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How to Optimize Customer Experience with AI – Top Tips from Microsoft’s Purna Virji

Posted on Oct 18th, 2018
Written by Lane Ellis
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  • How to Optimize Customer Experience with AI – Top Tips from Microsoft’s Purna Virji
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    Microsoft's Purna Virji at Pubcon Las Vegas 2018 Photo by Lane R. Ellis

    Purna Virji, senior manager of global engagement at Microsoft, has spoken at the Pubcon conference several times over the years, but the main stage presentation she gave yesterday in Las Vegas was her first time taking a deep look at the ever-evolving artificial intelligence landscape and how it can bolster customer experience.

    “When it comes to optimizing the customer experience, design for conversation from the start. Remember, the most important thing for the user is convenience,” Purna recently told our CEO Lee Odden in his Pubcon preview highlighting nine top speakers at the event.

    Is Voice Search Living Up To The Hype?

    Purna began by asking the gathered audience whether they thought that voice search was generally overrated and not living up to all the hype it has increasingly attracted as more AI-assisted devices are in our homes, cars, offices, and lives in general.

    She spoke about the importance of the first experience we have with a brand, as that first touch point begins a conversation that will ideally be a long and fruitful one for both parties.

    Customer experience (CX) AI needs to get better, she said, and pointed to a handful of statistics to back up what many in the audience already seemed to know, including a figure showing that 70 percent of people haven’t yet used voice search to make a purchase.

    With poor abandonment rates when interacting with chatbots, Purna equated this loss of the “one chance to make a first impression” as the “2018 version of butt-dialing,” driving potential customers away for good, however the situation is far from only being filled with doom and gloom, she continued.

    Microsoft's Purna Virji at Pubcon Las Vegas 2018 Photo by Lane R. Ellis

    A well-thought-out chatbot or voice assistant can be a true game-changer in the CX world, Purna enthusiastically explained, and said that the West still has a long way to go before it catches up with how this technology is being used in other parts of the world.

    Using examples from several firms, she showed how having a good AI-driven customer experience can dramatically improve not just the bottom line, but as in the case of 1-800-Flowers, a big demographic change can also happen, as some 70 percent of orders they received via their chatbot were from a new and much younger group of purchasers.

    Top AI Take-Aways Include Clarity & Character

    A selection of some of the other fascinating AI insights Purna shared with Pubcon audiences are listed below.

    • How, as behavioral economics psychologist Daniel Kahneman says, we tend to choose the easiest choice, and why you should keep this in mind when designing AI-based CX systems
    • Brands that solve some of the problems that remain with this technology stand to profit immensely
    • The future will see a more natural, conversational shift, however this is different from dumbing things down
    • Within the jungle of today’s short attention spans, it’s more important than ever to keep conversation flowing quickly and efficiently

    Purna also explored several of the areas she sees as being increasingly important as this technology develops and becomes commonplace.


    • When providing choices, whether in the B2B or B2C worlds, all customers have options, and it’s vital to present clear choices and to ask concise questions
    • Ask a question at the end of a list of choices. Only in cases where there are far too many choices would it be appropriate to instead use an open prompt.
    • Write for the ear, not the eye, writing out sample dialogs and asking yourself if you would talk to someone this way


    • Make bots that are engaging, and that converse as if they were a real person. Studies show we like these types of bots.
    • Be human-like, but don’t trick your visitors into thinking they’re chatting or talking to a human — instead, disclose it
    • Your bot should take on either a humorous, professional, or casual persona, and you should plan to phrase the same answers differently depending on your audience
    • In order to build loyalty, bots should have compassion, with a built-in understanding of our core needs and the human need for chit-chat, which is surprisingly difficult for today’s generation of bots

    Purna suggests planning in advance to avoid bots that respond with the conversation-killing “sorry I don’t understand,” and taking the time to write suitable responses.

    I’m Afraid I Can’t Do That, Hal — Offer Alternatives

    Despite your best efforts, AI conversations are inevitably sometimes still error-prone, but you can minimize problems by having guidelines in place that offer alternatives and show the available possibilities, so that the conversation is never shut down.

    She also said that the smartest bots will always acknowledge errors, and recommended vigorous conversation testing, even though it’s harder than in some other technologies, because there are nearly infinite test cases in voice  — with so many variations including the multiple ways we use to say the same thing.

    Microsoft's Purna Virji at Pubcon Las Vegas 2018 Photo by Lane R. Ellis

    Purna also recommended testing in four stages — coding, debugging, beta-testing, and even A/B testing, as well as testing your bot out in one of the bot emulators available.

    She doesn’t recommend launching a new bot by making it live right away. Instead, first try to get people to break it, she suggested.

    Summarizing her energetic and well-delivered presentation, Purna stressed the importance of creating a friction-less, easy, and convenience bot experience, and urged those new to the technology to not get overwhelmed, as it is still an emerging field.

    For more tips from Pubcon Pro Las Vegas 2018 and the savvy digital marketers who speak and attend, follow the TopRank Marketing team on the ground: @TopRank, @LeeOdden, @Tiffani_Allen and @LaneREllis. And, stay tuned for more insights over the next week on the TopRank Marketing blog.