The building blocks to create a virtual assistant

Virtual assistants are revolutionizing the customer service industry by empowering customers with automated self-service around the clock. Virtual assistants provide a cost-effective way for businesses to provide consumers with the high quality experience they are increasingly expecting. Here's a quick guide to building a virtual assistant which will reflect your company brand and provide a superior customer experience.
Businesses must carefully piece together all the elements of their virtual assistant to ensure a superior customer experience.

As consumers increasingly expect automated, around-the-clock availability from the companies they do business with, organizations are turning to virtual assistant technology to bolster their customer service operations. A virtual assistant at the forefront of your company’s communications is the most cost-effective means of providing excellent customer service to your customers 24 hours a day. They significantly reduce the burden on live agents by answering repetitive questions and enabling your customers to self-serve. This popular technology is fast and easy to implement, but it’s vital to take a moment to remember that a virtual assistant is an extension of your brand. It’s critical that your virtual assistant reflects your company’s values, essence and objectives. Here’s a quick guide to what your business needs to consider in order to design an assistant that makes your company proud and provides a superior customer experience.

There are several elements of a virtual assistant. Some companies may choose to implement all – or just some – of these components based on how the virtual assistant fits within the company’s overall customer experience.

  1. Voice: With regard to voice, whether the sound of an assistant in an IVR, or the tone of a chat conversation on a company website, you want to select a voice that embodies the feel of the brand – playful, serious, futuristic, etc.
  2. Name: Should companies choose to name their assistant, it’s a significant decision. Just like naming a baby, companies should devote time and careful thought to naming the virtual assistant and considering all possible connotations. The name must be easy to say and should be connected to the corporate brand in some way (for example, “Dom” for Dominos).
  3. Personality: Is she friendly and casual? Is he professional and businesslike? Once again, your corporate branding guidelines will help drive this decision. For example, a bank whose founding principles are “secure and reliable” may want to craft a personality that’s more trustworthy and dependable. In contrast, a large retail chain that targets Millennials may choose a personality that’s more relatable and engaging. You’re creating the personality of your best and most visible customer service representative.
  4. Visual representation: Some businesses also want a visual representation of their virtual assistant, which typically falls into two categories: avatar or abstract. Avatars are anthropomorphic visual representations and are often viewed as being friendlier because they can use natural human facial expressions and body language. But with that in mind, you want to make sure your design isn’t too cartoonish to be taken seriously and doesn’t fall into what people in the industry call “uncanny valley,” which is a term used for computers or robots that bare near-identical resemblance to humans, resulting in people feeling uncomfortable or even “creeped out.” To avoid uncanny valley, avatars should be humanlike and friendly, but not cross the line of pretending to be human. The other visual category businesses can select is abstract, which is based upon geometry and shapes. Abstract visuals are distinctly less personal and rely heavily on expert motion design in order to communicate emotions and interaction states.
  5. Animations: The last piece of the communication puzzle that companies may want to include is body language and emotion. Design teams can create different animations for when the virtual assistant is launched, listening, speaking, etc. In addition, virtual assistants can show emotion and intelligent understanding by having various speaking animations that allow the assistant to demonstrate visual contextual awareness. For example, when a customer successfully completes a transaction, the assistant can be designed to do a happy bounce or dance.

Virtual assistants are becoming more popular every day, and they hold immense possibilities for customer service. Companies would be smart to embrace virtual assistants as part of their service strategy. But as businesses catch on to this technology, they should take care to ensure every piece of their virtual assistant accurately reflects the brand and provides a positive customer experience.

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Susan Daniel

About Susan Daniel

Susan Daniel is a principal lead Nina interaction designer in Enterprise R&D at Nuance Communications. Susan has contributed design work to many virtual assistants for international customers, including: Fidelity, USAA, Dominos, and ING, among others. She also has ownership of multiple issued US patents in the virtual assistant domain.