It’s no secret that technology has had an immeasurable impact on businesses and digital customer service.
In recent years especially, the rise of artificial intelligence (AI) and automation has taken the marketplace by storm. In fact, Business Insider Intelligence estimates that global ecommerce spending via chatbots will reach $142 billion by 2024.
It’s why around 80% of businesses worldwide now use a chatbot or virtual assistant to engage with customers.
These intelligent solutions can be extremely valuable - but is a virtual assistant right for your brand?
In this article, we’ll provide everything you need to answer this question, and more. We’ll cover:
- What are virtual assistants and how do they differ from chatbots?
- How do AI virtual assistants benefit businesses and customers?
- Key use cases for AI virtual assistants
- Getting started with an AI virtual assistant
What are AI Virtual Assistants?
Virtual assistants (also known as virtual agents) are AI-powered systems that provide automated customer support across multiple digital channels.
In addition to AI, a virtual assistant can also use Natural Language Processing (NLP) and Machine Learning (ML) to better understand customer intent and develop its capabilities.
This enables them to interact with users in a more intelligent, personalized, and conversational manner.
Virtual assistants are often deployed to augment the human experience and transform customer service.
They can also be used as a tool for lead generation, increasing online sales, and engaging customer digitally.
AI virtual assistants vs chatbots
The distinction between a virtual assistant and a chatbot is not always clear, and the terms can be used interchangeably.
Although both can be used for automated customer service, they have different capabilities.
Chatbots are generally designed to handle basic queries and simple tasks. They’re not powered by AI - instead, they’re programmed to provide customers with canned responses using scripted decision trees.
Virtual assistants, by contrast, are much more advanced, meaning they can handle more complex queries and tasks than a chatbot.
Thanks to AI and NLP technology, virtual assistants can understand language and customer sentiment. They can even evolve their intelligence by remembering previous interactions and learning from them.
As a result of their innovative capabilities, virtual assistants can also gather customer data, offer recommendations, provide personalized experiences, and converse in a human-like manner.
How do AI-powered Virtual Assistants benefit businesses and customers?
Virtual assistants have been proven to benefit businesses and customers in a number of ways.
Let’s explore each of the top benefits in turn.
Customers in need of assistance want answers, and they want them in a fast and convenient manner.
Case in point, 70% of consumers are willing to pay more for a convenient experience.
With a virtual assistant, customers no longer have to sit in a seemingly endless phone queue or wait for an email response.
Instead, they can get immediate answers and swift resolutions without leaving your website/app or disrupting their digital journey.
And, if a customer’s issue proves too complex for the virtual assistant to resolve, it can initiate an intelligent handoff to the most suitable human agent.
The agent can then continue the customer conversation via the best medium for the situation, whether that be live chat, cobrowsing, or even video chat.
This creates a convenient and seamless customer experience that ensures your customers receive the best service possible.
24/7 customer service
Unlike human agents, virtual assistants don’t require sleep or time off.
They’re always active and available to provide immediate assistance at any time of night or day.
So, by deploying a virtual assistant, you'll give your customers access to 24/7 support and engagement, even outside of your operating hours.
This is a clear win for customer service - especially if you cater to consumers across different time zones.
AI virtual assistants boost efficiency and contact center performance by improving resolution times and reducing the demand on your agents.
In fact, statistics indicate that virtual assistants and chatbots can resolve customer queries around 69% of the time - leaving your advisors with more time for the customers who need them most.
Virtual assistants can also act as a triage for all customer service requests. That way, they gather the initial details of the customer’s issue before escalating them to the most appropriate team/department.
This not only saves time for advisors but also ensures that customers receive the best service for their specific situation - without having to repeat themselves to multiple representatives.
And with all this increased efficiency comes increased revenue. According to Juniper Research projections, the total cost savings from deploying chatbots and virtual assistants will reach $11 billion by 2023.
AI Virtual Assistants for the customer experience: Key use cases
As AI virtual assistants are utilized across many industries, the scope of potential use cases for them is vast.
Here, we’ll cover three of the top use cases.
1. Customer support
Let’s start with the most common use for AI virtual assistants - customer support.
In these scenarios, a virtual assistant acts as a customer service advisor by answering queries and providing general assistance, information, and guidance.
