Voice Technology is Essential to Digital Transformation

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In recent years companies have focused heavily on the digital transformation of customer experience. However, voice calls accounted for nearly 75 percent of inbound contact center interactions in 2019, and the COVID-19 pandemic dramatically increased demand on voice channels in 2020.

With sweeping stay-at-home orders shuttering businesses and sending millions of workers home, customers turned to the phone to do many things they would normally do in person. Online shopping skyrocketed, buyers picked up the phone to logistics companies to track shipments and process returns, and call volumes spiked across healthcare, financial services, and government services as more people relied on the phone to complete crucial tasks during the crisis.

This trend shows no sign of slowing. In its top customer service predictions for 2021, Forrester Research noted that "voice will be the channel for service as empathy takes center stage."

In 2020, Forrester's corporate clients told analysts that customers who needed to revise their payment plans for utilities, loans, and other critical services due to job losses have driven up call volumes by as much as 50 percent. While interactive voice response (IVR) systems have gotten much better at understanding spoken words through improvements in speech recognition technology, traditional IVR systems are clunky and have had a poor self-service automation, with up to 80 percent going to a service agent.

When I speak to leaders about CX transformation, the most often overlooked consideration is the role of voice technology in customer service and sales. Traditionally, an IVR has been the face of a contact center, and a vast majority are used as decision trees to route calls to appropriate agents.

By contrast digital and messaging technologies have not only been used to connect customers to contact center agents through chat and messaging, but also drive automation through conversational AI bots. The latter has created an argument in some companies to remove phone numbers and move some or all customers to messaging channels to reduce contact center costs through automation. However, expecting customers to make a big shift away from voice in favor of digital is unrealistic. The question is not how to move customers away from voice, but how to use advancements in speech technologies to integrate with digital to improve the understanding and processing of the spoken language to drive self-service.

According the CX Reality Check, a report commissioned by [24]7.ai, 83 percent of companies plan on combining voice with digital channels in the near future. For this to be a reality, voice technologies must seamlessly blend with text-based technologies to provide a great customer experience. This enables companies to easily switch between digital and voice sessions, toggling back and forth as the conversation demands.

Recent advancements in Conversational AI have changed the game.

In the past two years, advances in speech recognition and conversational AI has enabled next-generation voice interfaces to produce a more natural and personalized dialogue and enabling greater levels of self-service through accurate intent discovery.

Effectively implementing conversational AI means that voice calls can be serviced by voice bots without escalating to agents, in the same way conversational AI has been applied to business messaging, such as Apple Business Chat and Google Business Messaging, through intelligent chatbots.

Let's take a closer look at some of the recent advancement in voice technologies that will enable it to become a trusted way for customers to interact with companies:

  • Advanced Speech Recognition — Driven by major investments by Amazon, Google, and Microsoft, speech recognition has advanced significantly in the past few years. With state-of-the-art natural language understanding and deep neural networks speech recognition, voice technology can be used to understand customers regardless of grammar, accents, or background noise.
  • Neural Text-to-Speech — With advanced text-to-speech technologies, companies can create and deploy humanlike, high-quality prompts in multiple languages and dialects on the fly, as opposed to having to hire voice talent every time they want to make a change. This dramatically improves time to market for voice prompt deployment and changes.
  • Voice Biometrics — Call verification technology can flag suspicious inbound calls to stop fraud before it starts. Additionally, voice biometrics can be used to verify speakers with simplified voice-based authentication.
  • Intent Prediction — One of the reasons current IVRs have such a poor containment rate is their inability to track customer journeys on other channels prior to calling. This ability to know and understand what a customer is doing online is critical to enabling better voice self-service. By using demographic and behavioral information, companies can leverage this intent to provide the best possible experience.
  • Multimodall — With the penetration of smartphones, it is possible to blend visual aids into voice calls. Customers can seamlessly and securely input or view information on their smartphones to improve accuracy and security during calls. This delivers improved average handling time and compliance.
  • Dialogue builder technology — New low-code tooling technology enables non-technical resources to rapidly build out voice conversational journeys in the same way as digital. This provides companies greater agility and flexibility in rolling out conversational services.

To fully leverage voice technology for digital transformation, companies must ensure that technology is fully integrated within the data-driven customer experience platform. That means having the ability discover intents, build Bots to action intents, integrate with CRM systems to obtain context, monitor the performance of and optimize natural language models, and report on the efficacy of these actions in real time.

Companies are starting to shift the purchasing power toward a chief customer officer who oversees all of the technologies that touch customers. Some forward-thinking companies are realizing that voice and digital channels are blending and truly taking an omnichannel approach.

With structural and technological advancements, not only is voice not dead, but it also has a bold and exciting future in sales and service automation.

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