Just a few short years ago, marketing teams looked to the “cutting-edge” technology of the time to engage with customers more efficiently: IVRs. These tools served a useful purpose, providing quick answers to straightforward questions and slashing wait times—but they’re no longer cutting it. IVRs can only address a handful of questions and concerns, and make the customers bend their ways to interact with them, leaving those with unresolved problems more annoyed than they were to begin with.
On the other end of the spectrum are chatbots. At their prime, chatbots took over the digital channels and promised to offer a simple yet effective way of engaging with customers. Brands were eager to launch the very first chatbot in their respective industries but soon got their hands burned. Facebook’s messenger chatbots saw a failure rate of 70 percent while handling customer requests. Rule based chatbots, without any real intelligence and natural language understanding to support them, soon failed to impress the market.
That’s why the past year brought widespread adoption of AI-powered virtual assistants—systems that are a whole lot more intelligent and useful than their legacy predecessors, IVRs, and their nascent counterpart, chatbots. As a result, the market saw significant growth in 2018, with 90 percent of firms using AI to improve the customer experience and boost revenue. Even so, vendors have over-promised and under-delivered on their virtual assistants’ functionality, and customers are growing tired of it.
To be certain that your AI-supported customer experiences will stand out from competitors (and please your customers) there are three questions marketers need to ask of their virtual assistants. No, I don’t mean “What’s the weather?”; “What time does Home Depot open” or “Can I speak to a person?” Instead, the most impactful virtual assistants should be asked the following three questions.
Can you answer open ended questions?
With 81 percent of CX leaders reporting they’ll soon compete primarily on the basis of CX, and an overwhelming 96 percent of customers reporting CX impacts their brand loyalty, it has never been more important for marketers to consistently create positive, seamless and conversational customer experiences across channels. What’s one clear way to ensure that each and every interaction with a customer is productive? Create space for customers to express themselves in ways that come naturally.
No customer wants to be forced to use restrictive dial menus or engage in ‘robot-speak’. The most effective virtual assistants will be those that enable natural, open-ended conversations with customers; starting with questions like “How may I help you?” or “What can I do for you today?” Doing so requires marketers to lean heavily on advanced speech and language technologies, but will ensure their customers find the fastest route to resolution and won’t associate the brand with frustrating, unproductive customer experiences.
Can conversations be interrupted?
A fast way to a consumer’s heart is to recognize that life happens. Most people can’t anticipate how their days will unfold, and virtual assistants should be prepared for this reality. No one wants to restart a conversation just because they had to switch from text to phone for their drive to work, or switch from phone to email because their kid came home from school. That’s why the next wave of innovation in customer care will address this pain point head on—with true omnichannel capabilities.
Omnichannel virtual assistants allow brands to create cohesive experiences across channels by persisting the context of the conversation through the channel switch. A recent report found that brands with the best omnichannel customer care retain 89 percent of their customers, compared to 33 percent for brands that miss the mark. Though omnichannel capabilities have already begun seeping into CX practices, they are still significantly underutilized. With customer expectations only getting higher, 2019 is the year omnichannel will become crucial.
To get started, take a look at the channels that are most active for your audience. Where do customers typically reach out to you? Why do they get in touch? Are their questions typically sorted out over the phone, or do they require written materials best communicated over email? Once you synthesize this information and establish a solid understanding of how your customers communicate, then you can tailor an omnichannel strategy to fit your needs.
Do you sound like…us?
Early customer care technologies like IVRs were deployed uniformly across companies and industries. Lacking valuable context for the unique qualities of different verticals, this rudimentary tech often left customers dissatisfied.
Looking ahead, stand-out virtual assistants will be those that understand the subtleties of language within particular industries or certain brands. For instance, a customized virtual assistant could distinguish between an automotive Mustang and an equine Mustang, or an Explorer produced by Ford, and a person who enjoys adventure.
Additionally, leading virtual assistants will have a voice and tone that’s consistent with your brand. This requires marketing teams to think differently about branding. Rather than branding digital properties and marketing materials, they have to apply their expertise to branding a voice. To date, few companies have invested in this level of customization, leaving the door wide open for agile companies to jump on this practice as a competitive differentiator.
Though AI-powered virtual assistants are miles ahead of first generation customer care technology, there’s plenty of room for improvement. With virtual assistants becoming increasingly mainstream, 2019 will be the year a select few brands look to the most advanced applications of AI to support their customers. Fortunately, you’re only three questions away from reaching the front of the pack.