Would you ever leave your house without bringing your virtual assistant with you? Of course not. Mostly because it is built into your smartphone, either Google Assistant on Android or Siri on iPhone. However, do you ever use it for anything more helpful than a fancy gimmick? Maybe to set the alarm and yet still use the touch screen to open the app just to make sure it did it correctly.

But why do we still refuse to have meaningful conversations with our digital imaginary friends? Why don’t we let them coach us, and even offer therapy, that is always avaliable?

I see 2 essential skills, that virtual assistants need before we will talk to them like adults.

1 Integrations – Virtual assistants must be integrated and connected to other it-systems so they can lookup data, make purchases, transactions etc. for you.
But then, why use a chatbot? Why ask a chatbot about the balance on my bank account, when my bank already has a functioning interface for that? The main difference between my mobile banking app and a chatbot, is that the virtual assistant is simulating a human interaction and thereby human characteristics. So why not utilize that? Why not make the virtual assistant able to simulate human behavior like being motivating, caring, cheering or calming?

That question leads me to the second skill.

2 Artificial Empathy – Virtual asisstants must be able to help people in difficult situations, whether those are caused by loneness, depression or the users just having a shitty day.
I have created a chart from the 2 skills, – my virtual assistant skillset. Most existing virtual assistants are still in the left part of the chart. I haven’t yet seen a virtual assistant in the upper right corner, even though many users have told me that it would be required for them to use a virtual assistant at all.

When expressing the idea of a virtual assistant coaching people, I always hear the argument, that it will never feel the same as the real human touch. And I agree. Virtual assistants should not replace professionals helping out people in mental difficult situations. However, I am convinced that virtual assistants having the right training, can be a great help for people who would never reach out to a professional. This by offering their help anytime anywhere.

For the people, who are still not convinced, I bed one of the oldest tricks in behavioral design can help. It is as simple as making things you want people to do the most convenient. Sometimes by making things you least want people to do a little less convenient. What would you choose? The friendly virtual assistant that is avaliable 24/7, and can help you all the way though. Or would you wait until a real human has a free timeslot next Tuesday, where you can call between 9 and 11 P.M.?

I have yet never seen a multi integrated chatbot, that really understood me and was able to coach me. To be honest, I would’nt have a clue on where to start, if I was to build one myself. The question is, if it makes sense to start out in the lower left corner and build a simple chatbot without any integrations. It sure does, because it gives a basic understanding of how users communicate with a chatbot. I did it myself on this blog, where Bertram, the cheeky but humorous chatbot were launched a year ago with hilarious results.