Like editors, stage managers, and food hygiene regulators, virtual assistants are at their best when the customer doesn’t know they’re there. Like human assistants (which still exist, somewhere) they are here to streamline processes and make sure the activities of a business and the lives of the consumers run smoothly.
That does mean, however, we can forget to appreciate just how much a virtual assistant can do for us. In short, a chatbot is best at anything that requires minimal supervision. This has a huge range of meanings depending on the industry, the job or the service, but the same general rule applies. There are hundreds of processes in which the majority of customer interaction can be handled by virtual assistants, freeing up your staff to take on other responsibilities and still be on hand to solve the more complex problems.
With that in mind, let’s look at nine ways in which virtual assistants can work for you.
1. Tracking Products
Keeping track of where a product is between order, delivery and (sometimes) returns is a huge benefit that customers are coming to expect of eCommerce companies. But if you want to scale your commerce operations using only human labor you would have to hire hundreds of staff members just to deal with the inevitable influx of customer queries regarding tracking.
Avoid having to hire a new fleet of customer service representatives by employing a tracking bot. These assistants can be loaded with information about order and delivery status and provide timely notifications to customers confirming order submission, delivery times and scheduling. They also play well with refund bots, who can help streamline the returns process.
2. Scheduling Appointments
Another time-consuming task that is at the core of any industry is scheduling appointments. We lead complex, interconnected lives, often featuring a huge number of appointments with a wide variety of establishments — meetings with colleagues, doctor visits, hair salons, car repair, and more and more and more. One small incident can have a knock-on effect across your whole day. Multiply that by thousands of appointments and you have a near-impossible task for a receptionist.
That is, unless your receptionist is a virtual assistant. Appointment bots can schedule, manage, move and cancel appointments efficiently, making the process a breeze for customers. Much like Tracking bot, this assistant handles all confirmations and reminders, and can be outfitted with a customer rating system to add to your testimonial marketing effort as well.
3. Vetting Applications
“Applications used to be the bane of my existence,” says Noah McGuire, a business blogger at Britstudent and NextCoursework. “One holiday season I worked on a gym reception and more than half of my job was handling membership applications. I was flooded with the same questions, day in, day out, from hundreds of eager New Year’s Resolutionists, and answering them I felt like a machine.”
So, Noah got a machine to help. “I designed a simple application bot to answer basic membership questions as well as handle simple yes/no application acceptance circumstances. It more than halved my workload, which made me happy, and was available 24/7, which made the customer happy.”
The other case for membership-based bots is in renewals. Having to chase up subscribers to any service to ask if they want to re-up is tiring and time consuming. Instead, why not have a bot track membership end dates and send reminder emails?
4. Handling Payments
There’s no doubt that, when it comes to money, both customers and sellers value expediency. Money in transit is useful to no one; it’s revenue you can’t turn into products and it delays products getting into the hands of buyers.
Eliminate the delays and human error from payment management by putting it in the hands of virtual assistants. Essentially the same as the refund function of the membership bot mentioned above, but the other way around, payment bots can confirm transactions and provide information on where, when and how to pay recurring fees.
5. Keeping Track of Accounts
Just like with money entering or leaving our possession, we’ve become accustomed to knowing information about our financial accounts at the click of a button. Whether it’s a bank balance, due dates of fees, recent transactions or any number of other details, speed and efficiency is the name of the game.
This area is probably where you’ve noticed the value of virtual assistants without even realizing. Banking and utility companies have been relying on automated services to provide all of this information to customers for years now — if there was a person on the other end of your bank app you would have to wait hours, maybe even days for a response. Account bots are really valuable for their ability to work around the clock and are able to complete most simple tasks without having to involve any human staff members.
6. Handling Complaints
Virtual assistants can do more than improve the speed and efficiency of jobs, they can also take over the less attractive roles normally given to customer service personnel. Complaints are a certainty of any commercial venture, and a successful company treats these complaints with due attention and reverence, no matter how unreasonable they might be.
Stefano Obata, a writer at Academicbrits and Write My X, suggests how using a virtual assistant for complaint handling can take the pressure off of your staff and make sure feedback is followed up. “Complaint bot can take details from customers, create records based on timelines and even help resolve the customer issue, all without a customer service representative having to be yelled at. It makes sure the issues are consistently tracked and monitored, and can often resolve simpler complaints by providing FAQs or support pages. Anything more complicated can be directed at a member of staff.”
Another time-consuming task that is rarely anyone’s favorite is recruitment. It’s something every business needs to do at some point, but increasingly few people seem to want to do it. After all, there is a whole sector of the economy dedicated to agencies that do nothing but recruit. If companies are this eager to offload this work there must be something wrong with it.
Enter the recruitment bot. Recruitment can often be boiled down to a yes/no choice, especially at the initial scouting stage. A virtual assistant can be loaded with specific criteria to search for and tasked with sorting through thousands, even millions of CVs, to collect those that meet the criteria. The great thing about these bots is that they are set-it and forget-it — they can be constantly scouring the web for potential hires with minimal resource input from staff.
8. Research Assistant
In a similar way, tasks involving a huge amount of research are often offloaded onto external companies. Research is the backbone of so many decisions made every day, but the time to collect large amounts of useful information can be huge, even if the data is readily available (which is often isn’t).
A research bot can help in the early stages of research to narrow down a massive field of information by filtering out set topics or keywords. These virtual assistants can be set on multiple tasks at once and have an appetite for data that far exceeds any human counterpart, making them a highly efficient way of gathering raw information to be processed.
9. Provide Discreet Services
This one is a tricky one, as it’s hardly going to be the focus of most outwardly benevolent companies. The fact is, though, shady dealings and untoward activities have always been a part of human life, so there’s no surprise that they abound on the internet.
A virtual assistant can provide information and automate services without the need for human interaction, therefore avoiding implication. I should stress: I don’t endorse this kind of activity, but it’s an important implication of virtual assistant technology that needs to be appreciated and understood if it’s going to be correctly controlled.
Compiled together like this, the clear benefits of virtual assistants are speed, efficiency, and access. Built with the right inputs and with the correct monitoring, a virtual assistant can complete tasks at a rate and scale that no human staff member could ever dream of. The benefits are so clear that they’re already a part of multiple online businesses, and their impact is only growing.
That being said, it’s important not to lose sight of exactly why virtual assistants are useful. It’s very well and good saying that they boost revenue or improve customer service response times, but focussing too much on these benefits can have us lose sight of the human workers these assistants hope to replace.
Maybe, rather than thinking of virtual assistants as new staff, think of them as tools to help your team work faster, dedicate their time to more complex projects and improve their wellbeing. As AI increasingly eclipses human skill and intellect, there will come a time that they are better than all of us at all jobs. Let’s make sure we still have a place for humans at the table.