Aakrit Vaish

Aakrit Vaish, Co-founder & CEO, Haptik.

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Bringing Business to you, through Conversations: How Intelligent Virtual Assistants are Redefining the Boundaries of Conversational AI

The conversational AI world is now driven by an entirely new concept of Intelligent Virtual Assistant solutions (IVAs), and 2020 is the year when they finally burst onto the scene

2019 is over. Looking back, it seems the year has 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 a decade has seen such a massive level of capability building that they cannot be identified with the same nomenclature anymore. Instead, the conversational AI world is now driven by an entirely new concept of Intelligent Virtual Assistant solutions (IVAs), and 2020 is the year when they finally burst onto the scene.
IVAs have already been adopted by enterprises as drivers of efficiency, increasing ROI, process optimization and contributors to workload reduction. With the growing competition, consumer engagement has become one of the most important assets for brands. Consumers are building a strong relationship with conversational interfaces, which in turn are offering an amazing opportunity for brands to humanize their relationships with consumers at scale while reducing costs.
The increasing capability of voice assistants is accelerating the ‘virtual assistance transition’ of the global business landscape further. While Alexa is reported to have 50,000 skills and is used by 3500+ brands, Google’s voice support today supports more than 30 languages. Globally, chatbots have increased sales by about 67%, and have initiated 26% of all sales transactions. As per a recent report by Accenture 75% executives believe they risk going out of business if they don’t scale AI. Fast, personalized, mass scale, 24/7 conversations achieved at a fraction of the conventional costs, this is what defines the adoption of IVAs.

We enter 2020, a year eagerly anticipated for reasons apart from the ring in its name, an ever-quickening pace of life needs solutions that support diverse needs for people with short attention spans. IVA solutions have evolved to fill this need gap, and have finally reached a critical point in their acceptance and implementation. As per Capgemini’s ‘Smart Talk’ report evaluating how organizations are embracing chat and voice assistants amongst 12,000 consumers and 1000 executives across industries, 58% of enterprises say the benefits they received from these solutions exceeded their expectations. On the consumers’ end, 68% of those studied said they preferred conversational assistance as it allowed them to multi-task and improved personalization helped in completing transactions quickly.

It becomes obvious that enterprises are not ‘trying them out’ anymore, they are actively looking at them as necessary drivers of better ROI, improved customer engagement, operational efficiency, productivity boosters and an active facilitator towards achieving other organizational objectives. 2020 is the year when IVAs will become a common feature across the global entrepreneurial ecosphere, implemented as a norm than a novelty. Let us try and predict what digital hits, misses, surprises, and trends await us in 2020-

From adaptation to customization
The last decade went into bringing businesses to the cloud, adapting to e-commerce and building mobile apps to bring a seamless 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 with growing STEM talent and an ‘AI-native’ generation start to hold important places at its core, they are firmly placing their bets on IVA solutions as drivers of personalization. Capgemini’s report states a vast majority of organizations (74%) consider conversational assistants as a key enabler of the company’s business and customer engagement strategy.  The recognition is already there, and 2020 will be the time when this recognition will be reflected in actual numbers of implementation, which are still low. Conversational assistance will be required for brands to actively engage with customers and for users to use the products optimally. For instance, Volvo aims to introduce conversational assistance that will help drivers make use of thousands of in-car apps to make the connected car experience effortless and more enjoyable. Similarly, IVAs can help enterprises across industries connect with millions of customers simultaneously and at a much deeper level, building long-lasting bonds.

Conversational Commerce
Experiential touchpoints of brick-and-mortar stores combined with the convenience of e-retail, this is the holy tag team retailers are trying to achieve in the ‘Retail 2.0’ world. Aggressive digitization by retail giants such as Amazon has acted as catalysts to completely change the way we buy and sell things. Smartphones today have become the biggest transactional touchpoints, and although consumers would like someone to guide them through the purchase experience, they want this help to be in the least intrusive manner.  Conversational commerce then is the best way to tick all these boxes, they act as Digital Sales Assistant with the added benefits of round-the-clock accessibility, handling massive transactional volumes and offering a consistent engagement experience. Also, it can easily blend in and lead to the other dimension of ‘Experiential Commerce’ that is already upon us.
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. They would like to have their initial brush with the internet in languages they are comfortable in and in a way that is conversant rather than stilted. However, colloquial conversations are mostly held in a mixed language format that has complex dynamics not easily programmable, and it is a challenge most conversational IVA developers will be looking at in 2020.

Technology to aid brand omnipresence
The lines between content consumption and product purchase today are getting blurred, and the business world needs to keep this in mind to develop future user engagement as well as intra-enterprise solutions. Business is much more cerebral today than it ever was, 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 everywhere, anytime.  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 enable instant action to make the best use of each and every impulse. Essentially, enterprises need technology to constantly, but quietly be there, and spring up as and when anyone requires help. Sounds a bit like being God, doesn’t it? Well, 2020 might just be the start of an apotheosis.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house

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