Intelligent Virtual Assistant Best Practices

April 25, 2014
David Lloyd, SVP Platform Solutions Group & Managing Director, Canada

Virtual agent technology has many different names like virtual assistants, intelligent virtual assistants, VAs, online avatars, etc. Since the underlying technology itself IS vastly different across the vendor landscape, it’s time to look at the technology and deployment best practices. So if you’re in the process now of evaluating different products, and getting close to deploying an intelligent virtual assistant at your company, you no doubt have many questions. Do you use an avatar or just a generic question box? How about going with voice activated self-service options? Or one that resembles online chat?

Not to worry. Many of the organizations we speak with every day have similar questions, and while these are all very valid questions, some merit a deeper discussion over others. Fortunately, there are many intelligent virtual assistant best practices that we’ve developed over the years that help our clients filter out all the noise and tune into the most important aspects that are critical to a successful intelligent virtual assistant deployment. Some are technology related, others are simply effective deployment methods. Here’s a few to get you started:

Intent Recognition

Since intelligent virtual assistants encourage customers to ask questions using natural language, the technology should be able to understand the intent behind the question. For example, when a customer asks: “how do I cancel a cheque?” or “how do I stop a payment?”, the technology should understand that the intent behind both questions is the same and therefore should deliver the same right answer. So ensure the intelligent virtual assistant technology you deploy has the capability to understand the intent behind your customer’s questions. Looking for vendors who’s solution incorporates natural language processing or machine learning capabilities is a great start.


When customers are looking for the one right answer, where you place the intelligent virtual assistant matters. Remember, the higher the visibility, the more questions you will receive. And more questions will mean more satisfied end users, fewer emails/chats/ phone calls, and increased voice of the customer insights for your organization. Keep in mind, you can also incorporate multiple virtual assistant interfaces throughout your site. For example, your virtual assistant might be presented a bit differently on your Contact Us page than on your Support page. Or you might have one just for customers  after they log-into your customer portal, with another virtual assistant accessible from your website.


Branding is important, but definitely not at the same level as the ability of your intelligent virtual assistant to understand the intent of your customer’s questions and match it with the precise answer they are looking for. However, since it can enhance familiarity and recognition, promote interaction and self-service, and increase consumer adoption and use, many intelligent virtual assistant best practices around branding have been developed.

Copa Airlines Intelligent Virtual Assistant Ask Ana (Question Box)

Copa Airlines has created a virtual service counter for passengers and potential travelers to help answer their questions. “Ana”, a fictional flight attendant with the airline, helps the user feel comfortable asking questions and also encourages the user to form his or her question in natural language.

Choosing to brand your intelligent virtual assistant as a persona (like Copa did in the example above) could be one of the best decisions you make when deploying. It’s a best practice that we highly recommend. So whether you decide to deploy your intelligent virtual assistant using a static picture, character, or avatar, and whether you want to add voice capability (either professionally recorded or text-to-speech), just remember that there’s really no right or wrong strategy here. Just ensure it fits with your overall corporate culture, branding, and of course your overall objectives.


Digital Self-Service Across All Channels

Customers are no longer just interacting with a company via a standard web browser. Modern intelligent virtual assistant technology can be deployed across a variety of web-based channels as well as across mobile platforms, social media platforms, and on contact center agent desktops. So ensure the intelligent virtual assistant technology you use can be deployed across all these channels.

Virtual Assistant Deployment on Smartphone Example

Intelligent virtual assistant technology should be capable of being deployed on websites, mobile devices, social media channels, and even the desktops of contact center agents.


Intelligent Virtual Assistants, Site Search, or Both

If you currently have a site search function embedded within your website, you will need to consider if, or how, the introduction of an intelligent virtual assistant will change your search strategy. Simply presenting both without a clear strategy can lead to confusion for your customers. For the most part, the best practice is for the intelligent virtual assistant to replace site search, or to at least position site search as a secondary option.

However, recent advancements in technology allow you to deploy a single federated search or assisted search option that leverages the powerful virtual assistant technology in addition to your website’s existing search functionality. In some cases, especially when site search can’t be removed or minimized, this too can be a good approach as it minimizes any end user confusion by presenting to the consumer a single option to self-serve.

Regardless of how the intelligent virtual assistant is presented, what matters is its ability to understand the intent behind the millions of questions it will be receiving and its ability to instantly match them with an accurate response. Put it this way, animation and other stylistic elements is just the icing on an already delicious cake. Sure, people will ‘oooh’ and ‘aaah’ since the icing matters and boosts people’s enthusiasm, but if the actual cake is terrible, good icing isn’t even going to matter.


David Lloyd, SVP Platform Solutions Group & Managing Director, Canada
David Lloyd, SVP Platform Solutions Group & Managing Director, Canada

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