by Jessica Cody, Marketing Manager
In the process of implementing a virtual assistant within your company’s website, making sure you have the richest content and smoothest integration are top priorities. While assuring your virtual agent delivers intelligent, personally relevant information to the customer as quickly and efficiently as possible is very important, the user interface with which the customer will be interacting also has an impact on customer satisfaction.
Being sure to place as much focus on the appearance and personality of your virtual agent as you are in your knowledgebase content is a tremendous aid to creating an attractive environment for your customer. You have several options when choosing the interface; this includes an avatar (or interactive character), a static image, or a video. In this post, we will focus on avatars, if that is the interface you choose. When designing an avatar for your virtual agent, such factors as the type of company being represented, the audience you wish to be attracting and will be supporting, as well as your company’s geographic location are pertinent to a successful deployment. Remember, the avatar you choose will become the face of your online customer service. It is the first point of contact visitors will have for questions and assistance with your company. Aim to make their first impression not only helpful, but meaningful and memorable!
Choosing an avatar for your virtual assistant depends much on your company’s branding, its function, and the product or service you are looking to support. You want the customer to be thinking of your company throughout their entire conversation with the virtual agent and thereafter. For example, Creative Virtual‘s implementation of V-Person™ Alison for On the Beach, a travel website in the UK, is a prime example of using these techniques. Alison is an attractive female donning a travel agent’s uniform sporting an On the Beach logo. She is standing in the company’s call center, and in the background is a banner reading “Beach Holidays.” People asking her questions and planning their vacations now have the ability to connect more intimately with the company, regaining the experience that was once only available by visiting your local travel agency without leaving the comfort of their own home. On the Beach reports, “[We] have witnessed our customers having fun interacting with ‘Alison’, and in turn, having fun interacting with our website”. Creating this type of environment for customers allows for them to be at total ease, raising their enthusiasm and creating confidence in their purchase. Also, NextIT created Spike for Gonzaga University, modeling it after the school’s mascot. Using the school mascot works well in exciting students about attending this university, while their questions are being answered. Many students don’t know what to expect when starting college, and using the mascot in the customer service experience sets them more at ease.
When deciding on an avatar, it is also important to consider the audience you are trying to reach. This can include age group, ethnicity, gender, location and interest. EChopin.pl is a web portal that is geared towards familiarizing children and young adults with Chopin’s musical compositions. Inteliwise, in creating a virtual agent that is a Chopinesque cartoon character, is encouraging children to ask questions. Similarly, Nanosemantics’ created a Russian cartoon character as an automated online assistant for Kapitalych, a Russian asset company, to connect with their audience. The more the customer can relate to the virtual agent, the more likely it is you will find repeat traffic from your customers to your website.
Finally, there are a few general key factors that typically make for a successful virtual agent. In choosing an avatar for your automated online assistant, you will be getting a better response if the avatar appears attractive, friendly and approachable. Lucy, the virtual agent for O2, developed by Creative Virtual, consists of delicate, exotic features and funky haircut. She is proving to be a big hit with O2’s customer base. You also want the avatar to express different emotions when responding to questions, incorporating a sense of empathy in your avatar’s response. In some cases, it may be best to avoid making the avatar too lifelike, as users could become uncomfortable or confused at to whether they are interacting with a real person or fun character. Diane Clarkson, an analyst at Forrester Research who serves EBusiness and Channel Strategy professionals, explains this concept of the “uncanny valley” in her entry in the Forrester Blogs entitled What Should a Virtual Agent Look Like?:
The guidelines for online customer service are no different from other types of customer service: friendliness, reliability, and knowledge of the specific workings of a company are all key components. A kind yet authoritative manner is what makes a successful customer service agent, and therefore a successful business. When it comes to designing avatars for automated online assistants, art imitates life. Combining the facets of a well-written knowledge base and a well-thought out image for representation of your company will assure a winning implementation of an avatar for your site.