Virtual Assistants: What Consumers Want, And How To Deliver

0aaAnand Subramaniam eGain

In an independent survey of 3,000 U.S. and UK consumers conducted by in late 2017, consumers said no to virtual assistant (VA) or chatbot silos. Key findings and our corresponding viewpoints are:

  • 59% of respondents (62% in the U.S. and 55% in the UK) found that having to repeat information and context to a human agent in the event of escalation from chatbots was the biggest hassle by far in using virtual assistants.
  • The second biggest deterrent at 32% (29% U.S. and 37% UK) was chatbots “getting stuck and not knowing what to do next.”

How can businesses not only eliminate these barriers to consumption but also take VA adoption to new levels? Here are 12 steps how:

  1. Put it in a hub: We have heard about customer interaction silos for years, and the last thing we need is yet another silo, namely, the chatbot silo! Make sure your VA is part of a unified multichannel customer engagement hub. That way, when it gets stuck trying to answer a customer question, it escalates with all the context intact to a human agent.
  2. Make it self-aware: You don’t want your VA to be like the stereotypical male driver, who would always think he knows the answer, and never ask for directions in the pre-GPS era! The VA should be taught to escalate to a human at a “Goldilocks” time — not too early or too late. Experienced solution providers know what this time might be and help set up the chatbots that way.
  3. Boost its IQ: Best-in-class chatbots go beyond Natural Language Understanding to leverage other AI technologies, such as machine learning, supervised learning, analytics and reasoning to boost the intelligence of chatbots.
  4. Deploy everywhere: Deploy the VA not just on your web site but also other digital touch points such as in-app, messaging, and social.
  5. Make it an ill-kept secret: Don’t bury your VA in the Help section. Lead with the VA (see our next tip) and make it available on every page. Better yet, make it proactively offer help, push contextual web pages, and conduct tours of your web site.
  6. Make it your brand ambassador: VAs are meant to represent your brand. Best-in-class VA solutions include off-the-shelf avatars, letting you choose from cartoon or realistic characters, as well as static or animated options. Of course, you could choose to design your own VA, even model it after your spokesperson if you have one for the brand. Good solutions also let you easily create a conversation style and tone that is unique to your brand.
  7. Keep it snappy: One of the main reasons consumers like VAs is their speed. Pick a solution whose infrastructure will allow performance to scale with system load.
  8. Cut the consumer some slack: Make sure your VA is tolerant of bad spelling and grammar. Enable various modes of conversation: modern VAs support text to text, speech to text, text to speech, and speech to speech communication modes. They also integrate with virtual personal assistants such as Alexa, Siri, and Cortana.
  9. Politeness pays: Especially when the VA is unable to understand the question. The following real-life example borders on rudeness: “Please, one idea at a time.” Instead, say, “I’m sorry, but that is a rather complicated request. It will be easier if you could break it up into a series of simple questions.”
  10. Show rather than talk: Keep answers short — this is especially important for mobile and speech interactions. Instead, push relevant pages. Many customers may not know their way around on your web site; in fact, that may be the reason they summoned help!
  11. Be consistent: The VA should “talk the same talk” as your other agents and self-service options. Make sure your VA does not run off a siloed, inconsistent knowledge base — it should be based on a unified platform not only for multichannel customer engagement but also knowledge management.
  12. Personalize: Good VAs can remember a detail such as the customer’s name, once it is given to them, and use it through the conversation. In authenticated portions of your web site, you could integrate the VA with other systems to provide informational and transactional customer service. You could also make targeted offers to the customer through the VA.

A good virtual assistant is like P. G. Wodehouse’s famous butler, Jeeves: Always present yet never in the way. It is knowledgeable, capable of keeping up with the workload, and able to summon additional help seamlessly when needed. Go Jeeves with your VA, you will be well on your way to wow consumers with engaging customer service!



Anand Subramaniam is the SVP of worldwide marketing for eGain Corporation, the leading provider of cloud customer-engagement solutions, guided by knowledge and AI. He holds an MBA from the University of California at Berkeley and an MSME from the University of Rhode Island.

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