Trick question: Who work 24×7, engage customers and answer questions in a smart and fun way, give website tours, show relevant web pages, and never call in sick?
Answer: Virtual assistants (VAs).
Also called virtual customer assistants, chatbots, avatars, and concierges, VAs help businesses wow customers with distinctive self-service, increase brand equity, and cut costs. Unified VAs are even multilingual and, unlike point products, integrate with human-assisted interaction channels for a seamless customer journey! As a pioneer in this domain for over 15 years, eGain has compiled best practices in VA deployment over the years. Here are some popular ones:
1. Deploy everywhere. Deploy the VA not just on your website, but also mobile and social channels. VAs are perfect as personal attendants. They can greet customers, chat with them (good VAs can discuss the weather, too!), show customers around, and answer questions.
2. Don’t bury your VA in the Help section. Lead with the VA (see our next tip). Make the VA available on every page. Better still, make it proactively offer help and tours of your website. On your mobile app, you could even use the VA to start and guide all customer interactions.
3. Make the VA 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, and static or animated options. You could choose to design your own VA, even model it on 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 VA.
4. 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.
5. Be “understanding”. VAs are capable of understanding natural language queries. Make sure yours 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.
6. Be polite. In particular, 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 for me to help, if you could break it up into a series of simple questions.”
7. Show rather than talk. Keep answers short—this is especially important for mobile and speech interactions. Instead, push relevant pages. Many customers don’t know their way around; in fact, that may be the reason they summoned help!
8. 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 for multichannel customer engagement and knowledge management. Provide longer knowledge base articles as links to keep the VA’s answers short.
9. Say no to silo. For complex questions, make sure that the VA “knows its limitations” and can escalate seamlessly to live agents (e.g. human-assisted chat and cobrowse) but the customer should not have to repeat context in such escalations. The VA should also be able to direct the customer to more advanced self-service methods such as guided help, powered by AI reasoning. It is better for your VA to be “humble” and seek help rather than trying to solve “world hunger” and ruining the customer experience! This means a VA should be part of a unified omnichannel engagement platform rather than being yet another silo.
10. 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 website, you could integrate the VA with other systems to provide account information such as details of the customer’s phone plan if you are a telecom company. The next step would be to make targeted offers to the customer through the VA.
11. Outsource maintenance. While VAs are “low maintenance” in some ways, they do need some maintenance and upkeep. Experienced VA vendors offer cost-effective managed services to maintain the VA, including knowledge authoring and updates. As IT and authoring backlogs continue to increase, this could be a compelling option for many organizations.
12. Derisk. Ask vendors to de-risk VA deployments with truly zero-risk production pilots that include no-charge guidance on best practices and no obligation to buy. This approach will allow you to establish clear value from the pilot in your own business environment before you invest in and scale the deployment.
VAs are not just toys or gimmicks. Done right with a proven technology that is part of a unified omnichannel customer engagement platform, they can generate true value for the customer and the business.