Founder and CEO Gnatta
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How to create a compelling virtual assistant

27th Jul 2018
Founder and CEO Gnatta
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We’re seeing more virtual assistants in the news, but they’ve yet to become mainstream in business’ customer service provisions. Virtual assistants can’t be bought off-the-shelf. They need to be tailored to the values, messages, and character of the business they represent, and to the customers they hope to serve.

VAs need to support the customer service team and the customer while also ensuring that the wrong behaviour isn’t rewarded. There are a range of questions that a business must consider before investing in developing a virtual assistant of its own.

1. Give the virtual assistant the right voice and tone

Deciding on the voice of the virtual assistant isn’t a simple matter. Research into how men responded to male and female voices found that many men found a woman’s voice more trustworthy than a man’s voice, while a separate study found that both men and women prefer to receive instructions from a male voice.

Rather than creating a voice that fits a stereotypical gender role, businesses may want to create a genderless voice for the VA – even then they are likely to run into problems with tone. The emotion and rhythm in speech are fundamental to our ability to communicate and signpost where the conversation is heading next. Without the correct tone, the inhumanity of the machine behind the voice becomes obvious and could make many customers uncomfortable.

2. Give the virtual assistant the ability to converse

Many of us already have bad experiences of ‘talking to machines’ – some may even dread not being able to get through to a person – but natural language processing is advancing. It’s becoming easier for virtual assistants to understand humans and provide the right response.

If virtual assistants are to help customer service teams, rather than merely transfer annoyed customers to them, they must have the ability to hold simple conversations. Customers need to see that they can resolve their issue by speaking with a VA.

3. Create a virtual assistant that can mimic emotion

Artificial intelligence is already being used to track and change emotion, and this technology needs to be incorporated into VAs if they are to be successful. For example, research has found that a virtual agent which displays an emotional facial expression that reflects the emotion of the person it’s talking to can cause the feeling to persist or even neutralise a negative emotion.

A lot of empathy is communicated via facial expressions. Customers using VAs will be looking for cues that the agent they are talking to understands the emotion of their words. Without this sign of understanding, there’s a risk that customers will find communicating with a VA more alienating than engaging.

4. Allow customers to select from a diverse range of appearance options

As VA technology develops, businesses that offer customers a range of assistants – for example, ones that speak in their native language, or represent a selection of races, ages, genders, and appearances – will likely benefit from higher customer satisfaction.

The current lack of diversity in the tech industry may impact the appearance of early VAs, but as the market gets more mature and businesses start building their own virtual assistants, there will be a greater demand for diversity, representation, and choice.

5. Decide how the virtual assistant will work with traditional customer service options

Virtual assistants in customer service are best used when working in conjunction with human customer service agents. Both should work together to create a frictionless, seamless service for customers.

Businesses need to use systems that instantly share data between agents – physical or virtual – so that customers who have their queries passed between the two don’t experience issues or find that they have to repeat themselves. The virtual assistant should be just another member of the team.

6. Ensure the virtual assistant is flexible enough to customise

Virtual assistants must be fully customisable. Businesses should be able to control which queries are dealt with by machines and which are always managed by humans. For example, at first, the more sensitive or complex issues should be sent through to a human agent as a priority.

The business should have the ability to modify this as it becomes more confident in the VA and the customer’s reaction to the new technology.

7. Ensure that the virtual assistant is adaptable

We expect people working on customer service teams to be able to learn, adapt, and grow, and we should hold virtual assistants to the same standard. A good VA will be designed with a true AI at its core. Every customer conversation should improve the next interaction, and each time the call has to be passed on to a human agent for resolution, the agent should inform the VA of the correct resolution so it can learn why it got the solution wrong.

For virtual assistants to be more than just computer programmes with a face, the people developing them – and the businesses wishing to use them – need to give them both the ability and the information to learn.

Effective virtual assistants represent the business just as much as human customer service agents do. If they’re to be accepted, and normalised, they need to have the ability to replicate emotion and expressions – to make customers feel comfortable talking to pixels, rather than a person.

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