There’s Tech for the Tough Spots

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In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, companies all over the world had to adjust almost overnight to a new way of doing business, struggling to continue meeting the demands of customers now forced to shelter in place while also moving crucial business operations to remote and work-at-home environments. For most, these were uncharted waters, with an uncertain economic future and consumer isolation drastically changing the rules of consumer engagement.

It didn’t take long for people to start approaching their isolation and uncertainty with sharp increases in online shopping. Globally, transaction volumes in most retail sectors saw a 74 percent rise in March—when many cities and states first implemented their lockdowns—compared to the same period last year, according to analysis by ACI Worldwide.

For many consumers, digital voice assistants, like Amazon Alexa, Siri, or Google Assistant, are a key component in the online shopping experience, helping them find products, locate the best deals, and place online orders.

Companies have had to respond to the rise in e-commerce with a new breed of search engine optimization that allows them to address the unique challenges surrounding voice search, as stated in our feature, “Marketers Need to Optimize for Voice Search.” 

Businesses are finally realizing that their websites, online content, and product information need to be crafted in new ways so voice-based search engines not only recognize them but position them at the top of search results. This requires a new understanding of how consumers search with voice, which differs greatly from traditional text-based searches. Marketers must tailor their content around unique keywords and phrases that might be part of utterances in voice search. Marketers also need to ensure that voice search responses match up with the speech patterns and variations in tone, pitch, and volume that come into play when people ask questions vocally.

Luckily, new technologies, including more sophisticated search engine optimization and speech developer tools, are available to help with this.

In building out their speech assets, companies also need to ensure that the underlying technologies are free from the biases that can skew results in undesired ways. That is a common problem addressed in our cover story, “Overcoming Bias Requires an AI Reboot.” Biases in speech systems stem from preconceived notions contained within the data fed into the systems and the personal prejudices of programmers and developers who build such systems. But technology can help, with programming interfaces that detect and remove potential biases.

Contact centers were hugely affected by new work-at-home initiatives, but they’ve also benefited from technology refreshes and upgrades. To accommodate remote agent workforces, companies accelerated digital transformations, replaced outdated legacy systems, and invested in new hardware, systems, and software.

Speech technologies also found themselves on the front lines of the war against COVID-19, helping healthcare providers with translation applications to facilitate communications with patients who don’t speak the same language, dispensing critical information to an anxious public, triaging people in need of medical attention, and even analyzing voice patterns for wellness monitoring.

Yes, times are tough for businesses and consumers today, but with many of the new technologies that are finally being adopted, we don’t have to go through them alone.


We at Speech Technology magazine have not been spared the disruption caused by the coronavirus. Because of the pandemic, we have had to make a few tough decisions as well.

Our SpeechTEK, CRM Evolution, Smart Customer Service, and Digital Experience conferences, co-located in Washington, April 27- 29, have been postponed. Read the complete announcement here.

Speech Technology magazine’s print version will be suspended for the rest of the year, and the publication will only be available in digital format. The health of the workers at our printing plant, and the fact that we deliver mainly to now-closed office buildings and not subscribers’ homes, makes this decision smart for everyone. Sign up for a landscape, PDF version of Speech Technology magazine here.

Leonard Klie is the editor of Speech Technology. He can be reached at lklie@infotoday.com.

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