Adding Speech into the Cross-Platform Mix

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This example brings up another important point. Not only does the communication need to occur seamlessly for the customer across platforms, the company’s brand needs to be consistent across all those same platforms. On visual platforms, consistent branding can be as simple as using specific fonts—like the New York Times’ use of the English Towne font—or logos like the Nike “swoosh” across communications platforms. For voice communications, it can be a well-known voice or speech pattern—like Flo’s. 

Artificial Intelligence Facilitates Cross-Platform Conversations

As the number of customer interaction platforms increases and communications become more complex, it becomes increasingly difficult to rely on automated responses. Yet simply adding human agents to handle the non-automated responses is not practical. So artificial intelligence and machine learning need to fill the gap.

Yet not all AI is the same. “It’s like a child; it has to be trained,” says Liz Osborn, vice president of product marketing for [24]7.ai. “The effectiveness of AI all depends on how you train it. You need to use a lot of [customer] transaction logs. We’ve taken transaction logs of more than 7,000 call center agents and have fed that into our AI.” 

Companies need to train their AIs on voice interaction as well. SoftBank has incorporated chatbot and AI functionality into its Pepper “humanoid robot,” including front-of-office capabilities, acting as a receptionist or concierge to greet and attend to guests more efficiently. Pepper’s chatbot functionality will go further, offering deeper engagements and enhanced conversation in what SoftBank calls a key part of Pepper’s evolution as a business solution. 

Chatbots, in general, are emerging as a go-to platform for everything from banks to e-commerce sites to researchers. Social media sites like Facebook—which allows companies to reach out to customers via Facebook chat—have helped accelerate the adoption of bots. In fact, by 2020, Gartner predicts, 25% of customer service will be handled by chatbots. 

But AI isn’t relegated to your computer screens—or even your voice assistants. As Katherine Allen noted in the November/December 2017 issue of EContent Magazine, “Wimbledon used IBM’s Watson technology to create an AI (artificial intelligence) chatbot called Fred, applying a natural language interface to provide on-site visitors with information.” Wimbledon didn’t stop there, however, as Allen points out: AI was also used to create highlight videos and an “artificial tennis pundit.” The potential of AI is only limited by the imagination of the people behind it. 

When we start talking about cross-platform bots, we add a new level of complexity to the conversation. Is every bot its “own person,” or should bots be consistent across platforms? According to Kevin Scott’s article “Cross Platform Bots” for Chatbots Magazine, there’s a lot to consider. Every chat platform—think Facebook vs. WeChat vs. Skype vs. SMS—has its own tech specs and unique audiences. Scott’s conclusion is ambivalent: “Surveying the landscape, it’s clear that providing a best-in-class experience for a particular platform requires a thorough understanding of that platform’s limitations and strengths. At the same time, there’s clearly a strong incentive, both from a branding perspective and from a resource perspective, in providing consistent experiences across platforms.” 

He does, however, ultimately provide some useful advice: “Two conclusions stand out to me: 1) We need a way of separating content from presentation. 2) Tools used to build bots should allow and encourage designers to iterate, measure and test cheaply and easily.”

While AI is certainly making fast advances, it will always be a supporting technology, not a sole solution, Osborn says. “AI will not replace humans, but it will make humans better at their jobs.” From AI, human agents will learn ways to work more effectively with customers. Similarly, companies can use updated data from agent-customer interactions to further train AI engines.

“Businesses that embrace [cross-platform conversational interfaces] now will have a significant competitive advantage,” Iyer says. “We see early adopters in retail, financial services, health care, automotive, and hi-tech.”

Don’t Forget the Old-School Platforms

As much as we might like to focus on speech-enabled platforms and other cutting-edge technologies, the fact is that “cross-platform” is an inclusive term which encompasses plenty of platforms that have been around forever but sometimes need an update. For instance, forums provide a very basic conversational interface. Forums enable users to exchange ideas, find solutions to questions, and carry on other conversations regardless of device. They use underlying technology that can accept input from a variety of devices and present it in a uniform way, says Adrian Speyer, head of community for communication for Vanilla Forums.

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