Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Passive and active virtual assistants for human like interaction

Already for some time virtual assistants are claiming a place in the market. According to Gartner a Virtual assistant is; “a conversational, computer-generated character that simulates a conversation to deliver voice- or text-based information to a user via a Web, kiosk or mobile interface. A VA incorporates natural-language processing, dialogue control, domain knowledge and a visual appearance (such as photos or animation) that changes according to the content and context of the dialogue. The primary interaction methods are text-to-text, text-to-speech, speech-to-text and speech-to-speech

Digital assistance are playing more and more a role in the way humans interact with systems and the way, for example, customer care processes are shaped. They way people do think about how services should be provide is more and more on an always and everywhere presumption. People do have the need to be able to interact with a company at any moment in time and do expect to be helped directly. Companies who do offer poor quality of service for their customer care and customer support desks will find themselves moving down in the user satisfaction which will result directly to loss in revenue and harm to their brand. A number of options to implement are available; among them is a better way of interacting with the customer via a digital assistant who is present on your website.

Digital assistants have come a long way and due to the maturing of artificial intelligence the usability of digital assistance has grown over the years. By having a digital assistant on your website present you can lower the load on your human Servicedesk and provide customers with a faster way of finding services and answers to their questions online without the need for human interaction. A research paper from Nuance shows that 71% of the consumers prefer a web virtual assistant over a static web experience.

Virtual assistance can play a number of roles on your website all with the goal to enhance the customer experience and at the same time lower the load on your human Servicedesk engineers while at the same time also try to boost business by attracting new customers. This can be done in a number of ways.  Traditionally the way of interacting primary with a human representative, more commonly nowadays is that a consumer first is looking at the information presented on the website and if they are unable to locate the correct information or are unable to find answers to their problems they will interact with the Servicedesk, via email or via phone. Depending on the content of your website and depending on the quality of this content and ease of finding you will lower the number of interactions between the Servicedesk and the consumer.

The inability of your customers to locate the information they need is having two negative effects, firs the customer is frustrated because he is not getting the online experience he would like to have, secondly the load to your Servicedesk is increasing due to the fact more customers have a need to interact with you human Servicedesk. Shown in the below diagram you can see the flow (1) customer searching for information on your website, (2) the customer was unable to locate the required information and contacts the Servicedesk and finally (3) the customer is directed by the Servicedesk to the website where the customer can find the correct information.


When you deploy a virtual assistant the changes that there was a need to interact with a human service desk would be much more limited. The digital assistant could take over the role from the human Servicedesk and first try to help the customer by applying artificial intelligence. This would result in the following; the customer visits the website and interacts with the virtual assistant, (2) the virtual assistant directs the customer to the correct location on the website where the information can be found. In case the customer is still not finding the answers he is looking for the digital assistant can establish a connection for the customer with a human Servicedesk representative.

Even though we still keep the option open for customers to interact directly or via the digital assistant with a human Servicedesk the number of requests that need to be handled by the human Servicedesk is, in general, dropping significantly.


Even thought the above method is adding a lot of benefit to the experience of the customer and is limiting the number of calls to the human service center it is considered a passive digital assistant. The reason it is passive is that the customer needs to take the first step to start interacting with the digital assistant. A new and more recent implementation for digital assistants is a more active digital assistant. In this deployment model the digital assistant is trying to start the interaction with the customer even before the customer has opened the website.

A general way of implementing this is related to the analysis of publicly available data which can for example reside on social networks. By analyzing social networks you can identify existing customers who state they have a question, remark, complaint or thought about one of the products or services you provide. Traditionally you would be unaware of this up until the moment the customer initiates the contact with your Servicedesk or with the passive virtual assistant.  The same can be applicable for potential new customers, if a person who is not identified as a customer provides on a social network signals that he might be a potential new customer you can identify this and start interacting with this person.


Interaction commonly comes down to replying on the original message from the person on social media and directing this person to the digital assistant. Information that has been collected is already given to the digital assistant to ensure the conversation can be directly on topic. The below video is showing a good example of such an implementation.

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