By Laura Ludmany, Knowledgebase Engineer
As an introduction of the Intelligent Assistants Conference held in London on the 4th and 5th of May, Dan Miller and Derek Top of Opus Research agreed that the era of intelligent assistants, chatbots, and AI has arrived. The biggest catalyst of this was Facebook, when its Messenger platform was opened to chatbots and virtual assistants in 2016. Since then, millions of chatbots can be found on that platform.
In the professional field – in which we tend to use the terms intelligent assistants and virtual agents – machine learning and natural language processing (NLP) are basics. Benefits of virtual assistants (VAs) are well proven – they bring fast changes and results to business, they reduce costs, increase customer satisfaction and engagement. Though, if we want to create an outstanding, reliable experience, assisted service is also needed.
This could be the motto of the first day of the conference – almost every presenter mentioned and Opus Team member emphasised that, with the big expansion of virtual agents, we have the technology and what companies need is creativity to ensure the added value. Hence human support and background are always needed and Intelligent Assistance (IA) needs to be managed with a combined approach. In this way, instead of seeing human versus AI/technology we rather are looking for a collaboration where we can maximize the benefits of this synergy.
The leading adopters of VAs are the banking and retail sectors and, per Dan Miller, these sectors want to reduce local presence and increase online availability. For example, several big retail chains are reducing their stock in store in favour of online retail platforms. At the same time, internal VAs also play a crucial part in this process. As one of our clients’ representative – Llaura Hughes from Motability Operations – described in her case study, their internal VA called ‘Ask Mo’ made a huge impact on their organisation’s workflow, making things simpler, more transparent and took the pressure off the live agents. Also their VA ensures continuous monitoring activity and helps to improve their database set (knowledgebase) day by day. The best thing is that the live agents can give instant feedback and they become engaged in this AI technology – as said at the beginning of the day: a brilliant example of human and machine collaboration.
All this sounds good, but how should a company step up to conversational commerce? Our Head of Operations, Rachel Freeman explained that the more departments that get involved in the VA project, the better it is. A good VA needs to be cross functional (helpdesk, marketing, sales) and every department has its own view which can give an extra feature/benefit to the VA and ensure they make the most out of it. Rachel again emphasized that the technology is a given, so it is rather what the organisation wants to be represented in their VA. Marketing and brand are vital today and a VA is just another platform to build this brand image, so again the creativity of the VA provider is what makes the deployments outstanding – just as Opus Research mentioned at the beginning of the day. On the other hand – these things take time and as Rachel described, building, maintaining and improving a VA should be approached as a journey which has no end, because to maintain a high level of performance and up-to-date content we need to have that above mentioned human assistance. Through regular monitoring and testing, an organisation can understand what customers want and even learn about customer habits.
There were some more thought provoking sessions at the conference, one of them was Wally Brill (Senior Persona Designer for Adecco at Google) discussing if we need to “be friends” with robots. He mentioned the interesting expression “uncanny valley” which, in short, means that too human-like bots are found to be scary and raise feelings of eeriness and revulsion. As we can see, the revolution of AI is rather an era of IA when intelligent assistants help, support and make the life of humans (live chat agents, analysts, sales persons, customers, etc.) easier. The future is those who focus on hybrid methods, as we cannot just rely on a black box of AI, but we want to know what’s going on in the background.
It was a great day of innovation and inspiration and I was glad to be able to participate in this conference where I could learn about the latest trends on the VA field. Thanks to Opus Research for hosting the Intelligent Assistants Conference in London again this year!
Be sure to check out our IAC London 2017 photo album on the Creative Virtual Facebook page.