Intelligent Virtual Assistants: A Long Ways from Clippy, but Still Far to Go

IT security solutions

Customer service is a difficult beast these days. On one hand, it’s still necessary—we still have issues that need to be resolved by someone at a company with more information than us.

On the other hand, we’ve gotten quite anti-social, and it seems like a huge majority of the population treats a phone call like the worst fate that could possibly befall them.

This is where intelligent virtual assistants (IVAs) come in. These are computer-generated characters like an avatar or a 3D animated persona that delivers text-based or voice-based information and service assistance to customers via a kiosk, mobile, or website. They incorporate NLP and domain knowledge that change according to the content of the dialog between the VA and the customer.

And as much as we like to think that the entire purpose of an IVA is to save us the soul-crushing task of phoning customer service, it actually has big benefits for the company as well—IVAs provides users with consistent, easy-to-access information on company details, including financial and investor-related details, product portfolios, and technology-related information.

So overall IVAs are in major demand from both companies and consumers, which is expected to help the market reach a value just shy of 3 billion in 2019, growing at a CAGR of 54.32%.

What’s in the cards for IVAs?

Intelligent virtual assistants are evolving in both form and function, and Technavio analysts have highlighted a few trends expected to impact their uptake over the next four years.

Increased adoption of IVAs in healthcare industry

Increased demand for health insurance, thanks to both government subsidies as well as the aging population globally have prompted the  global healthcare insurance industry to transition from a wholesale business model to a growing retail model.

This has opened up new challenges for insurance providers, primarily because explaining insurance coverage is never easy. And selling it online just compounds this problem.

To counter this challenge, healthcare companies are implementing IVAs to help customers search through the mountain of information on their website. Through an IVA, the customer could easily get detailed and relevant information about the company’s products, which makes the whole process smoother.

Multichannel VAs

One of the most frustrating experiences for a customer is to get different information about a company depending on which channel you’ve contacted. But given how many avenues we have to get in touch with organizations—email, fax (if that’s what floats your boat), phone, live chat etc.—it can actually be quite difficult for businesses to make sure the same information is being given out.

This is where virtual assistants really shine. Enterprises are now implementing multichannel VAs to deliver a consistent, uniform customer experience across all service channels, including the company website or a social networking website. The customer will hear the same voice and the same response whether it is typed into a computer, tapped on a screen, or spoken into a device. The hope here is that implementation of multichannel VAs could reduce escalations in calls and emails and improve the customer experience.

Holographic VAs

Any sci-fi fan will appreciate that there are companies working to develop holographic VAs. From the enterprise side of things, there’s a general feeling that this breed of virtual assistant is more intuitive and enhances the customer experience to a considerable extent. For customers, it’s mostly really, really cool.

And holographic customer service isn’t a thing of the distant future. In 2014, Coca-Cola Enterprises used a holographic VA named Isabelle to educate customers about its campaign. Needless to say, Technavio expects that holographic VAs will witness high adoption by enterprises during the forecast period.

Now, despite the high growth rate it’s not all sunshine and rainbows in the IVA market. The biggest problem with technology that is meant to be helpful is that when it’s not, it madly frustrating for customers. And there are definitely still a few kinks that need to be worked out before this technology can really provide seamless information to customers. For instance, the market needs better integration between the front-end and back-end knowledge base. Additionally, the lack of standardization and complexity in understanding user objective amongst the assistants themselves can be a source of frustration.

However, overall demand for IVAs will definitely trump these relatively small technical issues, and result in strong growth over the next few years.