Virtual Assistants Empower Online Customers

October 25, 2012 Dennis McGuire

Dennis McGuire - CEO of CodeBaby 

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Self-service can be like herding cats. On the one hand, some people dislike the lack of any online self-service tools when making a payment or modifying account settings, while others distrust doing business with a machine.

Intelligent Virtual Assistants (IVAs) bridge the chasm between these two types of customers by driving faster actions for the heavy self-service users and by becoming the branded company representative that creates an engaging and enjoyable online experience for others.

Online intelligent virtual assistants (IVAs) are powerful tools that further automate self-service interactions. IVAs can make strategically timed pre-emptive suggestions for product alternatives, essentially providing consumers what they need, even before they know it themselves. They’re able to handle high-volume-low-value interactions. By design, IVAs enable customers to efficiently accomplish their goals such as answer questions about their account, fill out forms or applications, or get technical support.

In today’s world where the consumer is in charge, improving and simplifying their online self-service experience will enhance your brand in their eyes. The consumer wants to interact with your brand when and how they desire, and the ease in which they can accomplish their goals regardless of channel is paramount to long term information and respond well to brands that seek to update and educate them. Interrupt-and-sell tactics will always have their place in

the world of marketing tactics, but a key goal should be to empower customers with the key information they are seeking when they want it so they make better decisions—avoid taking advantage of their time and bombarding them with “pop up” offers and unnecessary redirects. Leaving the consumer in control of their brand experience will ultimately improve your customer “share of wallet” and maximize their lifetime value to your organization.

Time wasted online can cost your organization money. Forrester reported that 57% of 4,653 North Americans surveyed said they would abandon an online purchase if they didn’t get quick answers and also according to the report consumers actually find agent-assisted services to be more satisfying than traditional self-services (It’s Time To Give Virtual Agents Another Look, 2009).

By proactively educating and engaging customers, companies can reduce the volume of higher cost phone contacts by employing virtual assistants to  handle the more mundane calls that typically make up a significant percentage of inbound traffic. The most preferred form of escalation according to the Forrester report: “Web Sites That Don’t Support Customers’ Goals Waste Millions” (2012). High cost, large volume transactions drain resources. Intelligent virtual assistants easily mitigate the number of these types of calls by empowering customers to resolve their own issues.

Virtual assistants can offer an emotional connection designed specifically for a customer’s decision path. Enghouse Interactive Survey recently reported this year, that IT decision-makers who have authority over budgets believe it is more important to be known for excellent customer service than increasing revenue and cutting costs! – But with IVAs, you can accomplish both.  Your virtual assistant can both create a meaningful online experiences at a fraction of the cost of human support, while also improving revenue through better product education and subtle upsell/cross sell strategies – driving loyalty and retention.

In 2011, another Forrester report (Five Essential eBusiness Criteria For A Successful Virtual Agent Vendor), compared the 1.4 million daily virtual-assisted conversations from such large companies as Aetna, Intuit, and PayPal. Their “branded” virtual agents engaged in first-contact with consumers while collecting BI data for deeper insight with  potential uses for upselling. Businesses as diverse as the London 2012 Olympic Games, L’Oreal, and the US Army have successfully deployed virtual agents to deflect queries that escalate to a contact center (improving service representative efficiency). Forrester concluded that virtual assistants can be applied to frontend and backend systems for eBusiness, IT, customer experience, and legal and government.

Successful deployments generally expand businesses into social, mobile and backend system integration so virtual assistant strategies must be built with a future view in mind. For further reading on improving website engagement, I recommend “The Ultimate Guide to Reducing Shopping Cart Abandonment”. Acting as your company’s gracious face, virtual assistants empower customers and improve web self-service outcomes on their terms, as it should.

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