Commentary

Combining Search Virtual Assistants, Customer Service In 2016

My four-year-old ailing Sony Vaio, which I dearly love because I had it custom built with a super-fast solid-state hard drive, finally slowed to a snail’s pace. I’m convinced that an array of incompatible Windows operating system updates and other software applications did it in.

Sony sold its laptop division to a Japanese investment fund in 2014, so the company didn’t provide updates to make it compatible with changes that Microsoft made to Windows as it prepared to transition the world’s computers running Windows to 10, which is a whole other story unto itself.

The weekend after Christmas, I ventured into the Microsoft store, after lamenting for about a month about the laptop I would buy to replace my third-generation Vaio, and bought a Microsoft Surface Book, complete with an Intel Core i7 processor. I’m trying to become comfortable with Cortana.

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Site search has been an important part of the online user experiences, but in the age of the customer, search fails as a customer-focused tool. In the past when search engines or Web site search boxes were used to find information by typing in words things were less complicated. Search worked as a method for finding product, service, or brand information on engines or Web sites. In 2016 this will change.

Apple, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo have changed customer expectations for online search experiences. “Partially to blame are tools like Apple’s Siri and Google Now, which have redefined search as a single tool that can be used to answer any question at any time,” writes Forrester Research analyst Brendan Witcher in a report titled Get Better Results – Virtual Agents Are Key To Improving Site Search.

Not just site search, but Web search too. With Cortana in Windows 10, Microsoft put the virtual assistant powered by Bing in the toolbar to give users a better search experience by searching the Web and the computer for information.

Mobile commerce has added additional pressure for site search to perform, but it’s the mobile experience that taught us how to use virtual assistants that Forrester calls “Agents.” These Agents go fast, support easy navigation, and minimize input. The search tool in TripAdvisor’s app does a good job of combining search with customer service, per Forrester.

Despite advancements, Forrester believes people and processes lag behind what technology can deliver. A Forrester survey states that 73% of participants strongly agree that valuing their time is the most important thing a company can do to provide good customer service.

“Site search and virtual agents have historically been thought of as independent solutions that serve different purposes . . . ,” per Forrester. The report goes on to talk about Web site search, but it’s important as we close out 2015 to think of search or virtual assistants as a customer experience tool for 2016 that spans across devices and on Web sites, not just as a Web site search tool.

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