Virtual Assistant for Improving Customer Engagement

Abstract

Over the past few years, emergence of social media, mobile smart phones, big data, analytics and cloud has been fundamentally changing our lives and the way we work and interact. These forces have increased customer’s expectations, pushing the enterprises to reconsider their end-to-end customer experience strategy. Customer engagement solutions should focus on providing an enhanced direct experience and help enterprises increase revenue, expand margins, improve customer satisfaction and retention, and offer the much-needed differentiators in this competitive world.

Virtual Assistant technology is a new area that could be integrated with the existing applications, helping users to converse in natural language with a lifelike online avatar that responds to their queries in text or voice. They offer a personalized experience that reduces the need of being in touch with support team; builds a brand image and increases customer satisfaction. It could be integrated with the existing applications as well extending them and adding value to the services they offer.

Here we explore on how Virtual Assistants could be added to the Omni-channel communication solutions and talk about solutions developed for the insurance domain to help streamline and improvise their customer engagement opportunities.

Introduction

Customer expects the appropriate response to their queries when they visit a support website or contact the helpdesk. They expect their queries answered, problems resolved so that the overall experience becomes a satisfying one. Not meeting their expectations would result in an unsatisfied customer and hence a loss to the enterprise brand. Other challenges in providing high quality service are the poor experience with support via web, phone or email, lack of product knowledge, long call waiting queues and linguistic misunderstandings etc.

Enterprises can significantly increase their brand value and sales by providing customers with fast and correct responses through an effective customer engagement services. It can help them improving their services, increasing customer satisfaction and retention. Enterprises can leverage virtual assistant solutions improving their various customer service functions including enrollment form filling, first notice of loss claim, front desk, meeting reminders and other personalized services.

As the “Virtual Assistant” solutions are getting popular, a lot of vendors have come up with their solutions in the market. Some of the popular vendors in are market are: Creative Virtual, eGain, INTELLIRESPONSE, next IT, Nuance Nina and ANBOTO.

Challenges in Customer Engagement Services

Here are some of the key challenges faced by the enterprises in managing customer engagements:

• Meeting the ever-increasing expectations of the tech savvy users having various channels for communication, including web, mobile, Facebook, Twitter etc.

• Making a good first impression when a web application or a mobile app is accessed for the first time and thereby increasing the chances of a revisit.

• Providing a personalized support at the time of a new account creation or product registration that may need involving an agent.

• Providing a user-friendly self-service feature that might be faster than talking to a live agent as a preferred mechanism.

Overview

A Virtual Assistant is a conversational lifelike, online avatar that can simulate a conversation to deliver voice or text-based engagement on any web application or mobile interface. They can converse in natural language with the avatar to respond to queries, understand questions, offer a detailed step-by-step activities for certain processes and provide cross-sell opportunities depending on interests, etc. It is very effective in scenarios where call rates are very high. They are capable of understanding different languages and can communicate in the natural language. Virtual Assistants can be very successfully implemented to optimize the number of support team size.

A Virtual Assistant not only resolves the query of the customers, but can also be configured to give more information about the promotions and offers. For the example, if we have to fly from one place to another, it will not only inform about the flights, but also provides the details about the hotels where we can stay, promotions and offers, luggage limits, climate of the destination and any other destination specific details that are configured.

In web applications, though there are online FAQs and user manuals to help the users, they are found inadequate when a user wants to look for some specific information. It may take a long time for them to go through the FAQs and find the solution to their problems. At times this is time-consuming and prevents them from performing certain functions and they may call up customer support. Virtual Assistants allow creation of knowledge base and provide an interface where the users can put their queries and get the relevant answers interactively.

Additionally, Virtual Assistants can generate reports showing the frequently asked queries, their trends (of being asked), unanswered or new queries and level of customer satisfaction with the responses and so on. This provides an opportunity to improving the question bank and the response.

Mobile Virtual Assistants

In addition to Virtual Assistants for the web applications, there are mobile based Virtual Assistants that provide a user-friendly interface for a smart phone. They are capable of understanding the user profile, questions and offer a powerful engagement which will be more effective. With advances in speech and voice recognition technologies, the mobile Virtual Assistant can turn the smart phone into voice enabled customer service person. They can recognize the person, understand what the customer is looking for and interact in a conversational way to facilitate a unique way of interaction.

