This article serves as a checkpoint amongst current narratives, in order to think about chatbots and virtual assistants with the ends in mind. With rising business complexity and customer expectations, AI applied to virtual assistants is becoming more critical for companies seeking to scale both efficiently and effectively. Chatbots and virtual assistants are effective for day-to-day customer responses’ consistency as well as to provide ongoing analytics for customer experience management. They could help companies – and hospitals – to better serve their customers – and their patients.
The internet has responded with tons of resources on what’s next for chatbots and how to build the best ones; bots’ development is maturing. However, current senior executives are figuring out critical questions: what is the true organisational value of a virtual assistant? How does a virtual assistant roadmap look like? It is no surprise that Gartner’s hype cycle report on customer service and customer engagement in August 2018 shows that chatbots and virtual assistants are still dredging in the ‘inflated expectations’ stages, meaning there are a lot of solutions, a lot of claims, but sporadic successes. Those familiar with the hype cycle knows that after the ‘inflated expectation’ stage comes the ‘disillusioned’ stage. Enterprises without a long-term plan risk enter a costly journey of disillusionment instead of delivered value.
Interbots-operability: a useful tool for consumer-centric organizations
Bots and virtual assistants can be built to benefit the entire stakeholder chain both internal and external. Banks and financial institutions use bots to serve as a customer-facing portal for day-to-day queries and transactions, thus providing a better customer experience. By studying their own customers over time, they identify the needs – both unmet or future – that could give them a first-mover advantage on new products and services.
In the healthcare area, for instance, interbot-operability could be key to anticipate and enhance patients’ needs, as chatbot and virtual assistant platform can provide a single view of the user. It would also allow patient-centric organizations such as the hospital to cope with the heavy volume of interactions. A patient could use one bot to schedule health check appointments through connected knowledge banks like CRMs, appointment calendar and notification system. When the patient is in premise, one bot could serve as a concierge on most common Q&As. Post-treatment, another bot may serve as an allied-health advisor, providing recommendations and accountability to recovering patients off-site. All these bots would finally funnel through one master bot interface, in order to be proactive, predict services, anticipate logistics’ demands more accurately, and monitor costs more closely.
Bots’ KPIs embedded into business scorecards
To set a long-term plan with chatbots and virtual assistants, companies should investigate chatbots’ impact on various business functions’ scorecards. What are the objectives and key results that can be significantly driven by an AI virtual assistant? Investigating the impact on end-to-end business functions is an undertaking that involves cross-functional collaboration across data and insights, customer experience, service operations, and possible risk management and procurement depending on the complexity.
User-sensitivity is the new frontier
Finally, bots might be chat-friendly, but are they user-friendly? Chatbots and virtual assistants, which are communication-centric, would need to consider usability in its full entirety. Here are a few considerations. Firstly, the ability to recognise common nuances like cultural slang and accents with accuracy would be particularly necessary for countries and industries where they exist. Secondly, the ability to process various inputs beyond text – image, speech or even facial expression recognition – would allow users to interact more freely. Thirdly, the ability to integrate with social platforms that users are accustomed to, such as Facebook, Whatsapp, Twitter or dominant Asian chat platforms like KaKao and WeChat, would also be a key consideration.