Trust is a Two-Way Street: Building Consumer Trust in Virtual Assistants 

When the consumer market was first introduced to virtual assistants, the technology was dismissed by many as just another fad or not having a use on an enterprise scale.

People would be happy to ask their virtual assistant to play a song, set an alarm, or check the weather but would not be willing to ask it to complete more complex or sensitive tasks. 

However, due to the popularity of these devices, businesses are beginning to explore much more of their potential. NatWest is trialling voice banking via Google Home, the NHS is collaborating with Amazon to provide health information via Alexa, while in the UAE the bank Emirates NBD is allowing customers to check transaction history and bank balances via Alexa.  

Building consumer trust

Whether consumers are ready to undertake such tasks through these smart devices yet or not is a different question altogether. Research by Maintel recently discovered that many businesses see the possibilities offered by virtual assistants, but they still have many obstacles to overcome as far as consumers are concerned. The biggest issue there, perhaps unsurprisingly, is trust. 

Consumers are either uncomfortable with the amount of data that service providers collect on them, or don’t trust them to keep their data safe or use it properly. Data anxieties are also reflected in what customers are willing to use virtual assistants for. Almost half (48 per cent) would be uncomfortable using these channels to buy a product from a retailer, 63 per cent that would be afraid to use a virtual assistant to buy from an insurer or to submit an insurance claim, while another two-thirds (66 per cent) would hesitate to use one to transfer money between bank accounts. 

These stats will be a major concern for many businesses looking to offer customer services using these virtual assistants, particularly companies operating in sectors that handle more sensitive data, like retail, finance, and healthcare.  

Despite this consumer concern, it’s reassuring to know that businesses appear to recognise the issues. More than a third (36 per cent) believe that the biggest barrier to consumer adoption is security fears, one quarter think that consumer trust is the largest hurdle, and 22 per cent believe privacy concerns are the most important factor. 

Admittedly this technology is still in its infancy, so companies need to improve security, introduce additional verification methods, and make it clear to customers exactly how their data will be collected, stored, and used.  

Practical steps companies can take 

Currently, this technology is vulnerable to hackers due to techniques like biometric spoofing, where physical identifiers such as voice or fingerprints are used to impersonate their victims. As the technology advances, it’s likely these potential breaches can be prevented. However, it will take time for developers to iron out of these issues. In the short-to-medium-term, companies must take action to assure their customers that security is very much front of mind. 

Businesses may consider implementing an extra layer of authentication in the process. For example, if a customer begins an interaction using a virtual assistant embedded in a mobile app, they could be sent a text message with a unique code to confirm their identity. Of course, one of the major benefits of virtual channels is their speed of resolution – customers are serviced immediately without needing to wait in a queue to speak with a customer contact agent – so businesses need to carefully balance the number of authentication methods they deploy without compromising the convenience of the customer experience. 

Since the Cambridge Analytica scandal, many consumers are also highly dubious of companies collecting data. To alleviate these fears, businesses need to make it abundantly clear to consumers what data they will be collecting via virtual assistants, how this data will be kept secure, and, perhaps most importantly, what this data will be used for. 

This can certainly be relayed to the consumer via a message through a virtual assistant, but it should also be displayed via FAQs on the company website and details sent directly to the consumer by email or text. 

If businesses take steps like this, virtual assistants have a promising future as customer contact channels. It’s encouraging to see that 61 per cent of companies already plan to be investing in the technologies over the next three years. If trust is built, we can soon move from consumers asking whether they can trust these devices to asking “Alexa, can I check my bank balance?”.

About the Author

Rufus Grig is CTO at Maintel. Rufus is a brilliant speaker, a real motivator & a figure head for the customer management & interaction industry as a whole. Excellent commercial diligence means he runs a very tight ship which offers brilliant investment security.

Featured image: ©Wachiwit