Virtual Assistants are more than a voice enabled help file and have inbuilt intelligence that can help in providing a more personalized help and give the further inputs sensing the context of the help being asked. For example, when we need to book a ticket between two places, the help can also be personalized to ask other questions like type of food preferences, preferred seating arrangement. Users can be asked whether they would be interested in hotel booking at the destination, any vehicle requirements, taxis etc. to add cross-selling to the list.

Intelligent Virtual Assistant (IVA)

With new technological advancements, the concept of “Intelligent Virtual Assistant (IVA)” is developing, which is providing new technology enablers such as:

• Algorithms enabling natural language interactions

• Artificial Intelligence induced by self-learning

• Context-aware, proactive search of knowledge portals

• Voice-assisted user interface for mobile devices with speech recognition/analytics

• Voice biometrics

The Intelligent Virtual Assistant can also be used to improve interactions on traditional online web portals, as well as on smart phones. Additionally, they offer a more personalized engagement of the person’s identity while talking. They can also customize recommendations by leveraging the features and capabilities provided by smart devices and accessories (e.g., Geo location, accelerometer etc. and feed provided by smart watch and fitness wearable) extending the boundary of their services and making them context aware. The future generations of Intelligent Virtual Assistant can leverage artificial intelligence using self-learning algorithms to provide more relevant solutions to customer queries.

Virtual Assistant Tools in the Market

According to Gartner, “Virtual Assistants” have transformational benefits. Global Intelligent Virtual Assistant (IVA) will grow at a CAGR of 39.3% over 2013-2018, and the total market shall be projected to climb to more than $2.1 billion by 2019.

The market for IVAs shall be expected to grow with a few global intelligent virtual assistant tool vendors emerging like Next IT Corp., Creative Virtual Ltd., VirtuOz Inc., Anboto Group., Code Baby Corp., IntelliResponse Systems Inc., Nuance Communications Inc., SpeakToit Inc., Artificial Solutions UK Ltd., eGain Communications Corp. Etc.

Virtual Assistant Comparison Matrix

Different customers have different requirements, hence it is important to make sure that we appraise to map the Virtual Assistant tool features as per the requirements so before starting the development we have done some comparison between various tools available in the market and chose the best tool as per their need to develop the proof of concept.

Iactive intelligent, Creative Virtual Ltd, eGain Corp. and Nuance Communication are some of the key Virtual Assistant tools available in the market that covers most of the features like 3D Persona with Emotions, Mobile solutions, concept understanding, multiple questions, Analytics, Social Dialogue, Natural language processing capability, multiple language support, etc. Apart from all these features Creative Virtual is good in reporting and analytics, Nuance (Nina) is good in Voice biometric (person and voice identification) and Iactive intelligent technology is good in features planning and decision-making.

Customer Engagement Solutions using Virtual Assistant

To verify the viability and usability of Virtual Assistant products we developed two Proof of Concepts (POC) based on the use cases from the insurance domain:

• Product Enrolment: A web-based Virtual Assistant solution that provides assisted form filling while enrolling for a new insurance product.

• First Notice of Loss Application: A mobile-based Virtual Assistant solution assisting users to log First Notification of Loss (FNOL) using voice for a vehicle in case of an accident

Virtual Assistant for Assisted form Filling Solution

In a product enrolment form, any user who wants to enroll for a policy will need to enter their personal details and express interest in the product. Typically the form could be complex asking for various details and customers may call up support asking how to fill it. This solution uses a Virtual Assistant to help the user filling the enrollment form by asking questions and considering the user responses as input vales.

Virtual Assistant for First Notice of Loss (FNOL) Solution

When a person driving a car meets an accident, he will need to report the accident to the insurance company at the earliest. Since there are multiple pieces of information to be entered at times additional help would be required and the person will try getting in touch with the support team. This smart-phone-based application uses a Virtual Assistant and provides a voice-assisted solution to capture the information. User will simply need to respond to questions spoken by the tool and respond to them in speaking. The whole process can be completed as a natural conversation.

Virtual Assistant Technology Benefits

Implementing a Virtual Assistant solution for automating the business processes provides many benefits by increasing the efficiency and productivity. With this an enterprise can not only increase the overall customer satisfaction, but also cut the cost involved. Some of the key benefits are as follows:

• Enhanced customer experience

• Increased overall productivity

• Optimized support team

• Reduced cost

• Better monitoring and control

Summary

Customer engagement is being no more seen as a nice to have thing anymore and businesses are having a strategic view towards it. Virtual Assistant technology combined together with other emerging technologies is empowering them to revamp their customer engagement platforms. It has huge potentials in the areas where a lot of interactions happen as a routine with a large support team. Enterprises can reap tremendous business benefits through a well thought Virtual Assistant implementation.

