Virtual Customer Assistant technology, or VCA,  is becoming more and more a part of everyday business. It’s important to be aware of what VCA can and can’t do today. It is also wise to keep an eye towards the future and plan for what it may be able to do a few years down the road.

Virtual Customer Assistant that helps customers
virtual customer assistants are the future of customer service

First, let’s start with what a Virtual Customer Assistant is.

virtual customer assistant is a business application that simulates a conversation in order to deliver information and, if advanced, takes action on behalf of the customer to perform transactions. Engagement with a VCA is possible via the web, SMS, consumer messaging apps, and more. They look a lot like a chatbot but don’t be fooled.

  • The integration and customization possibilities make this technology incredibly powerful.
  • It is able to perform many of the tasks a human employee might.
  • Things like scheduling appointments, placing or changing an order, or information requests suddenly become automated. What this can mean for a business is fewer man-hours spent on repetitive tasks and questions.
  • It’s estimated that this type of technology could save business owners over $81 billion dollars by 2022.

What Are Some Common Misconceptions About Virtual Customer Assistant Tech Today?

  • One myth floating around out there is that VCA can be “tricked” or easily broken. It is true that it can be fooled (i.e., it’s not going to understand something that is outside of its context or domain). For example, a customer asking a question where the answer is unknown or unanticipated is common. At this point in time it would be irresponsible to have a VCA give an answer that it was not programmed to offer.
  • Others believe that the virtual customer assistant is impersonal – a robot-like entity that is not as “warm and fuzzy” as a real person. For certain instances this is true – think mental health issues or life and death medical issues. That is why it should never fully replace human customer service and interactions. But it should, however, augment customer service when a human is not available, like after hours or when all employees are busy. A well-designed VCA’s convenience outweighs the lack of personality. In some cases, a VCA may offer more personality than some humans. Depending on the use of the VCA personality can be added to the technology. In light-hearted situations, ‘Facts of the Day’ or even dad jokes can be programmed into the script. Adding pauses at certain points, or even adding fake sneezes can bring a VCA to life.
  • Lastly, some people confuse VCAs with plain-old bots/chatbots. A bot lacks context and has a very finite number of responses it can give. After an initial query and answer, a basic web bot won’t do much beyond telling you to check back tomorrow, or taking a message. A VCA is trained to perform certain tasks that go well beyond chit-chat and provide lots of value where none existed before. For instance, if a user is asking the question ‘How do I reset my password?’ A chatbot may refer them to an article explaining how to do the process. A VCA will ask for the user email address and send a password reset link.

What About Developing A Virtual Customer Assistant?

In order to build a robust, useful Virtual Customer Assistant for your business, a developer needs to know conversational logic, your particular customer experience, and the best ways to funnel many different customer interactions to completion. An IVA that is going to be on the front lines for your business must be designed with the entire anticipated interaction in mind. This requires knowledge of your customer’s business processes and their customers’ intent. This intent is the reason for their contact with you – and each reason has a specific path to follow. While customers may have 25 possible intents, you might need 25 responses or ways of handling each of those intents.

An example where these can go wrong is if a patient asks a doctor’s VCA if they should take aspirin for an ailment. It would not make sense, and possibly be unethical, to have it answer. At this point, the VCA would not have all the knowledge a doctor would have regarding diagnosing patients. Not to mention that it may not have access to medical history where certain recommendations could actually be harmful.

That is why it is critical that in-depth discovery and mapping of the potential conversations are prioritized. It will be time well spent. Programming happens when all human elements have been defined. The “defining” is the hard part. The programming is the easy part, at least here at DiRAD Technologies

The VCA solution must mirror your business processes, mission, purpose, and vision. That’s why consulting with experts in the VCA field is always recommended. From planning and development to testing and implementation, DiRAD considers all aspects of your use case in order to build the best VCA for your customers and your business.

What Does The Future Of Virtual Customer Assistants Look Like?

To the delight of many, the emotional analysis ability of VCA’s will continue to improve. This will allow them to adjust their responses based on the user’s mood and sense of urgency.

In the future, speech recognition technology will become more advanced. Your voice will be cataloged and combined with other data points to get a clearer picture of you as a person, a consumer, and a citizen. Voice verification currently exists and there is no real barrier (outside of privacy issues) beyond the sheer amount of data and processing required to map a voice to a person, similar to facial recognition. Everything could be voice-driven. Think of an ATM at your bank. It could be equipped so that it looks at your face and matches it with your voice – no PIN required. And to thwart would-be criminals, a secret word or wink of the eye could trigger an alarm to the police that you’re taking out money against your will.

VCA will also continue to improve intent detection (i.e., what does this person really want), and make more decisions “on its own” about what to say next. Think of a case when someone is calling for store hours 10 minutes before closing. What the caller is really wanting is for the store to be open in 15 minutes when he finally gets there to pick up a birthday gift. For these situations, the IVA can be programmed to give store hours, but also alert a store representative of the question. If there is flexibility in closing times, the rep can pick up the phone and talk to the customer to let them know they would be happy to stay open an additional 10 minutes to accommodate them.

Do you still have questions you aren’t sure of when it comes to what a Virtual Customer Assistant can and can’t do? Is there a project where you feel a VCA would be a great solution, but you just can’t figure out how it would be developed? Give us a call. Our experts love talking with businesses to figure out how the latest technology can help streamline customer experiences and make businesses more efficient.

Article written by John Michne

John brings over two decades of experience to his role, having worked in just about every position in the company. As Vice President, John’s primary role is to evolve DiRAD’s legendary innovation in the government communications space as a national solution provider. John holds a bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice from the State University of New York at Oswego, and a Master’s degree in Public Administration from the State University of New York. John also holds several Microsoft and Interactive Intelligence technical certifications. In his spare time, he enjoys cycling, fitness and family time. You can learn more about John here.

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