Since the release of Star Wars nearly a half-century ago, children have fantasized about having chats with C-3PO or R2-D2. That fantasy is rapidly becoming a reality — at least in part. Personal service droids will probably remain the stuff of science fiction for at least the near future. But voice interactions with artificial-intelligence-powered entities are not only possible, they’re becoming ubiquitous. People have conversations with computers every day.
A 2018 Deloitte survey found that more than half of all US consumers already use some form of voice-assisted technology on a regular basis. On any given day, you likely interact with some form of voice-recognition technology. Perform an internet search, and chances are, you’ll be doing it by voice (by 2020, half of all searches will be voice).
To Love You Is to Know You
Many forms and formats of customer service are now designed around voice-activated platforms such as Amazon’s Alexa. The companies that create this technology are working hard to make human-machine interactions as "human" as possible.
Early on in its efforts, Google engineers instructed the AI engine to binge-read thousands of romance novels, so it could better understand how people might talk. The theory is that understanding nuances of normal conversation — apparently plentiful in romance novels — will facilitate more natural human-machine conversations. And soon, the machine you’re speaking with may be able to detect the emotions that are driving your conversation.
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How May I Help You?
The use of voice-recognition technologies in customer service is nothing new. Primitive forms of that technology have been in use for many years — and have helped to give voice-assisted customer service a bad rep among consumers.
But the technology is rapidly improving. And the companies that deploy that technology are rapidly increasing. Gartner predicts that by 2020, 25 percent of all customer service and support operations will utilize voice-recognition technologies such as chatbots and virtual customer assistants — a massive jump from just 2 percent in 2017. And according to MarketWatch, in total, the global voice recognition market is expected to top $31 billion by 2025.
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Making the Most of Voice-Tech Opportunity
Incorporating voice technology throughout every stage of the customer experience offers unprecedented opportunities to boost customer happiness and cultivate customer loyalty. But making the most of that opportunity requires an approach that is effective for both companies and customers.
What follows are the five top ways in which companies are positively impacting the customer experience through voice technology platforms:
1. Multimodal Interactions. Voice-recognition doesn’t have to be utilized as simply a standalone technology. Combining voice with another form of interaction — voice plus screen, for example, or voice plus movement detection (gestures) — can support a more effective, more intuitive customer experience.
2. Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning. The effectiveness of voice technology is dependent on how closely the "thoughts" behind the voice approximate human interactions. Ideally, the computer you’re conversing with will be able to hold up its end of a conversation. AI and machine learning make that possible.
Machine learning uses algorithms which make it possible for computer programs to self-correct, adapt and improve. Or, to put it a bit differently, the machine adapts to the human, rather than the other way around.
3. Voice-Recognition Bots. Voice-recognition-enabled bots (sometimes called chatbots) are designed to interact conversationally with humans. A bot can interpret a spoken command or question and provide a relevant response. Bots utilize conversational AI in effectively handling many customer service chores, including:
- Answering product- or service-related questions.
- Guiding customers to relevant web pages.
- Completing the sales process, and presenting the customer with upsell opportunities.
4. Enhanced Accessibility. Voice-recognition technology can provide customers with greater accessibility to the help and services they need. Vision-impaired customers, for example, may find it far more convenient to verbally interact with a brand, reducing or eliminating the need to use a keyboard or touchscreen.
Enhanced accessibility can also make it more convenient for all customers to interact with a brand, providing a broad scope of access options that span a range of devices and mobile technologies.
5. In-the-Moment Shopping. How many times have you been browsing product pages online, when something jogs your memory and you think: “Ah, yes, I’ve been needing to get one of those”? And so, you "click" to add it to your shopping cart. Or — a slight variation — you see something that you don’t need, necessarily, but you want it. So you add it to your cart.
Labelled micro-moments by Google, those in-the-moment shopping decisions are becoming an increasingly important factor in both the customer experience and sales success. Successfully managing micro-moments helps brands provide customers with what they want, when they want it. Voice-powered technologies foster a customer interaction environment where micro-moments are more likely to occur, while simultaneously making it easier for brands to capitalize on those moments.
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Voice Is the Future of the Customer Experience
Voice recognition technology will continue to evolve. Some of the world’s largest technology companies — household names such as Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft — are expected to pour billions of dollars into improving the technology.
Companies are starting to recognize that the future of customer interactions lies in voice technology (just ask a two-year-old). And many have already implemented various formats of the technology. Companies that don’t currently utilize a voice-activated platform for serving customers are scrambling to catch up.
But, in the end, it will be the companies that implement voice most effectively, as with the five methodologies listed above, that will win the day — and the customer.