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Why virtual assistants are not ‘one size fits all’

January 2, 2019

Marketers have long understood the importance of a customer-centric approach, but this mindset has never been more crucial. More than two-thirds of marketers today believe their companies compete primarily on customer experience (CX), and with more marketers realizing the importance of CX, this number is projected to grow to 81 percent within two years. Superior CX is already positively correlated with stock market performance, and experts estimate that by 2020, CX will surpass product and price as the main differentiator between brands.

Brands need to put customers at the center of everything they do, and this includes creating customer-centric, AI-based virtual assistants to manage customer interactions. Virtual assistants and other omnichannel engagement technologies are becoming an increasingly critical component of marketing strategies. As customer engagement technologies continue to develop, it’s critical that marketers ensure their virtual assistant is tailored to the needs and preferences of their unique audience. Here are three considerations for marketers building customer-centric virtual assistants for their brands.

No “one size fits all”

Virtual assistants are not “one size fits all.” No two companies have the same needs, so no two virtual assistants should be exactly the same, either. As I’ve written about in previous articles, your virtual assistant is an extension of your brand, so determining how it interacts with customers shouldn’t be taken lightly. Aside from persona, however, there are other major factors to consider before tailoring your virtual assistant to be more customer-centric: customer objectives and audience.

Customer objectives
Companies know what requests and issues are most common for their customers, and should make it a priority to ensure their virtual assistant is well-equipped to handle these inquiries. Only customized virtual assistants have the capabilities needed to truly understand the needs and requests of your customers, and offer support accordingly.  For instance, without context, a general virtual assistant wouldn’t know how to interpret “my Mustang” – it could be a car, or it could be a horse. However, when an AI-based conversational virtual assistant is designed so that it relies on data and ontologies tied to the auto industry, it has the context to understand that you’re talking about a car. Moreover, it understands “thinking about a new Mustang” should be tagged and treated as a sales opportunity, while “my Mustang won’t start” is a repair issue that should be flagged to the dealer.  And if it starts to see too many cars that won’t start, it can aggregate the data and flag it as a potential warranty or recall item early.

The point is, knowing what your customers might be trying to accomplish removes friction and improves CSAT and NPS. So set a high bar for any AI system to ensure it knows your business and customers; this will yield benefits to your customers and your metrics.

Audience preferences
Though companies have long monitored audience behaviors to inform marketing efforts, many aren’t using this data to inform the creation of virtual assistants. In particular, audience demographics, like age and language spoken, should shape the customization of virtual assistants. Though customers overall are becoming more comfortable interacting with AI, generational differences in preferred methods of communication persist. One major difference is in preferred channels for interacting with a company. A recent Interactions/Harris Poll survey found that while consumers overall are split on text vs. voice channels, 67 percent of millennials prefer texting while 67 percent of Baby Boomers prefer voice channels. You’ll want to make sure that your VA works on the channels your customers are using.

As for language-spoken, not to state the obvious, but a virtual assistant is of no value to a customer if it doesn’t speak the same language. As the market becomes increasingly global and diverse, companies should think seriously about adding various language capabilities to their virtual assistant – especially if their customer base is primarily in an area where two or more languages are commonly spoken.

Give the people what they want

To remain competitive, companies need to offer near-instantaneous customer experiences on whichever platform their customers prefer – and new technology is constantly raising this bar. Growing amounts of data, for example, are only elevating expectations of convenience. Customers increasingly expect that virtual assistants do more for them, like automatically accessing and making use of their account info, or anticipating why they’re calling. Another important element of convenience is enabling customers to talk like regular people. Everyone prefers to engage in natural conversations rather than communicating with companies via restrictive dial menus,‘robot speak’ or single word texts. As technology becomes more advanced and pervasive, systems that don’t enable natural conversation and convenience overall, are likely to fall by the wayside in favor of those that do.

How may we help you?

It’s important to pay close attention to customer feedback and continuously incorporate it into your virtual assistant strategies. If you don’t know what your customers want, ask them, conduct a survey, try using the channels yourself as a “customer”, do what you can to get honest insights from real people about what they want and need from your company. Also, pay close attention to any data from your virtual assistant’s interactions with customers. Looking at interaction metrics, for instance, is an excellent way to determine how customers receive your solution. Embedding a feedback loop into your virtual assistant’s development is one of the best ways to ensure that your customers remain at the center of your business.

Customer experience has never been more critical to a brand’s success – and its importance is on the rise. Unlike a product, your customer experience is assessed head to head against companies across industries, not just direct competitors. Deploying a virtual assistant tailored to your customers’ needs and preferences is a valuable step in the right direction.

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