Virtual Customer Assistant: Beyond the App

Virtual Customer Assistant: Beyond the App

Kumaran ShanmuhanBy Kumaran Shanmuhan
3 min read


Annoying notifications, complex registration and freezing are the top three reasons for uninstalling mobile apps, according to an Appiterate survey, so it’s no wonder that most people use only about five of the apps on their mobile, and ignore the other thirty or so. I personally couldn’t live without 7-8 apps, but I rarely touch the rest.

And don’t expect your customers to go looking for your app. Most people have no idea what apps are available, nor do they go searching for them randomly. When they do find them, they dread loading them onto phones already crammed with unused ones. Admittedly, there are companies that maximize app visibility and impact to reach and engage with new audiences through analysis, tracking performance, and distribution, but the inescapable fact is; the app is still at the core of the proposition.

Progressive Web Apps

Progressive Web Apps (PWA) are an app alternative that uses leading-edge web technology to create mobile web pages that mimic an app. Last year, Google began a limited pilot of another option, app streaming. On paper, it sounds like a great way to get answers using a rich app-like interface, but without installing an app.

Recognizing challenges with apps, Gartner in 2017 said, “Bots will start replacing mobile apps. No more looking for an app, downloading an app, updating an app, or managing an app.”

Chatbots are a more natural, non-invasive way of cutting through the digital clutter on your mobile. You’re on the phone or laptop browsing the website of a hotel, restaurant, or shop, you’re looking to book a room, reserve a table or buy clothes. Chatbots handle these types of queries without the need to install an app. Your experience may differ between a mediocre one from companies new to this area, to wow from experienced companies that understand your question, anticipate your needs and respond in context.

This has pushed some companies to look into different ways of mobile engagement, with added interest on those that avoid the need to download an app.

Regardless of whether you’re typing or talking to a virtual customer assistant (fronted by a digital avatar), digital assistant (like Siri, Alexa, and Google), Chatbot, Smart TV etc., the experience is a little artificial because all of these products have tangible boundaries which means it’s evident that a pre-programmed rules-based software engine is on the other end. As the technology advances, the boundaries will get less distinct, and that’s where conversational tools like Amazon Echo, Google Home, and Microsoft Bot Framework, are headed. This year’s version will look dated next year, just as today’s version is a big leap compared to a couple of years ago.

Despite countless technologies already out there, it’s difficult to encourage a customer into using them when their natural inclination is to pick up the phone. Of course, there will always be exceptions to the rule – millennials, the tech-savvy or curious, for instance, but much to the frustration of digitalization professionals, the vast majority still prefer the phone.

A More Impactful Virtual Customer Assistant Revolution Is Yet To Come

This is where awareness and choice become key. If I’m made aware of other options, then why would I wait in a call center queue. If I’m introduced to a better way that thinks customer engagement first, and technology second, why wouldn’t I want to try it? Once I’m in “the better way”, I need choice. If I can get my answer by clicking or tapping, then great, but if I cannot then I should be offered the option to converse with a human. As the boundary between clicking, tapping, typing and speaking becomes less visible, it’ll seem like there’s a real person on the other end so I’m more likely to use it again, and again.

Karnail headshot Karnail Jita
Solutions Consultant

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