Types of Virtual Assistants and What They Can Do for Business Growth

Your market is continually increasing and everything is, by far, positive in your company. The problem is you couldn’t keep up with the demands of office work and other business needs. A smart move that you can make for your growing business is to hire a person fully-equipped with the right skills you needed and does not need your presence 24/7.

Who would have thought that someone remote can do meaningful work for you? The fast-advancing technology set the stage for a new breed of workers that benefit employers and emerging businessmen in a lot of ways. Virtual assistants or offshore secretaries can positively affect business growth and maximize productivity of employers in terms of seeking clients and winning them.

It is said that an average businessman who opts to do clerical jobs by himself spends more time in the office and becoming his own secretary. As a result, “real” businessman jobs are left out, which could potentially decrease business improvement. This is where online assistants come in; to do all those tasks for you while you focus on improving marketing techniques needed to gather clients. Depending on the nature of your business, you may choose one from the types of virtual assistants who can perform the duties you want them to make. Gone are the days when the best talents in the industry go solely to established companies; you too have the chance to hire “beyond compare” assistants that could become company assets.

Types of Virtual Assistants

SEO and SEM Virtual Assistants

For a modern businessman, internet marketing is not a strange word, but the question is, can you keep up with the fast-paced changes in the Internet? Hiring an SEM virtual assistant or online marketing virtual assistant is a good way to market your business in the Web. Note that SEM or search engine marketing encompasses all SEO strategies needed for search engine visibility. SEO assistants do several things that you may not know of when it comes to internet marketing. Basic tasks that an SEO assistant does for your company website are the following:

• On-page Optimization
• Competition Analysis
• Keyword Research
• Domain Registration
• Active Forum Participation
• Bloggosphere Participation
• Submission Services
• Link Building
• Content Marketing

These activities, along with a few more, will help you have greater internet visibility in search engine results. This is a great opportunity for you to advertise your company without necessarily paying expensive advertising cost.

Virtual Assistant Writer

Virtual writers are assistants who create your daily writing needs. As a businessman, it’s really not in your job description to write creative contents in your company website or promotional blogs needed for advertising purposes. Why make a fuss out of it if you can hire a virtual marketing writer that translates your business ideals to striking sentences. In website development, good content writers are badly needed. Note that internet users are browsing services not to avail them directly but to find out more of them before making a deal. You need to employ a writer who can create convincing articles without giving an obvious sales pitch.

An efficient internet marketing writer creates SEO-ready articles populated with correct keywords. In other cases, article writers also create non-SEO related writing tasks such as technical writing and research.

Virtual Assistant Web Developer

Web developers are the lifeblood of any running website. They are responsible in creating a functional and creative website for your company and keeping it up to date. A virtual programmer delivers all your computer programming needs from creation, re-designing, to maintenance. Virtual programmers who are experienced in building company websites basically know what clients want to see in a website. Common services that virtual assistant programmers do for you are:

• Web Design Services
• Graphic Design Services
• Logo Design Services

For creative and programmers, they can act as a virtual assistant graphics artist and programmer all at the same time. These two roles commonly go together, thus making it possible for programmers to perform designing services. If you can get programming and designing skills all in one virtual assistant, just imagine the payroll cut cost that you can have! As an employer, you still have the privilege to employ two different professionals to work on both duties.

Virtual Employee

Hiring virtual employees are just like hiring contractual, off-site workers only that you reach them via phone or the Internet. They are hired to perform tasks in a remote location from your physical office and are working directly from your orders. Unlike other virtual assistants, a virtual employee is hired like your offsite employees but performs the tasks somewhere away from your office.

Virtual Administrative Assistant

Virtual administrative workers conducts all your office and clerical needs and act like typical office secretaries, only that they are working online. They are responsible in keeping your documents, presentations, schedule, and client communication needs organized and updated. In short, they do all the things that you hate to do as a businessman and a great way to take off all those time-consuming tasks from your priorities. Get away with email responding, phone call receiving, and presentation making without necessarily disregarding them by hiring online administrative assistants.

