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Five Things to Consider Before Building an Intelligent Virtual Assistant

Take a user-centric approach without sacrificing the needs of the organization by asking five simple questions before building an Intelligent Virtual Assistant.

Photo of a cork board with hand written cards affixed with push pins that say, "Human-Oriented Company" and "People First"

What is an Intelligent Virtual Assistant, or IVA? It’s a piece of software that uses artificial intelligence and natural language processing to have more human-like conversations. IVAs are technology designed to understand and respond like a person would—but not just any person. Your Intelligent Virtual Assistant is an always-available, always accurate, and always on-brand expert that can help people 24-7/365.

From a user perspective, IVAs offer a great service. People can get answers to questions without manually searching through websites, apps, or documentation. They don’t have to make a phone call and deal with a call tree, and there are no restrictions on availability. 

For the organization, the benefits of a well executed IVA can range from lowered operating costs to improved conversion rates and the ability to use conversational data to help guide future site or app improvements. The key part of that sentence is “a well executed IVA” because all of the technology in the world means nothing if it doesn’t benefit the user in some way.

To do this the right way, it’s important to ask a few key questions before you build.

Who is the Intelligent Virtual Assistant for?

This question seems obvious but there’s power in asking it and diving into the details of the “who” before you build. Knowing who the users are can help you better understand their needs and key in on what you need to design to support them.

Many organizations will likely find that they have a long list of potential users with different (and potentially competing) needs. It’s important to remember that an IVA cannot solve everything for everyone. Once you have a list of who you could be building for, you’ll want to look at their needs and how they might try to use the IVA. This will help focus and give the IVA purpose.

What do they need to get done?

Looking at the user’s intent helps center task accomplishment. Understanding what people want to get done is a great way to begin to understand how they might use an IVA. 

Exploring user intent helps you understand the “why.” 

Why are they coming to your site? Why are they opening your app? Why are they engaging your voice assistant? 

Next, think about how much time they have and whether they’re trying to engage in a leisurely task, like reading for entertainment purposes, or if they’re in a time crunch and trying to find information as quickly as possible.

As you do this work, frame it as a discovery period. You are aiming to use this discovery to develop a deeper understanding of not just what they want to do but what they don’t want to do as they attempt to accomplish the task. This discovery period will help you build something that people actually want to use.

Where will they be using it?

This question has two sides: think about where they are physically while trying to accomplish their intended task. Is it noisy? Are they distracted? Their physical location will likely also have an impact on the device that they’re using. Someone on the go is more likely to use a mobile phone than a laptop. 

Man and woman stand next to each other on a commuter train and look at a phone screen together.

While it is standard best practice to design websites for both mobile and desktop experiences, web traffic trends globally have shown mobile continuing to outpace desktop traffic. Many organizations will find that their users are significantly more likely to use mobile or desktop than industry averages. If your data shows extremely high desktop usage, you can consider prioritizing the design and optimization of the desktop user experience.

You’ll also want to take a look at when people are likely to visit. If operationally you’re able to handle any email or phone call that comes through manually during business hours, consider whether an IVA could be a helpful solution for visitors who fall outside of operating hours. 

Once you have a strong understanding of your users and their needs, it’s time to look at whether your organization has the ability to train the IVA to react and respond to those needs. 

Do you have content that can be used to help provide answers to questions your users are asking?

The IVA needs something to learn from, so having (or compiling) a library of content is a vital foundational element. A library of content will ensure the intelligent virtual assistant has something to learn from, so it can provide relevant answers when needed without requiring any input from human resources. This content can be anything from product sheets to training manuals. Using content owned and updated by the organization guarantees the accuracy of the responses, and tools like XAPP AI let you make one update to a single source of truth that updates the way the IVA responds.

Both the user and the organization need to feel confident that information is accurate and consistent across channels (i.e., website vs app vs voice assistant) and having a plan to manage the content behind the scenes is key.

How will you measure success?

When planning out what you want to build for the user, it’s important to also look at what you want to build for the organization. Naming what success looks like and assigning metrics to help quantify that success is a great way to keep the project focused from the get-go. 

Before you can build a measurement plan, you need to know what you want to measure.

If your organization is focused on lowering operating costs by diverting users away from a resource intensive phone call, make sure that you can measure the number of calls pre and post implementation. Look for data on the types of calls coming in, and work to further optimize the IVA to meet those needs before they turn into phone calls. 

One of the big benefits of Intelligent Virtual Assistant technology is that you have the option to keep it on at all times, and that it can be accessible from anywhere. Any location, any device, any modality. But “any” does not have to mean “all.” 

Position your organization for success with an Intelligent Virtual Assistant

Prioritize every element, from what the IVA can handle to where and how it can be accessed, to focus the effort on the things that will be the most impactful to the users and the organization. And make sure that at every stage, you’re thinking about how you’ll measure that impact.

If you start by asking these five questions, your Intelligent Virtual Assistant will be set up for success.

Contact us to discuss how we can help any size business launch Conversational AI experiences that people want to use.

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