How Virtual Assistants Will Shape Your Brand Experience

As I’m currently researching a lot of virtual assistant/AI trends right now for The Conference, I’m intrigued what this field will look like in the near future and how humans will respond to having a “little helper” around who can assist you with everything, from ordering pizza to rescheduling a doctor’s appointment. 

Sounds futuristic? It’s more or less here already. Facebooks “M”, Microsoft’s Cortana and are just some examples of virtual assistants on the market (or in beta) that is aiming to be your future butler, secretary or general problem solver.

These are, mostly, services that are based on some kind of AI, that will learn your preferences, based on a flow of data that you generate in your daily life. Your VA will learn, if you ask it to order a pizza, that you prefer the pizza place who’s number you have listed in your phone, searched for on Google Maps, or where your friends have checked in on Foursquare.

But what has struck me during my research is that we, the humans, will have higher expectations when interacting with an AI, apart from getting the right service. We will not only expect the pizza to arrive to the right address, we will expect that the process of ordering the pizza to be smooth, fun and interesting.

In other words, we will have expectations of the experience of interacting with our virtual assistant, not just the result it will deliver.

Why do I say this? Because of the efforts that many tech companies already put in designing the personalities of their AIs. Yes, you read correctly, designing a personality for an artificial intelligence is now a job. Where do you find this design competence? Well, from drama, movies and fiction. There are several teams of writers, producers and even comedians who are now employed by tech companies to carefully design what your experience when chatting with your virtual assistant will be like. Will it be funny, smart, polite?  

(If you’re curious to hear more, Deborah Harrison, one of the architects of the personality for Microsoft's digital assistant, Cortana, will be speaking at The Conference about why it’s important to give an AI a likeable personality.)

So, why should you care about this? Because I believe this interaction between humans and machines will be a big part of a company’s brand. When your customer service will be an AI, you will want that AI to reflect your brand values. When it comes to building your brand image, your AI’s personality will be right up there along with brand logo and tone-of-voice.

As a customer, I will expect the virtual IKEA assistant to be friendly, smart and down-to-earth when helping me with my order, in line with my general perception of the IKEA brand.

Perhaps it’s also possible that future customers will choose brands based on what the AI interaction is like. I might personally prefer an AI that’s more witty, while others prefer more serious conversations.

I don’t think this thought is too far fetched, as we have many examples today where consumers choose one brand over another, based on their personal experiences of interacting with that company. Think about travel companies, where all of them will deliver you from A to B, but the overall travel experience is what makes you prefer one company over another.

This will also pose interesting challenges to the future personality designers out there. As shy Swedes sometimes shun what we perceive as “overly friendly” service when visiting the US, will we feel uncomfortable interacting with chirpy AI:s designed in sunny California? Will we be able to toggle to a “nordic noir” mode for a less cheerful personality, to fit our cultural style of communication? :)

What is for certain is that in just a few years, human-machine interaction will be a part of your brand experience. And you might want to start thinking about how to design that experience already today.