Siri, How Can Voice Technology Transform My Company?
Text searches. That’s so 2016. The pace of change means that voice-activated personal assistants, including Amazon’s Alexa and Apple’s Siri, are becoming the early 21st century equivalent to what typing pools and secretaries were to the mid-twentieth century.
According to research by Mintel, sixty-two per cent of Britons are now using or are happy to use voice-operated devices to listen to music, search, check the news and of course, to shop.
Before last Christmas, one-in-three UK consumers who owned an artificial intelligence (AI)-enabled home assistant planned to use it for their Christmas shopping, research has found. And by 2020, 50 per cent of all searches will be done by voice, according to ComScore
Yet despite its growing popularity, there are worries about voice technology and AI, including data privacy. Many consumers remain uneasy talking to a computer that sounds human. Research published earlier in 2018 found that more than half of UK consumers (55 per cent) think AI is “creepy”.
Overcoming customer resistance to chatbots
How then, can businesses ease these concerns, improve customer service and increase sales? They could start by making it clear when a customer is talking to a chatbot, by including messages such as: “Hello, you’re talking to Sarah, our automated assistant.”
The answer may also lie in better technology. Take Google’s “Duplex”, a bot/artificial personal assistant that can call people to schedule a hairdressing appointment or restaurant reservation without, it is claimed, anyone receiving the call realising that they were talking to a robot.
The bot sounds startlingly human. Google says that the technology can handle complex conversations without the need for intervention by a human in a call centre or a manager. Similar technology from the company, Google Contact Centre AI, was announced in July. The solution integrates Google’s technology with that of select leading customer experience solutions providers like Genesys to turn ordinary customer experiences into extraordinary ones for better business outcomes.
Google Contact Centre AI isn’t widely available just yet, but it won’t be long before call centres of all sizes leverage it to quickly and predictively match inquiries to the most appropriate contact, be it a human, robot or a combination thereof. The technology enables contact centres to resolve an issue, deliver a new level of customer experience and create the optimum business results. If it means quicker service for shoppers, AI-powered voice technology will trump unease about it. After all, who wants to spend half of their lunch hour on-hold to a call centre?
As the technology improves in other ways – by, for example, reducing the delay between asking a bot a question and obtaining the answer – we will learn to trust these applications, and eventually take them for granted. Some bot agents now start conversations with customers with the words: “Tell me, in a few words, what you want to do.” That can save time for customers and companies.
AI will improve satisfaction among employees but must respect privacy
As chatbots improve, more calls from customers will be handled by machines − and with a higher “satisfaction” rating, says Gartner, the research company. Bots will do the mundane jobs (handling complaints and answering questions about product warranties), leaving employees to do more fulfilling stuff, such as coming up with ideas for products or plans for improving a warehouse’s efficiency.
Machines that truly understand language, including context, are still some way off (as an article in MIT Technology Review noted). There is also the important question of privacy regulation, which personalisation must not infringe. Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (which came into force on 25 May), has given consumers more control over their personal data, which technology companies building bots will have to accommodate. Businesses will have to be compliant in how they store and use data from these conversations.
AI and humane marketing
The advent of AI and bots is such a significant development that it could well transform retail and company structures. By 2019, 10 per cent of new recruits in companies’ service departments will mostly write “scripts” for bot interaction, Gartner, has predicted.
Ultimately though, AI, bots and voice technology could be good news for businesses across multiple industries. In the not-so-distant past, a corner shop owner would know each of their customers and interact with them as individuals, without seeming over-familiar. Bots can already do the same – remembering customers’ likes and dislikes so they can make recommendations – and the capabilities will only grow.
Businesses will still need humans in call centres and customer service departments. That’s because bots cannot yet show the same degree of empathy or understand irony the way a human can. Yet AI’s power to deliver a personalised experience and its rapid use of customer insights are enabling us to deliver exceptional experiences born from both technological convenience and human understanding.
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