Our exposure to chatbots is unprecedented. From customer service to commerce to healthcare, chatbots are the fastest growing brand communication channelthanks to their ability to solve problems, remove friction from the emergence of general information, and enable self-service to alleviate human bottlenecks.
But the growing chatbot landscape is showing signs of rupture. In a recent study, more than half of consumers who use chatbots cite dissatisfaction due to the frustration caused by “inconsistent answers” in chat and human help, while preferring digital service channels such as social media, human chat and even email over chatbots. Another finer point, 60% of consumers would still prefer to interact with a human over a brand’s chatbot because of its ability to solve more complex and personal problems. The irony is that the premise of a chatbot is to offload human-to-human interactions while maintaining a “conversation” format; “they should at the very least reduce the volume that customer service reps have to manage and improve overall efficiency.” of service increase Identity crisis, online.
The fact is that the existing landscape of chatbots is still adding real value to brands and their customers, but there is a wealth of untapped potential to nurture in this engagement channel by bringing conversational AI into the core customer experience. In addition to providing reactive service, chatbots should play a role in proactively building brand preference through more personalized benefits. If a brand doesn’t build meaningful relationships as part of its loyalty strategy, consumers won’t stick around for long. This begs the question, what does it look like to elevate chatbots to a core element of customer experience – one that is personal, assertive and valuable to more domains, brands and businesses? For some brands and bots, it will require a change in how elements of the customer experience are handled. Taking chatbots to the next level means completely transforming their identity; Enter virtual assistants.
Virtual assistants are already highly visible in the market today as voice assistants, two- and three-dimensional avatars on web and game platforms, and they are also emerging in chat media. But for virtual assistants in a chatbot modality, it’s important to distinguish between the two; virtual assistants are evolutions on the foundation laid by chatbots. So what makes them different? How can a brand take and position a successful but limited chatbot for the next evolution of help? With just two fundamental principles in mind, a chatbot can deliver on the promise of dynamic new value exchange with its users.
Go from reactive support to proactive support
Over time, a conversation with a virtual assistant should evolve with every interaction and from data collected in physical and digital environments. By collecting data and understanding a user’s behavior, a virtual assistant can piece what they learn into a more anticipatory and personalized interaction. You can see this through personalized recommendations around the brand’s services, or customized greetings and prompts around actions or dates. In a financial assistant like Erica from Bank of America, the interactions are personalized when bills are due, budget activities are monitored, and the insights delivered are personalized to your spending activity. Chatbots usually don’t show this behavior. Interactions are disjointed over time and even if the script is infused with personality, any interaction will lack the actual knowledge of the end users’ past interactions with the brand.
In other words, we value the real relationships we build because of the wealth built over time. We don’t need to re-introduce ourselves to our human companions if we interact with them regularly. In this view, and enduring in the world of personal finance, a chatbot can be seen as a virtual bank teller, who has to state your affairs on every visit to the bank – “what can I help you with today?”, while a virtual assistant has knowledge of your past behavior and past activities and knows you as a personal financial advisor: “I’ve prepared your mid-month budget statements, would you like to see them now?”
Design for experiences instead of customer service
When assessing the benefit of conversational experiences, it is generally agreed that chatbots are best suited for customer service. But virtual assistants need to be able to solve customer problems and improve the overall consumer experience. For an example of an effective but misnamed interlocutor (ie a ‘virtual assistant’ who is actually a chatbot) we can look at UPS. This chatbot is primarily used to track a package and escalate it to customer service if desired, and while it is a notable improvement over the ‘web form’, it does not provide the personal support that a frequent user would expect, e.g. if they are a business owner who regularly uses UPS. In this way, the UPS bot can maintain its conversational structure, but provide proactive customer experience improvements to enhance the relationship between the business owner and the brand. Low-threshold use cases can include insights about past services (easy to introduce from all historical data collected) and promotional or predictive services that demonstrate an empathetic relationship with the business owner’s activities. On the other hand, while using Domino’s virtual assistant, “Dom”, to place an order, the agent is aware of your pizza profile details, can recommend menu coupons and ways to enter points. switch over the course of an order, creating a differentiated consumer experience than other brands in its category.
Overall, the defining difference between an experience like UPS and Dominos is in the results. While UPS provides general support, Dominos results are personal based on the translated knowledge of the user’s data. And while common support outcomes can alleviate consumer pain points and result in high customer satisfaction, personalized outcomes build affinity and have more measurable KPIs, such as driving retention between purchases, a core pillar on which a customer’s lifetime value (LTV) is built upon. .
There is a lot of room in today’s brand ecosystems for chatbots and virtual assistants to coexist. But as consumer expectations for their self-service technology channels evolve into more meaningful relationships, the evolution will be necessary for brands to consider either improving their chatbots or developing a virtual assistant strategy. Because when a chatbot masquerades as a virtual assistant, it can have a damaging reputational effect on a user’s perception of what they can achieve through interacting with the bot, and negatively affect the brand’s overall consumer sentiment.
Dale LaRue is a senior director at RAIN, where he leads strategic, creative and technical client relationships and plays a leading role in business development across the agency.