AI

How a virtual assistant can help you

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Do you ever think about how you approach navigating a website that you haven’t used before? 

Do you tend to start by navigating through the menus? Do you instantly go for the search field? Maybe you try the chatbot or virtual assistant if there is one. Naturally, it depends on your purpose for using the site in the first place, but I think that most people will agree that the shortest/easiest route to your destination is the best one. The problem is that you cannot know for sure what the easiest route is if you are not familiar with the site, seeing as the various options for finding what you need could be poorly structured.

The sum of our previous digital experiences will help shape the ones in our future. Personally, I became relatively IT savvy around the time where the Internet was becoming mainstream and didn’t offer a lot of hand-holding or human centered design. Perhaps that is the reason why I have a notion stuck in the back of my head that I should be able to navigate sites through their menu structure every time I visit a new site. I have this ingrained idea that I don’t really need help, or need to resort to a search field or assistant unless all else fails. In practice, this likely means that I rarely take the easiest approach, and I tend to brush off whatever extra help a website might be offering.

An eye-opening journey

Changing your own behavior and concept of what works best takes time, information, and being open to doing things differently. A while ago I had, what was a very eye-opening experience, with setting up a Watson Assistant on IBM Cloud, which is a top-of-the-line virtual assistant offering. This made me see the full potential that a virtual assistant can actually offer if done right.

DID YOU READ: 37 municipalities to be digitalized by IBM chatbot

I completed the ‘Getting Started Tutorial’ and the slightly more complicated tutorial, where you are guided around the graphical user interface as you get to set up a simple assistant for an online shop. You could, of course, create something different and more relevant to you specifically, should you wish.

In just a couple of hours, I had created an assistant capable of answering questions, taking orders as well as canceling them, providing useful button links based on the user’s questions, understanding which specific store location a user is asking about, and much more. I particularly like the Search Skill, which allows the assistant to extract answers to difficult questions through specific documents and websites, by using the Watson Discovery solution. I constructed this as a fallback solution if the assistant could not find an answer through the intents and dialogue structure I created. You can also allow the assistant to hand the customer over to a real-life agent if the customer is venturing into more problematic or ambiguous territory. In terms of accessibility, it is fantastic that all of this can be set up without any programming skills whatsoever.

A broad spectrum of possibilities by the use of a virtual assistant

I was very impressed with the amount of capabilities you could easily implement in your virtual assistant and the incredible potential it holds – both in terms of customer service and employee assistance. Essentially, a well-shaped Watson Assistant allows your customers to receive instant personal help any time of day. This means not having to wait for days after filling out an email form, or sitting in a queue on the phone listening to the same awful music that started to annoy you after 8 seconds. It could also be used as a tool for your own employees to get answers and locate materials quickly.

virtual assistant use-caseA use-case example: A bank can use a virtual assistant to answer simple, yet often asked, questions very easily.

Another cool feature is the analytics capabilities. These allow you to see useful information and statistics of previous interactions and performance, which can then be used to continuously improve your assistant.

The assistant can be launched on pretty much whatever platform you wish – examples include Facebook Messenger, Slack, or integrated on your website. It also comes with speech capabilities, and can even send texts or emails while communicating via voice.  If you are interested in learning more about this, I strongly encourage you to read the blog post “Industriens Pension infuse AI to transform customer service“.

My experience with Watson Assistant has definitely given me new perspective on virtual assistants and the usefulness they can bring to the table. Whenever I encounter one now on a site, I tend to try it out, if nothing else then for sheer curiosity of what it can do. The thing to remember with virtual assistants like this, is that we are not talking about a perfect system that you pull out of a box, which will then automatically perform any task you throw at it and perfectly imitate a human being. However, Watson Assistant does feature AI capabilities; allowing it to learn user intents fast with little information, and to improve over time through usage, which is a massive help.

DID YOU READ: Chatbots: The Modern Artificial Intelligence Helper

At the end of the day, virtual assistants are only as advanced as we make them, but Watson Assistant is a fantastic solution that easily affords the shaping of a state-of-the-art virtual assistant that can create tremendous improvement in both customer service and employee effectiveness, which is something all companies should strive to do well.

Now I truly enjoy when I come across virtual assistants that are built properly, because they give me a single point of entry and lead directly to my destination, while being able to answer my most pertinent questions in a way that works best for me – more of that, please!

You can find out more about Watson Assistant here.
You can create an IBM Cloud account and try out Watson Assistant and lots of other software offerings for free our Cloud site.

If you would like to discuss your opportunities of using a virtual assistant in your business or do have any further questions, please do not hesitate contact me at Henrik.Olsen@ibm.com

Technical Sales Specialist - Data & AI | Cloud & Cognitive

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