Instant messaging was huge in the 2000s. MSN Messenger launched in 1999, and reached peak popularity in the late noughties. But it would be some years later, in 2013, when Slack would take instant messaging into the business world – one whole year AFTER Microsoft’s messaging platform for the masses made its final release.
It takes some time for some publicly popular technologies to hit the same heights in business. But, of course, the speed at which tech can shift from public to commerce has since gotten quicker.
Case in point, virtual assistants.
Roughly one in every three people use virtual assistants at least once a week. And 55% say the tech makes their life easier. In three years’ time, there’ll be 8 billion voice-based devices in the world – more than one device per person alive.
But if you think virtual assistants are still at least a decade away from entering the business realm, you’d be wrong. By next year, Gartner predicts that 25% of the workforce will use virtual employee assistants on a daily basis – less than 2% actually used them in this way in 2019.
Wait, what do we mean by virtual assistants?
It clearly bears thinking a little about what a ‘virtual assistant’ is. It’s a bit of an ambiguous term, really. Are they human personal assistants who work virtually (i.e. remotely) or an assistant that is virtual? Software, in other words.
The answer, rather confusingly, is both. So just to clarify, when we talk about virtual assistants, we’re referring to the latter. We mean voice-activated platforms like Siri, Google Assistant and Alexa. You may also know them as voice assistants, virtual employees or intelligent personal assistants – all types of conversational AI.
Whatever your preferred terminology, it’s clear these platforms play an important role in people’s lives. We’re seeing chatbots take a steeper adoption route in business, but voice assistants, by the nature of their convenience, are catching up.
Why is that? Why would businesses use voice assistant technology? And how are brands using virtual assistants today to connect with customers? They’re some of the questions we’re going to focus on.
Virtual assistants in business – where we are today
According to PwC, 32% of people use voice assistants every day to search for something they’d normally type into a search engine. Other popular daily uses include sending texts and emails (31%) and setting timers or reminders (23%).
Many of these tasks are also part of your daily work life, so you’d expect people to regularly use voice assistants as employees too, right? Not quite. There’s apparently a disconnect between people’s personal and professional use of virtual assistants.
Research from Globant showed that while 44% of senior decision-makers use them every day in their private lives, just 31% carry this through to their 9 to 5. The gulf is even bigger for regular employees, at 72% and 53% respectively. A third of people overall say they never use voice technologies at work today.
So that’s where virtual assistant employee technology for business is at today. But there’s a big difference between individual employees using voice assistants for day-to-day admin tasks and leveraging the true power of voice technologies for company-wide benefits.
But the bigger picture shows potential
Three out of every four senior professionals today believe businesses that offer voice-activated technologies are more sophisticated than rivals that don’t.
A Capgemini study also found 76% of organizations have realized measurable gains from voice and chat assistants across a number of metrics, including reductions in costs, man-hours saved and fewer calls to customer services.
This multi-interface approach (combining text and voice technologies) is where most businesses with more mature conversational interfaces have defaulted to. Because, the authors explained, people “like voice assistants as they allow for multitasking; and they like chat assistants because their level of personalization evolves over time”.
How virtual assistants are used in business today
We’ve thrown quite a few stats and predictions at you. Let’s get down to brass tacks: what are some practical ways that businesses can benefit from virtual assistant technologies today?
1. Triage customer services and lead generation
Virtual assistants (and chatbots) can lighten the load on human staff across customer services and marketing departments. They’re a great way of prioritizing the calls that matter most and freeing up employees for more complex, demanding work.
PwC found a whopping 88% of people use voice assistants at least once a month to ask quick questions, with 29% doing so every day. That’s a lot of ‘simple’ questions that need answering. Voice assistants offer a 24-hour a day, scalable way of doing this, meaning customer service teams don’t have to expand at the same rate as a growing customer base.
And the outcomes are impressive. Across key industries, the Capgemini study found:
- 74% of businesses had seen a 20% or more reduction in their customer service costs after using voice assistants
- 61% had saved more than four man-hours each day
- 69% said the number of calls to their customer service department had dropped by more than 20%
2. Improve your business through natural data collection
Another benefit of using voice technology is that brands can gain a better understanding of what their clients want and need, without bombarding them with customer satisfaction surveys and feedback forms. Instead, they can use conversational AI to let these insights naturally occur.
By analyzing the kinds of questions that customers ask a voice assistant, brands can spot recurring themes and brainstorm new ideas on how to fill these gaps in demand. This fuels creativity and could potentially lead to new product lines, more targeted branding and, ultimately, happier customers.
3. Enhance customer experience
Capgemini found that every organization surveyed saw a boost to their Net Promoter Score after introducing voice assistants and chatbots. Brands reported lower customer wait times, higher first-call resolution rates and more loyal customers.
That’s what the companies say, but do consumers agree? The stats suggest they do. After a positive experience with a conversational assistant:
- 72% of consumers placed higher trust in the company
- 71% shared the experience with friends and family
- 64% provided high ratings and shared positive feedback on social media.
The not-so-secret ingredient: embodying voice for better engagement
We’ve hopefully given readers an idea of how and why businesses are using virtual assistants. And with rapid advances in AI and machine learning, voice-assisted technology is getting better by the day.
But voice assistants have their limits – naturally.
When we communicate, we do so through the words we say, but also through body language and our tone of voice. There’s clearly a difference in the connection you make when you text messaging your friend, speak on the phone and catch up in real life, which is where digital humans enter the conversation.
Bringing everything together – words, voice and facial expressions – can help turn an ordinary voice-activated support system into a true brand ambassador. Combining different interfaces also speaks to customers on their terms, providing information in the way that suits their learning style best. If that topic interests you, check out our blog on the matter.
What’s more, unlike consumer-led voice devices like Siri, Alexa and Cortana, digital humans are being built FOR business, meaning brands don’t have to wait for voice assistant solutions to pivot into the enterprise world.
Today, digital humans do a number of roles as virtual assistant employees, using their voices and more to help make end user experiences more human:
- BCG’s Miku helps with staff onboarding.
- Aimee from Southern Cross is a public-facing educator on what can feel like complex insurance subjects.
- And Vodafone’s digital human even helps customers in store complete mobile top-ups so staff can deal with more hands-on tasks.
A digital human isn’t just a disembodied voice or words on a screen. They have their own personalities and can convey emotions, depending on the conversation they’re having, to create a more engaging experience with users.
There’s a reason voice-led interfaces are growing – publicly and commercially – and a reason conversations with a digital human are voice-led, too. But this blog just scratches the surface.
If you’re ready to find out more, you can download our free What are Digital Humans eBook below.