotional chord with attendees when he shared recent examples of TV advertising spots that had triggered a veritable flood of consumer outreach to Coca Cola. These consumer interactions were gracefully handled by the beverage giant’s virtual assistant. Similarly to Wendy, beyond being a great brand ambassador, Chip has also enabled the Coca-Cola Company to drive down its operating costs.
I felt, however, that the spotlight was overtaken by Dom, the virtual assistant recently launched by Domino’s Pizza. Opus Research seemed to agree, awarding Dom “Best Virtual Assistant Deployment” at the event, further solidifying his celebrity status. Dom makes ordering a Pizza on your smartphone fun, quick and easier than ever before. Dennis Maloney, VP of Multimedia Marketing at Domino’s Pizza, delivered a live demo on stage where he asked Dom for an “Extra-large pepperoni pizza, a medium cheese pizza with banana peppers and some chicken wings”. Not only did Dom take the order more efficiently than a human would, his joyful voice and casual tone made the process friendly and fun. Dom even had a pizza joke to share with the crowd that got the room laughing out loud. Beyond the prospect of Dom helping bring new customers to the brand and driving existing customers to order more frequently, what struck me the most was Dom’s ability to establish a relationship with the customer. I can easily foresee Domino’s customers looking forward to ordering a pizza because of the fun experience that Dom brings to what most people would consider a very mundane process.
This ability to turn the mundane into a fun, easy and streamlined experience is, in my opinion, a core reason why virtual assistants will be increasingly prevalent in our everyday lives, assisting us with the entire lifecycle of consumer interactions, from shopping, to support.
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