Can Workplace Digital Assistants Be More Than Shiny Objects?

digital assistant illustrationAfter a completing a couple of research studies for business applications that incorporated a digital assistant, I’ve come to realize that the user base is quite different from the consumers that personal digital assistants like Alexa, Siri, etc. are marketed to. Consumers appreciate the user delight that these devices try to incorporate into their lives as well as their utility. However, when I interviewed people about incorporating using them in their business applications I got a completely different response—even though these same people use and enjoy digital assistants personally.

Upon further analyses, it turns out that perceived productivity gains or losses was the core issue for workplace acceptance. I found that perception differed between casual users, frequent users, and power users.

Frequency of use matters

Casual users of our applications appreciated that the digital assistant could help them perform infrequent tasks. These users felt like they had a productivity gain because they didn’t have to take the time to re-learn processes that they only do a few times a year.

On the flip-side, frequent users felt like the digital assistant would only slow them down. They have their tasks in the application practically embedded in their muscle memory. They get in, get it done, and get out and don’t want to be distracted by shiny objects. Frequent users perceive digital assistants as a potential productivity loss at this time.

Power users, like the captain of any Star Trek series, want to sit back and brainstorm with the digital assistant. They want to ask it to perform complex tasks that involve some forecasting trends so that they can make decisions. They also want it to search out search out all the relevant data and present it to them so they don’t have to waste their time manually searching archives. Not losing hours in searching for data is a huge productivity gain for power users.

In my studies, I found that the power users and casual users together were vastly outnumbered by the frequent users. So it seems that digital assistants have little perceived value to most of the user base to date. I think that this perception can be changed going forward.

Future State

In creating user experiences, it’s the UX team’s job to make sure each user type has the best experience we can provide. So before adding on the digital assistant feature to business applications, take the time to look at the needs of each user type. Figure out how it can add value for each of them or risk being dismissed as another shiny object.

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