The Future of Customer Care, Part 2: Leveraging the Next Gen of Virtual Assistants

In part one of our three-part series The Future of Customer Care, we learned how the internet of things will affect many industries. Another emerging technology, featured in the Forrester report Plan Now for Customer Service in 2021, is virtual assistants (VAs), propelled by both increasing expectations for quick, effortless service and advancements in artificial intelligence.

Although more than a decade old, VA technology had minimal adoption until the development of the smartphone and intelligent personal assistants. While these tools are beneficial in helping users quickly obtain a list of web pages to answer queries, they still aren’t able to provide relevant responses to a series of related questions. However, with improvements in speech recognition, natural language understanding, and machine learning, many new applications for VAs are just around the corner.

A Multitude of Applications

The next generation of VAs will incorporate a variety of communication channels. This helps customers ask related questions and get detailed answers that leverage both a knowledge base and contextual data, pulled from sources like customer relationship management (CRM) solutions. To further improve customers’ chances of successful self-service, the new class of VAs will also be able to learn from agent-assisted interactions to increase the number of topics they can address.

While there are applications for VAs in nearly every industry, they are likely to be adopted first by B2C industries, including hospitality, telecom, and ecommerce. In fact, VAs are already being found on early adopters’ websites. Deployment on web chat, messaging apps, IVR, and other self-service channels is already happening.

Overcoming Challenges

For VAs to be widely adopted, they need to be integrated to create a seamless customer experience. For example, a customer who begins a virtually-assisted conversation may want to shift to a live agent if they cannot obtain a resolution to their issue. If the conversation with the VA is extensive, it could be difficult for the agent to get up to speed on the interaction. Ideal solutions will derive the necessary information from the conversation and deliver it in a way to the agent that is both concise and contextual.

There may also be some pushback from customers who simply prefer engaging with a live agent. However, as VAs become more widely adopted, and technology continues to be refined, the technology is likely to grow in acceptance by customers who appreciate its speed and efficiency.


Companies considering the addition of a VA as part of their CX strategy will need to make decisions about deployment locations. For some, a VA on a corporate website is sufficient. Others may choose more complex, speech-enabled VAs inside multiple communication channels, including connected devices. There may even be a benefit to placing VAs on agent desktops to improve workforce productivity.

It’s also important to determine the level of service the VA will offer. Today’s VAs are primarily used to provide information. Looking to the future, they will increasingly help generate actions for customers, such as schedule service calls or generate trouble tickets when issues cannot be resolved.

As VA technology continues to evolve, the applications will grow, opening up new opportunities to provide fast, convenient self-service for customers. The challenge will be to leverage VAs in a way that not only drive profitability, but also meet customer expectations.