AI virtual assistants can deliver customer support by:
- Answering common questions about your business, products, or services
- Guiding customers to the information they require on your site
- Assisting with basic IT issues
- Collecting information about the customer’s issue so they can be escalated to the appropriate team
- Providing immediate and convenient service across multiple digital touchpoints (i.e. website, app, social media)
- Using customer data to provide personalization
To envision this use case in action, take Talkative customer the Medical Defence Union (MDU) as an example.
The MDU implemented Talkative’s AI Virtual Advisor to lower the demands on their contact center teams.
Designed to resolve simple issues and queries, this virtual assistant uses a combinations of FAQs and NLP-powered intent recognition to provide immediate customer service. In turn, MDU’s agents now have more time for the customers who require the human touch.
To ensure that MDU’s customers still receive in-depth service when needed, their virtual advisor was designed with an intelligent advisor hand-off function.
That way, when a customer needs a human-powered consultation, MDU’s virtual assistant can recognize that immediately and route them to an expert representative.
2. Retail & ecommerce
For retail and ecommerce brands, a virtual assistant can go beyond the usual customer service and provide consumers with their own digital shopping assistant.
For this use case, as well as answering FAQs and providing general customer support, AI virtual assistants can also:
- Guide customers through product catalogs and direct them to the best section for their needs
- Offer tailored recommendations based on customer data or their specific needs/preferences
- Direct and support customers through the checkout process
- Provide personalized ecommerce experiences
- Track customer orders and provide shipping/delivery updates
- Assist customers with in-store shopping queries (e.g. location-specific stock information, branch opening times, etc.)
One example of a particularly innovative ecommerce chatbot is Nike’s AI-powered StyleBot.
This virtual styling assistant takes AI customer service to the next level by providing customers with a unique and personalized shopping experience.
Customers can use StyleBot to find and style specific outfits or shoes based on their individual preferences.
But that’s not all - customers can also use this virtual assistant to create their own custom shoe designs.
Once their bespoke design is complete, customers can even purchase their creations. They also have the choice to simply save their design and/or share it on their social media accounts.
The launch of this forward-thinking feature proved a genius move on Nike’s part. In fact, the athletic apparel brand increased its average click-through rate by 12.5 times and its conversions by 4 times as a direct result of StyleBot.
This is just one example of how a virtual assistant can be a powerful tool for delivering memorable experiences that delight customers and increase brand visibility.
3. Travel & hospitality
For the travel and hospitality industry, online bookings and reservations are frequent and repetitive tasks that can be very time-consuming for agents.
A virtual assistant can easily handle these interactions, decreasing the demand on your customer-facing teams.
But that’s not the only role virtual assistants play in this industry.
As in retail and ecommerce, travel and hospitality brands can also use AI virtual assistants to elevate and transform their customer experience.
Take Edwardian Hotels London’s virtual concierge ‘Edward’ as an example.
Powered by AI and NLP, this advanced virtual assistant can interpret guest needs with high accuracy and help with over 1,200 queries/issues.
Hotel guests can use Edward to check in, select rooms, order room service, request information about the local area, inquire about room upgrades, submit complaints, and much more.
In cases where Edward can’t assist the customer with their issue, he can direct the request to a specific individual in the hotel who can.
He can even escalate issues to a manager if a guest feels that their query hasn’t been dealt with effectively.
With cutting-edge virtual assistants like Edward, brands can take the self-service experience to the next level, all while delivering superior and luxurious customer service.
The takeaway: Getting started with an AI Virtual Assistant
It’s clear that a virtual assistant can be an invaluable addition to your digital customer service strategy.
When used alongside human-powered support, a virtual assistant can optimize efficiency and elevate the digital customer experience.
But for a virtual assistant to succeed, it needs to be powered by the right technology.
And that’s where Talkative comes in.
Our conversational AI-powered Virtual Advisor was specifically designed to provide a humanized and personable experience.
It can be deployed within your website, app, and social media channels, to provide lightning-fast answers to all your digital customers.
With our virtual advisor, you’ll also enjoy real-time translation and seamless escalation to human advisors when needed.
As a result, you’ll be fully equipped to provide superior customer service and experiences across all of your customers’ favorite contact channels.
Want to learn more? Book a demo with Talkative and discover how you can augment the human touch with innovative AI.