Virtual Financial Assistant

One of the most crucial aspects of your business is balancing income and expenses. In hiring a trusted virtual financial assistant, you can do away with the headache of bookkeeping and financial records of your company. They are just as qualified as traditional bookkeepers and are trained to handle different financial transactions such as banking and tax submission.

In choosing virtual assistants, make sure that they have the right skills that you need in your company. Many online assistants can do multi-tasking which could potentially save up your time and payroll expenses, but be reminded that if you want someone who can do specific jobs for your company such as programming or writing, your virtual assistant can efficiently perform them. The nature of your business should match your qualifications in finding virtual assistants.

Why Hire A Virtual Assistant?

A Virtual Assistant (VA) is a highly skilled professional who can perform a wide range of administrative and business support roles to take the pressure off your business. At a time when internet access and download speeds are at their greatest, Virtual Assistants operate in a virtual forum and can carry out all traditional support functions saving your business time and money. Client communication is usually conducted over the telephone or by fax or email. Documents and data are delivered through secure File Transfer Protocol (FTP), via the internet or through traditional means. Virtual Assistant’s can multi task and are highly adaptable to suit your business needs. So why hire one? A Virtual Assistant is just a mouse click away!

Unlimited global market. Virtual Assistants fulfil secretarial and transcription roles online and can do so from any remote location. There is no need to have a Virtual Assistant physically in your office, crucially freeing up business space for you in your office. Businesses can hire Virtual Assistants from a wide range of locations and countries. This gives you a tremendous choice of skilled personnel and huge cost savings and advantages.

Frees up your time. Virtual Assistants are highly trained, highly productive personnel who are used to large volumes of output and offer quick turnaround times. They are ideally suited to pressures of deadlines and operate at a time when your business requires it, with a view to freeing up your time to increase your productivity.

Cost effective. Virtual Assistants offer an independent service to your business as and when necessary. They are not employees, you only pay for what you want, when you need it. This is a highly cost effective option for your business, reducing the need to employ staff or pay full time wages or taxes.

Reduce your overheads. Virtual Assistants work from home or from their own office. Virtual Assistants do not take up office space and your business can enjoy cost savings and reductions in electricity and utility bills employees accrue. You do not need to purchase additional equipment for their use, Virtual Assistants operate from fully equipped offices, using the most up to date technology. No need to incur additional postage or courier costs to outsource your work to them – telephone, fax and internet based technology provides an immediate solution.

Minimise employee obligations. A Virtual Assistant is an independent contractor, they are not engaged in a contract of employment. A Virtual Assistant is not a company employee, there are no ancillary employee taxes or benefits to be paid, providing a cost saving to your business. As Virtual Assistants are self-employed business owners they are responsible for their own taxation liabilities.

Critical cover. By engaging a Virtual Assistant, your business has the ability to outsource important work during peak periods or to meet pressurized deadlines when the need arises. Crucially a Virtual Assistant can be engaged to provide effective support and cover for staff absenteeism. A Virtual Assistant is a reliable and viable alternative to using recruitment agencies for temporary in-house staff.

Customised business service. A Virtual Assistant can fulfill the role your business requires whether it is a short time or long continuous period of engagement, either on a regular or ad hoc basis. This degree of flexibility is essential in an ever changing business world. So whether it is once-off digital transcription or ongoing administrative tasks, a Virtual Assistant is the most efficient solution for your business.

Diversity of Talent. Virtual Assistants come from a panoply of disciplines across the professional, business, academic, technical and support sectors. Your business can choose a Virtual Assistant according to the skill set that the task requires, whether it is highly specialised or generic. Virtual Assistants are creative thinkers and excellent problem solvers.

Outsourcing equals productive output. A dedicated Virtual Assistant is 100 per cent committed to your business project. They are self employed personnel and so are aware of the exigencies of performing tasks to deadlines. Engaging the service of a Virtual Assistant ensures that each hour of labour provided is of optimum productivity and effort.

Efficient use of time. Effective use of time management means your business can be served by a Virtual Assistant operating in a different time zone to meet your business needs. As your business day ends, a Virtual Assistant’s day can begin and this flexible time solution results in greater business efficiency and turnaround.

These are just some of the key reasons to engage a Virtual Assistant. The role of the Virtual Assistant is ever changing and ever expanding and is and will continue to play an important function in the emergence of a modern online business world.