When I talk to clients about implementing virtual assistant technology, their initial questions revolve around cost saving. “How can I save money by ‘deflecting’ calls to a virtual assistant?” Cost savings are a critical business outcome, but that’s not the optimal approach.

Virtual assistant technology is not a cost savings exercise. It’s a transformative change for a better customer experience. Yes, cost savings are significant – in some cases dropping per interaction costs. But there is no trade-off involved here. Properly implemented, virtual assistants are also more efficient at resolving customer issues. And this digital-hybrid workforce is available 24/7. Companies aren’t deflecting customers to a cheaper process, they are improving the process.

Customers increasingly don’t care who or what they are interacting with – they just want their issues resolved. According to a recent study by the technology company Ubisend, 69 percent of consumers would consider talking with a chatbot over a human if that delivered faster answers to their questions. The pace of technological shifts has made customers open to change – as long as it improves their experience with the brand and delivers results.

The right technology and the right implementation improves the customer experience. At DXC the metric we focus on with clients is “first interaction resolution.” This does not necessarily mean closing out the issue at first contact, though it can. It also means knowing and executing the proper escalation path, for example to a human agent without delay.

In this way, virtual assistants become part of a continuum of the automation process with common use cases for both customer service and sales. This is also known as a tiered approach to service. The key to making it work for the customer is a seamless interface for handoffs. This way the customer need not repeat any information or history.

Improvements in first interaction resolution can be dramatic with virtual assistant technology. For one of our government clients, the percentage of first interaction resolutions went from 33 percent to over 80 percent.

Personally, I’ve experienced this improvement in automated customer service. I enjoy concerts, and typically need to use the secondary market to secure tickets due to my schedule. Recently I purchased tickets through StubHub, started in a live chat, escalated to a human seamlessly and secured tickets that were actually even better than advertised.

When making the move to virtual assistants, here are a few things for companies to consider:

  • Natural language processing – do it well. Nothing is more frustrating for customers than not to be understood.
  • Integration with agent training – the best deployments mirror the agent desktop. Handoffs are seamless and agents see exactly what the customer sees.
  • Compliance and accuracy – virtual assistants not only can be 100 percent compliant with processes, but also can allow the customer to record and track the interaction.

The move to automate customer service is a natural step in the pursuit of excellence and efficiency. It’s not (just) about cutting costs. It has nothing to do with robots replacing humans. It has to do with better serving your customers – the raison d’etre of business IT.