Virtual Assistants, a Valuable Resource for Customer Insight

Customer Experience
Customer Experience
The best virtual assistants reveal many dimensions of the customer experience, which are capable of fueling real-time marketing opportunities and customer-driven product development.

By 2015, Gartner predicts that half of online customer self-service search activities will be via virtual assistant - that's just two years away. Companies will have a fire hose of customer insight coming at them - the smartest will know how to control and use it.

Every company, and virtually every function within a company, wants better insight and greater confidence in understanding customer needs, behavior, and preference. Which investments will give the greatest lift? Which processes or product improvements will create customers that are loyal for life? Which touchpoints are triggers to grow share of wallet?

For all of these questions, customer data is gold. And it's just as hard as ore to mine.

A question of sustainability

Companies now pan for insight through market research, voice of the customer tools, and web analytics, but as the data tsunami redoubles its size and speed, the question becomes how to harness and analyze the data in a way that's both meaningful and sustainable and take the right course of action.

Virtual assistants capture-with scale-the millions of customer conversations service agents have every day.Understanding and categorizing this data for interpretation is a natural extension of the virtual assistant. In essence, a reverse-engineering of the behind-the-scenes work companies put into creating scores of knowledge units required for two-way customer conversation. Of course, the quality of listening and analysis ability is based on a virtual assistant having a very strong natural language and domain understanding. The best virtual assistants consistently reveal many dimensions of the customer experience, which are capable of fueling real-time marketing opportunities, constant feedback on resource usability, and customer-driven product development and offers.

A roadmap: become a world-class customer-driven organization

Like any skill, listening is equal parts discipline and art form. And it requires organization-wide alignment.

1. Create (and control) the fire hose. Customers connect with companies constantly with questions about personal accounts, product and service offerings, website navigation, customer service issues . . . the list is endless. And with all big data collection, the value comes with the analysis: both how quickly and how effectively trends are spotted and acted upon.

When Hurricane Sandy hit, Aetna noticed an influx of questions to its virtual assistant Ann regarding the hurricane and relief efforts. Within hours of the initial requests, the health insurance provider published relevant, accessible content online and equipped both its virtual assistant and live representatives with the data and tools needed to properly inform concerned and affected members.

Real-time, actionable analysis allowed Aetna to immediately improve customer experience and service.

2. Beyond behavior: understand customer intent. Conversations can deliver insight that goes beyond click-throughs and time-on-site. These online analytics only measure behavior and how consumers interact with information that is already provided and placed within a certain structure. But when a user has the ability to ask for what they need, in their own words, suddenly companies can tap into the true underlying desire. This opens the door for real-time service offers, repositioning products based on demand, and offering content otherwise overlooked.

After launching SGT STAR, the U.S. Army received a large number of inquiries about showering facilities from potential female recruits (concerned about the prospect of co-ed only options). Studying click-through behavior would have never unearthed the desire for this information. SGT STAR allowed recruits to formulate the question themselves, getting right to the heart of their inquiry.

3. Get smarter, faster, and ever more agile. Companies unable to apply their big data in a meaningful way will become obsolete within the next 10 years. Even now, the question isn't whether or not a company collects customer data - everybody is doing it. The growing challenge (and potential) is how quickly an organization can analyze and respond to the information flow.

Conversations become a flowing source of quantifiable information. As a virtual assistant helps a user with a current problem, that interaction is also helping to shape the company's future interactions and developments in order to optimize service.

Take advantage of millions of quick customer engagements. Understand their path to knowledge (and data) and use it to reshape your organization's long-term objectives. Use each touchpoint, no matter how short or simple. Hone the ability to turn the right service inquiries into growth opportunities. Track trends in consumer inquiries. Improve operations, experience, and offerings.

What better way to grow than to understand what a customer truly wants - and then deliver it?