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How a virtual assistant allows us to talk to a computer (and not only through it)

Expert.ai Team - 8 August 2017

The most famous virtual assistant (alternatively name chatbot or conversational agent) that helps us understand how a technology can be intelligent, engaging and instantly answer our requests is Apple’s Siri, created in 2011.

While Siri is perhaps the most widely known, all of the ‘Frightful 5’ (Microsoft, Apple, Google, Facebook, Amazon) offer virtual assistants. Each one is specialized in certain tasks (Siri-Apple for scheduling meetings, Google for travel, Alexa-Amazon for music selection, etc.), and all of them create great expectations for business that can be a bit unrealistic, as we explained in this post. (Luckily, we’re not yet at the level of expectation portrayed in the movie Her, but could it be that far off?)

Virtual assistant: Understand meaning, not just keywords

Virtual assistants based on artificial intelligence give the impression that you can talk with a computer. Through an immediate and deep understanding of what customers mean (and not just what they say) in their own words, chatbots enable a human-like dialogue, much like the one that you would have with a live agent. The customer asks a question, and the virtual agent understands the question and responds with the answer. And it all happens from the comfort of the user’s home or wherever they happen to be, whenever they need it. Naturally, this is a major advantage for the customer.

There are many advantages for the companies offering this service to customers, beyond the obvious customer experience advantages. Companies are able to go a step further to offer personalized, tailored services based on customer preferences, to respond to needs that maybe the customer hasn’t yet asked for. They also reduce operational costs. By handling the majority of customer interactions (which would have traditionally been managed by an agent in a call center), operators are freed up to manage more complex tasks and to extract strategic information from the conversations, in order to pinpoint targeted and specific customer requirements (not just general trends). In addition, a virtual assistant is enough smart to perceive when the customer needs support from human agent, and can make this transition happen in a way that is seamless.

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Virtual Assistant like a human conversation

Thanks to its ability to understand natural language, it can be difficult to distinguish a virtual assistant powered by AI from a human assistant. Virtual assistants can provide basic information requests, such as those about transportation (“How to get to London from Gatwick Airport?”), booking travel (“make a reservation of a double room in NYC for next week”), making calls (“ Call James right now”), online banking (“I want to check my account balance of last month”) and so on.

It can also engage in dialogue and start a conversation. It remembers habits, personal information and previous questions by connecting with enterprise systems and customer databases.

In a certain sense, a virtual assistant “takes care” of customers, wants to know them, suggest the best solution and new ideas in a way that traditional customer service cannot.
So, is Her is it truly that far from becoming a reality after all?!?