At your Service: Moneypenny, Cortana, Siri and the New Era of Virtual Support

by Patrice Samuels | Jul. 20, 2015

Last week, Facebook announced its foray into the world of digital personal assistants with “Moneypenny.” The name is apparently inspired by a character who plays secretary to James Bond’s boss in a number James Bond movies. Moneypenny will be integrated into Facebook’s Messenger app and is designed to help app users to research and order products online. Facebook has not yet unveiled the service and is currently testing it among members of its staff.

While services offered by Moneypenny are different from those of other digital personal assistants/ virtual assistants, Facebook’s creation follows a trend of major tech companies that have developed virtual personal assistants for consumer use on personal devices. Siri from Apple Inc, Google Now from Google, Cortana from Microsoft Corporation and Watson from IBM have maintained a significant presence on computing devices over the past few years.

The benefits of having a well-developed virtual assistant (VA) associated with a technology brand are clear:

  • Fosters brand loyalty– Device-based personal assistant can lead to greater dependence on a device, but intelligent virtual assistants are designed to learn patterns of behavior and speech. By doing so, these systems become better at anticipating needs and behaviors over time, fostering long-term loyalty to a brand.
  • Research – Virtual assistants are constantly capturing consumer questions and commands, providing tremendous insight into consumer needs and opportunities for product improvement.
  • Provide better customer experience– When used in customer support, virtual agents can leverage large repositories of data to help consumers navigate product or service challenges. They are also readily available to consumers on their devices.

Virtual assistant efforts are not new. The technology hasn’t completely matured and some, like Siri, are only now starting to live up to their prelaunch hype. Much of the progress made with virtual assistant over the past three years is apparent. Vendors have improved voice recognition software and have made them more conversational and proactive.

Many early VA efforts were for customer support—a way to humanize and encourage consumer use of self-help support services. Interestingly as these brands develop their VA technologies, many seem to be downplaying their use in support.

But what does the growing popularity of VAs mean for support?

  • If the use of digital personal assistants becomes standard, consumers will be more inclined to use the technology for support, alleviating the burden on technology brands, which have, over the past few years, employed a number of strategies to improve awareness and use of self-help support services. According to Parks Associates report The Evolution of Tech Support: Trends and Outlook 2nd Edition 83% of broadband households in the U.S. are aware of self-help support services. Only half of these consumers use them. As for virtual agents, only one-fifth of consumers who are aware of self-help support use a virtual agent. 
  • With increased reliance on virtual agents to solve technical problems, brands can capture more data regarding consumer inquiries and efforts to resolve problems. They can then leverage this data for more efficient problem resolution. According to Parks Associates 360 View: Supporting the Connected Consumer, nearly 40%of consumers who attempt to resolve problems using VAs eventually reach out for professional assistance.
  • VAs can help technology brands, such as Microsoft, usher in new service features more seamlessly. Microsoft has dealt with sluggish adoption of operating system upgrades in the past, often because consumers simply do not want to deal with the learning curve associated with upgrades to new operating systems. Microsoft is planning to pull the curtain up on Windows 10 in the next few days. Given the friction associated with the launch of the Windows 8 and 8.1, company executives are likely bracing for impact. Microsoft plans to build its digital personal assistant software, Cortana, into the new operating system. If Microsoft uses the launch of Windows 8 and 8.1 as a cautionary tale, then they will also promote Cortana as a resource to help consumers navigate the new operating system. Doing so can mitigate some of the apprehension associated with embracing a new operating system, including loss of productivity and falling victim to user-error, and the negative media associated with poor user experiences. 

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