Virtual assistants and chatbots came to the wider audiences in the spring of 2016 when Facebook announced the possibility to build bots into Messenger. After initial inflated expectations the chatbot fever somewhat declined. However, much like in the Gartner Hype Cycle, the importance of virtual assistants is bound to grow in importance. And the reason is that superior customer experiences enable companies to retain and upsell to existing customers.
This follows the rollout of Aggregation Theory impact on businesses. “First, the Internet has made distribution (of digital goods) free, neutralizing the advantage that pre-Internet distributors leveraged to integrate with suppliers. Secondly, the Internet has made transaction costs zero, making it viable for a distributor to integrate forward with end users/consumers at scale”.
Such impact can be clearly seen in the realm of digital businesses – news media, movie rentals, social media. However, as many traditional services are becoming commodities, customers have much easier tasks in switching their suppliers. Electricity in Northern Europe is a good example – you can switch your electricity service provider through the internet. Electricity as a product is a commodity. Switching to another mobile operator can also be done through the internet. Mobile network access is a commodity. Switching from one bank to another is increasingly easier with all the fintech startups out there. Access to financial products is becoming a commodity.
In the light of this one thing is clear – customer experience matters. And there are three distinct opportunities where virtual assistants can currently help companies:
- Make companies available 24/7 for their customers. Customers want answers Friday night 11pm and Sunday morning 7am. If you can serve them answers with virtual assistants during those times, it is much better than finding out that customers have to wait until Monday morning 9am to call customer service. Waiting kills experiences and drives customers away.
- Convert conversations to sales. Analyzing conversations with customers and providing guidelines for virtual assistants, they are able to upsell your products and services at the right time to the right people. As natural language algorithms detect intents, you can use follow-up dialogue in intents to trigger sales pitches and run this across thousands of conversations. This way conversations can be turned into increases in sales automatically.
- Human work gets more optimized. As the virtual assistant analyzes conversations and knows the skills and performance of human customer service agents, it can prioritize incoming requests from customers and route the most important ones (e.g. customer wants to leave the service or is interested in buying more products from the business) to the customer service representatives that can help those customers the best.
Customers have more choice than ever in selecting their service providers. As such competition will be more and more in the realm of providing superior customer experience. Virtual assistants are one way of standing out in the crowd and beating your competition.
Here’s a simple thing you can do. I advise to visit the website of your competitors. See how well they can be reached and how quickly they respond. Via phone in 3 minutes? Or through chat in 1 second? Think what you would want as a user.