As I looked over my daughter’s Santa list this week, I found myself wondering why she wants some of these toys. Is it because other kids want them or because she saw them in a commercial and they looked “cool” or does she, in fact, have a deeper understanding about what they offer and the enjoyment they will provide?
Her motivation is key. Too many times, I’ve seen toys get sidelined after just a few play sessions because the novelty has worn off and they “aren’t fun anymore.” By contrast, when a deeper interest exists, the toy provides lasting value. Similarly, virtual assistants are on many enterprise wish lists, but to be successful, organizations need to be motivated by the customer benefit they provide, rather than simply wanting to dazzle customers with cutting edge technology.
At Nuance, we are ushering in the day when nearly all customer service is automated and consumers will prefer it. The operative phrase in this vision is that “consumers will prefer it” because, if they don’t, the virtual assistant will end up on the shelf with other discarded technology. So, the key questions are what makes consumers prefer automated customer service and how do you ensure that your virtual agent provides lasting value?
Virtual assistants provide quick and consistent service
Virtual assistants have some natural advantages over live agents. First of all, you don’t have to wait to speak to a virtual assistant. As Nuance’s Andy Mauro points out, “what customers want is an outcome, a quick response to their problems. If an intelligent agent can solve a problem quicker, that is what the customer wants.” The second advantage is the consistency that virtual assistants provide. For consumers, it often feels like they are rolling the dice when getting connected to a live agent; will the agent be informed, fluent in English and able to solve their problem? It is exceedingly difficult for enterprises to ensure all agents are equally capable of helping customers. By contrast, virtual assistants share the same training and never have an off day.
Deliver desired outcomes
These advantages are wasted, however, if the virtual agent doesn’t deliver the outcome customers are looking for – a resolution to their problem. When implemented for novelty sake, companies often fail to invest the resources required to effectively automate valuable use cases. When working with global companies who serve millions of consumers each year, Nuance focuses on interpreting the intent behind a customer’s request and building dialogues to refine the system’s understanding, thereby ensuring the provided answers truly address the customer’s unique need. In addition, we help our clients identify multi-step transactions that can be automated as opposed to limiting the virtual assistant to merely answering routine questions. Too often, virtual agents provide a “how to” answer but fail to actively help complete the task.
Addressing points of failure
Lastly, the motivation to provide customer value leads to an investment in addressing points of failure. Initially, virtual assistants are not going to handle every need customers have, so the question becomes what do you do when the virtual assistant can’t help?
First and foremost, it is critical to identify, in real-time, cases where the virtual assistant is falling short so that a handoff to a live agent can be offered. This ensures that customers get what they need and don’t view the technology as a roadblock. Secondly, Nuance works very closely with clients to optimize the virtual assistant. This is an ongoing process by which new intents are identified and additional dialog and content is added to address customer needs that were not previously anticipated. In this way, the virtual assistant learns and gets better over time.
Implementing a successful virtual assistant takes effort, but the benefits are worth it. When customers experience automated customer service that delivers real value, they will increasingly prefer it and calls/chats with live agents will decline. That’s a win-win – the customer gets the help they need quickly and the enterprise saves money. It’s no wonder a virtual assistant is on so many enterprise wish lists.