Customers are conversing with brands in new ways, thanks to the Internet of Things. For many consumers, virtual assistants, chatbots and messaging apps are quickly becoming the preferred methods of communication.

For example, by the end of the year half of consumers will own a smart speaker, and one of their top three uses for it will be shopping and ordering items, reports CNBC.

Not surprisingly, businesses are taking notice. More than half of enterprises have invested in virtual assistant technology, and 25 percent of customer service centers intend to integrate virtual assistants or chatbots across channels by 2020, according to Gartner

With IoT, all businesses will need to place a greater emphasis on conversation and customer engagement. Gartner points out that companies already benefit from using virtual assistants across channels, ranging from a 70 percent reduction in call, chat and/or email inquiries to a 33 percent savings per voice interaction. However, the main goal is an improved customer experience. 

What customers look for in brand conversations

Provide context: A customer may ask a chatbot for information about pajamas and sneakers, and then refer to “it” in the conversation. The chatbot needs to figure out which product is “it” during the exchange. Advances in machine learning, speech recognition and natural language processing are leading to marked improvements in the ability of conversational interfaces to understand these contextual nuances. Additionally, customers engage with businesses across multiple channels. So, virtual assistants and chatbots must be able to access these other conversations from email, phone, web chat or messaging. 

Be natural: While consumers are opting to use messaging apps and virtual assistants, no one enjoys talking to a robot that doesn’t understand what you’re saying. Assistants need to be able to understand different accents, figures of speech and even tone of voice. Consumers don’t want to explain the purpose of their call multiple times. The technology needs to be built in, increasing comprehension and streamlining the customer journey.

How to build a conversational business

Adopt voice assistant technology: Businesses across all industries are using this technology to simplify sales and service while also improving customer engagement. Hotels have started to use voice assistants as a virtual concierge. With Alexa for Hospitality, developers are creating their own Alexa Skills and integrating the voice assistant into their own hotel apps. Dominos has partnered with Amazon for pizza delivery via voice, and consumers can order an Uber through Siri. 

Leverage messaging apps: Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and Kik are now more popular than social media apps. As their usage increases, providers are adding more functionality. Kik, for instance, has launched its own currency.

As these services evolve, there’s an enormous upside for brands to use them to create a more intimate connection with consumers. Some businesses already leverage location and other profile information to make personalized recommendations. For example, using the Kik API, the Weather Channel created an automated bot for more personalized interactions, such as reminders to carry an umbrella if rain is in the forecast. 

Tie it all together with unified communications: However, for these applications to work, businesses need to put the right communications technology in place. Consumers expect to seamlessly move from one channel to another, switching from chat to voice without interruption. Unified communications provides universal access to applications and data, thus removing the typical barriers to successful implementation and adoption of IoT technologies.

Virtual assistant and IoT applications are still evolving, though, and businesses will need to experiment first. That’s why it’s critical to select a UC vendor who understands how IoT and artificial intelligence enhances consumer interactions. They can help you overcome obstacles and open more doors to converse with your customers.

Want to know more about improving customer experience with virtual assistants and chatbots? Read the white paper, The Impending Contact Center Disruption. >


Digital transformation has become a top initiative for business and IT leaders. In today’s business world, sustainable market leadership is no longer based solely on which company has the best products or even the best people. Instead, organizations that are agile and can quickly adapt to rapidly evolving market trends will become market leaders.

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