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Voice technology will change your relationship with customers

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Artificial intelligence is at the root of several entirely new platforms on which customers and companies can interact. Voice augmented reality and chatbots are powered by natural language processing, computer vision, and machine learning AI algorithms. Each technology offers considerable opportunities for companies to deliver a more personal, useful, and relevant service to their customers.

Conversational interfaces are already here

Voice-controlled user interfaces have been around since 1952 when Bell Labs produced Audrey, a machine that could understand spoken numbers. But the current wave of voice technology was started by Amazon just a couple of years ago.

In 2015, Amazon launched the Echo, which introduced its AI-powered voice service, Alexa. At the time, the general response was one of confusion and frustration. As Farhad Manjoo, The New York Times’ tech columnist, wrote at the time, “If Alexa were a human assistant, you’d fire her, if not have her committed.”

But in the past two years, a lot has changed. Today, the Echo is recognized as a product that is leading a major shift in how humans engage with technology — and, by extension, how customers engage with brands.

It’s taken more than six decades, but now increasing processing power and advances in AI have technology giants locked in an arms race to create the dominant voice-based assistant. Some of the advances of key focus include machine learning, self-improving algorithms, speech recognition, and synthesis for developing conversational voice interfaces.

Voice can deliver better customer experiences

As the technology improves, the opportunity for companies to use voice to improve customer relationships grows.

Via an Alexa skill (Amazon’s term for an Alexa app), home cooks can ask for advice from Campbell’s Soup, shoppers can pay their Capital One credit card bills, and BMW drivers can check fuel levels remotely. Alexa, of course, is not alone. Apple Siri, Microsoft Cortana, Google Assistant, and other voice-enabled platforms are vying for attention.

For example, Xfinity’s latest TV remote is voice-enabled; Samsung Bixby controls a phone with voice commands; and Ikea is considering integrating voice-enabled AI services into its furniture.

Customer-focused companies must consider three areas in which voice can have an impact on their relationship with their customers.

  • More personality leads to deeper relationships: By its very nature, voice technology allows brands to move from text-based interactions with customers to something that feels more human. However, there is a high bar to meet. If customers feel they’re engaging with something closer to a “real person,” their expectations will change. If a conversational voice assistant makes a mistake or loses the context, it will be important for human backup to intercede. In addition, injecting an ambient conversational intelligence into people’s lives and homes will require deeper levels of trust that an individual’s privacy won’t be violated.
  • More engagement leads to more data, which gives companies further opportunities to understand their customers: Customers now expect omnichannel service, meaning they take for granted that companies will interact with and respond to them across any and all channels, including voice. From a company’s perspective, those voice interfaces can provide a rich additional set of data on its customer interactions. Companies will be able to use phrasing, tone, accent, and speed of delivery to learn far more about their customers than ever before. More data means companies can get better at understanding customer intent and attitude, such that they can take proactive steps to optimize the customer experience.
  • Voice presents opportunities for new types of engagement: Customers increasingly expect companies to respond to their queries immediately, whether during business hours or not. Voice and AI-powered conversational technology can help companies measure up to those expectations.

Intelligent conversational interfaces allow companies to scale up their capacity to engage with customers. The result is reducing customer service hold times, resolving simple issues more quickly, and triaging complex questions before directing them to the appropriate department. Intelligent, personalized voice-enabled assistants could also help health care companies scale “virtual medicine” and in-home care, and they could give financial services companies the capacity to handle customer service and provide financial advice at scale.

Voice is the most natural interface for humans. As conversational interfaces continuously learn, become smarter, and grow more aware of each individual’s preference, they will become more valuable in augmenting the customer experience and building deeper relationships with brands.

Clement Tussiot is director of product management at Salesforce Service Cloud, which delivers customer service software in the cloud.

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