“My patients want to talk to a human when they set up an appointment.”

This is what an orthopedic surgeon told me the other day. When he said that, I thought to myself, do they want to talk to a human? Or do they really just want to accomplish a task conveniently?

In a perfect world, maybe people do want to interact with a person. But what happens if the other person isn’t available? What happens when the office is closed? Or they’re busy with another patient? Or leave for lunch? Or are tied up on another call? Or called in sick? Or are on vacation?

Think about the ease of asking Amazon Alexa to play music, turn on devices, or order anything you want with just a simple command. Alexa is available 24/7, and never sleeps, takes off work, or goes out to lunch. Technology has evolved so that humans can do virtually anything online, and people are happy when they can book appointments through a webchat or online service. In fact, they increasingly expect to be able to interact with a business in that way.

Consumers have adopted smart technology and voice devices like Amazon Alexa and Google Home at a rapid rate. According to research by Voicebot.ai, voice assistants are available through over 2.5 billion devices worldwide, including 87.3 million monthly active users of voice assistants on smartphones. Why? Because conversational interface is the natural way humans communicate.

In January 2019, more than 100 million devices with Amazon’s Alexa smart assistant had been sold. Just a year later, that number has more than doubled, with hundreds of millions of Alexa-enabled devices in use around the world. In the months after the Google Home Mini started shipping in October 2017, Google sold more than one Google Home device every second. By the end of 2018, 52 million Google Home devices had been sold around the world.

The numbers speak for themselves: people’s highest priority is to get their tasks completed accurately and efficiently, and voice devices offer an easy way to accomplish this.

The success of streaming TV also points to how people prioritize convenience. People love streaming because they can watch the show when they’re available, depending on their schedule, not just when the show is airing on live TV.

According to Forrester Research, more than 71% of Fortune 500 companies offer chat today. And only 11% of those users are unsatisfied with the experience. Consumers can get almost anything they want from Amazon with just a few clicks or by ordering through Alexa, and sometimes even the same day. Consumers can order a ride from Uber in a matter of minutes. Users can also order dinner from any restaurant they want in the area using DoorDash.

In a previous business that I worked with, we offered telephone reps who could answer the phone and book appointments for physician practices. Call abandonment rates were high and telephone service factors were poor due to the variability of when patients called in.

In a call center model, you have to have the availability of two humans (the caller and the rep). Technology is much more efficient because of high availability of the cloud and the ability to scale to the number of requests; it’s up to the patient to decide when it’s convenient for them to reach out and how they reach out (i.e. what channel).

According to research by Voicebot.ai, more than 50 percent of U.S. adults said they would like to use voice assistants for a variety of healthcare needs.

What patients want is convenience. A virtual assistant, as an option instead of talking to a human, if done right, is a simple solution—if it’s more accessible than a rep and if the conversational interface is contextually relevant, which enables you to accomplish tasks the user requests.

We should offer the same convenience that people expect across multiple channels (telephone, web chat, automated conversational interface, or human being) when it comes to our communication in healthcare. With Orthobot we’ve done that. And that’s more important than talking to a human.

 

Source: Forrester Analytics Consumer Technologies North American Retail and Travel Customer Life Cycle Survey Q1 2017 (US)

Alan L. Creighton

Author Alan L. Creighton

Alan is the Founder & CEO of Transform9, currently building the first specialty-specific, automated, conversational voicebot virtual assistant for physician practices that lets patients communicate how and when they want.

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