Most websites today, customer facing or not, have some kind of traditional ‘site search’ function. The concept is simple enough; enter a keyword or phrase into the search bar and the website will return a set of search results – pages upon pages of content in many instances. Yet in a fast-paced world, people don’t have the time to sit and read through copious amounts of information to find the pages relevant to their query. Site-search is becoming an awkward, lumbering dinosaur of the Web 1.0 era. Companies need to evolve, and fast.
With the rapid evolution of language, phrase or keyword searches are quickly becoming ineffective. Consider the following: as little as 10 years ago, the word ‘thread’ was solely used to describe a piece of string used with a needle. Today, the term can be used to describe a series of related posts. Since site-search technology requires specific words to trigger the one answer customers are looking for, customers that don’t use those trigger words are presented with an overwhelming amount of information.
Another challenging problem with keyword searches is in the delivery of contextually relevant content. The simple truth of the matter is that keyword-based site-search options were never meant to be used for producing concrete answers to customer questions. If customers enter the keywords ‘interest rates’ on a financial institution’s site search box, they might be presented with information on mortgage, investment, loan, credit card or retirement savings interest rates. If customers are looking specifically for investment interest rates, the comprehensive results are contextually irrelevant to the search, and precious time is wasted sorting through the results.
A recent survey conducted by Forrester shows that the Virtual Agent channel is now used by nearly one-third of consumers, up from nearly nothing back in 2009. Why such a dramatic shift? You might say it all boils down to one thing: time. When customers use websites that deploy Virtual Agent technology they are encouraged to ask questions in natural, everyday language. Without having to rely on specific keywords, the Virtual Agent determines the intent of the question asked and provides the customer with a single answer, saving valuable time, which can be then be invested into building a better relationship with products or companies. So to come back to these examples, if a customer were to ask about a thread, the Virtual Agent would be able to tell through contextual cues whether the question was about a spool of thread or an online discussion. If the customer were to ask about interest rates, the broader conversation would help the Virtual Agent to understand the customer’s intent and deliver information about investments.
The time-saving benefits of Virtual Agents aren’t solely bound to consumers. When companies deploy the technology within an omni-channel context (web, mobile, social, or agent desktops), they capture the voice of the customer in “real-time”. Every time a customer asks questions through Virtual Agents, the questions are saved and organized by theme, with concrete results delivered to the company instantly. In doing so, companies save time and resources, since they don’t have to wait months for market research to compile, organize and deliver accurate, customer-centered market research statistics.
In order to run a successful business today, companies need to put their customers’ needs above their own. In other words, they need to be considerate of their customer’s time and create online experiences that facilitate the “get in, get out” mentality of the modern day consumer. If it takes a consumer time to find information on a brand’s website, this is perceived not just as a waste of time, but as terrible customer service. The aforementioned Forrester survey indicated that 66% of consumers say that valuing their time is the most important thing a company can do to provide them with good service. The time saved can be turned into a more meaningful and deeper relationship with the company’s offerings or the company itself. Don’t let the voice of the everyday consumer fall on deaf ears.
By David Lloyd, CEO, IntelliResponse
Phil Muncaster reports on China and beyond