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Bots & personal assistants: Indispensable tools or mere gadgets?

By Sylvain Cionneau, Digital Advisor, Microsoft on June 6, 2017

Filed under IT Leader

2017. Is this the year of the bots? From your instant messaging to a growing number of e-commerce sites, to cognitive services, bots are spreading with no end in sight. Let’s talk about these new generation personal assistants.

Image of Sylvain CionneauI am Sylvain Cionneau, a Microsoft Digital Advisor based in France. Microsoft Digital Advisory Services is a team within Microsoft Services. Digital Advisors bring their expertise, as well as Microsoft’s resources, experience and innovation, to empower organizations to reach their digital aspirations. We partner to drive a program of change to build our customers’ digital business, and our website can be found here: Microsoft Digital Advisory Services.

Illustration of man holding up phone and saying "Bots & personal assistants: indispensible tools or mere gadgets?"A bot is a computer program designed to simulate a conversation with a human, especially on the Internet. Tracing their beginnings from the 1990s – even though the first chatbot in history, Eliza, was created in 1966 – today they represent the next big revolution in human-machine interaction. Bots are present everywhere, from personal assistants to robots.

Virtual agents use machine learning algorithms to understand the world around them and interact with humans using natural language. This cognitive ability, accessed through familiar apps, can increase human productivity once the agent is configured, put in context, and provided with data. The machine learning algorithms are often specific to each company and require the help of data scientists.

Group of students walking togetherSo how are bots used in real life? We all know that purchasing behavior is driven by positive, innovative, and personalized customer experiences. Studies have found that 80% of consumers would change insurance plans if they received more personalized experiences, and that 38% of consumers under 25 consider innovation as a priority for purchasing. This makes many consumer experiences ripe for bots.

Another reason bots matter is that people message five times more than they interact with apps on a daily basis. This means messaging, or engaging in communication, is an important, and often overlooked, way to connect with customers.

Getting Started
So how do you get started exploring BOTs?  First, start with a simple business scenario. Steer clear of challenging scenarios. Then, collect data; there are no bots without data. Below are some example scenarios.

  • Man in customer service wearing headset and answering a call looking at a computer screenInsurance: customer service, claims reporting, coverage check
  • Banks: account checking, payments & transfers
  • Industry: smart car, hands-free commands
  • Retail & consumer packaged goods: shopping assistant, couponing & loyalty, dressing assistant
  • Public sector: user orientation, automated Q&A

Then, consider the UI, user paths, or even the development of new services – how does this impact the customer journey? How will you manage a smooth transfer from a BOT to a ‘human’ company representative? As you build out prototypes, remember that agile mode (sprints) is more appropriate than ever.

What do you think of personal assistants? Have you already led projects of this type? Are you wondering about the feasibility of an idea?

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