How the virtual assistance era is being redefined

Aakrit Vaish | Updated on January 09, 2020

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As consumers look for a more personalised and seamless digital experience, conversational commerce will drive e-retail

The year 2019 is gone, and the familiar feeling of time slipping by is upon us again. Looking back, it seems the year had been one of uncertainties, from political instabilities to volatile markets. However, one thing has surely happened — a heightened integration of offline and online retail on the back of technology. Chatbots had already come a long way from the era of stilted conversations and limited responses, but the last half of the decade has seen such a massive level of capability-building that they cannot be identified with the same nomenclature anymore. Instead, the conversational artificial intelligence (AI) world is now driven by an entirely new concept of intelligent virtual assistant solutions (IVAs), and 2020 is the when they will finally burst onto the scene.

The increasing capability of voice assistants is accelerating the ‘virtual assistance transition’ of the global business landscape. While Alexa is reported to have 50,000 skills and is used by 3500-plus brands, Google’s voice support today supports more than 30 languages. As per a recent report by Accenture, 75 per cent executives believe they risk going out of business if they don’t scale with AI.

Let’s try and predict what digital hits, misses, surprises, and trends await us in 2020.

The last decade went into bringing businesses to the cloud, adapting to e-commerce and building mobile apps to bring in a seamless digital experience. This stage of the digital journey is complete. This decade is going to be about making the interactions or transactions even more seamless, and in a way that replicates human behaviour.

As start-ups and corporates grow with STEM talent and an ‘AI-native’ generation at the helm, they are firmly placing their bets on IVA solutions as drivers of personalisation. A Capgemini report states a vast majority of organisations (74 per cent) consider conversational assistants as a key enabler of the company’s business and customer engagement strategy. Conversational assistance will be required for brands to actively engage with customers and for consumers to use products optimally. For instance, Volvo aims to introduce conversational assistance that will help drivers use thousands of in-car apps to make the connected car experience effortless and more enjoyable.

Experiential touchpoints of brick-and-mortar stores combined with the convenience of e-retail: this is what retailers are trying to achieve in the ‘Retail 2.0’ world. Smartphones today have become the biggest transactional touchpoints, and although consumers would like someone to guide them through the purchase experience, they want this assistance to be in the least intrusive manner. Conversational commerce is the best way to tick all these boxes; it emulates digital sales assistants with the added benefits of round-the-clock accessibility, handling massive transactional volumes and offering a consistent engagement experience.

Most importantly, conversational commerce’s ability to converse in the vernacular makes it a key retail tool in the future. In India, for instance, the next wave of smartphone users are emerging from regions where English is not the most common language of exchange.

Business is much more cerebral today than before, and to impact the subconscious strongly, a brand needs to be holistically present. With so many channels of interaction and data footprints being left almost everywhere, virtual assistance is the only way to be omnipresent. Whether through augmented reality that can simulate an experience or visual programming that can result in instant effective call-to-action, the key is to make the best use of each and every impulse.

The writer is CEO, Haptik

Published on January 09, 2020

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