The unlikely alliance of customer care and voice AI

Although AI and customer support may seem to form an unlikely alliance, it’s one that’s thriving in the modern era. It’s true that automation brings both good and bad to the consumer. On the one hand, self-service offers convenience. On the other hand, sometimes we just want to speak to a human who can listen to our problem, understand our needs, and help us find a solution. However, it doesn’t have to be an either/or choice anymore. Intelligent voicebots, powered with modern conversational AI technology – or virtual assistants as they are sometimes known – have found a useful, effective, and profitable place in automating the modern contact center while retaining many aspects of the human element.

Companies are using voice AI to offer better customer experiences at their call centers. You might be surprised to read that voice AI is already hard at work worldwide, offering 24/7 call reception services 365 days a year. According to this report, the conversational AI market will be worth over USD 32 billion by 2030.

Why businesses are choosing voice assistants

So why are businesses choosing to use voice assistants?

A key reason is that voicebots have helped reduce call waiting times. If all human operators are busy, not only can voicebots take the incoming call, but they can handle the most common caller transactions, giving the caller access to self-service without being directed to yet another channel away from the call.

For performance-driven contact centers, the length of hold time is a key metric for assessing customer experience. These days, most contact centers benchmark 8 seconds as the maximum hold time before it negatively impacts the percentage of dropped calls. The speed with which voice assistants can answer calls, especially at peak times, makes them an attractive solution for ensuring high levels of customer service. Add fast self-service issue resolution to that metric, and your contact center is performing well.

Just because it’s a robot talking doesn’t mean the conversation can’t be personalized. Voicebots can correlate records in customer relationship management (CRM) databases in order to greet customers by their names and access information on their previous interactions. Personalized voicebots do more than just restore the human element to generic prerecorded support. It also helps save customers’ time by remembering them and their information when they call, another great feature that is relatively straightforward to implement with voice AI.

“Just because it’s a robot talking doesn’t mean the conversation can’t be personalized.”

Synthesized speech technology now gives voice AI the ability to articulate a wide set of variables such as names without the need – or cost – of extensive recording libraries. Advances in voice synthesis also mean that voicebot speech is fast approaching human levels in terms of flow and expression.

Clearly, voice AI is much more than a replacement for voice recordings. Natural language understanding (NLU) technology helps voicebots understand various degrees of caller intent, even if callers are expressing themselves using a wide variety of language choices. For example, a caller to a logistics company might say:

Can I check the status of my parcel?
I’d like to know when my delivery is arriving
Could I find out what happened to my order?

– all of which express a similar intent: to check the status of a delivery.

NLU decodes these utterances using predictive analytics, allowing the voicebot to serve the caller with the appropriate service or connect them to a human agent if things turn out to be too complicated for the automated support. It’s a big advancement over IVR or menu systems where the caller must navigate a maze of options, never really sure whether the option they pick will lead to a dead end. To put some perspective on it, most voice AI intent detection systems operate at or above the global benchmark of 90% accuracy. Have you called your bank lately?

And when it comes to languages, voice assistants are polyglots, offering consistent service no matter what the caller’s preferred language is. Instead of having to hire and train a workforce of multilingual operators, businesses can now use voice AI. Japanese? Turkish? Chinese? No problem. Multilingual support with voice AI adds very little to operating overhead. With voice AI, smaller businesses can now easily compete with big global players in different markets with just one voicebot speaking many languages.

“With voice AI, smaller businesses can now easily compete with big global players in different markets with just one voicebot speaking many languages.”

Advantages of voice AI for call centers

Voice AI is not just making life easier for customers; it’s also offering advantages to businesses.

Primarily, it’s helping businesses keep pace with the demand from consumers for 24/7 services. Digitization, the pandemic, and the increasingly global nature of commerce-based businesses have driven the demand and expectation for ‘always on’ services. It’s estimated that roughly 45% more people are more likely to use a self-service after the COVID-19 pandemic.

Feel like buying clothes in the middle of the night? You can. Along with the power to purchase at any time comes the customer expectation of getting support at any time. And when there’s a problem, customers still prefer to call rather than email. After all, it’s humanly satisfying to know that you’ve been heard – even if it’s only by an intelligent robot – rather than your message simply being logged in an inbox to be dealt with at a later date. Voice AI never sleeps and can resolve many common customer issues right then and there.

As a service, voice assistants are, in theory, infinitely scalable. Adding more voicebots to handle call peak periods doesn’t greatly add to the cost of service. More calls than usual? More voicebots come online to handle the volume of calls. This makes a lot of sense for businesses where the number of calls can fluctuate. Contact centers can maintain staffing levels to deal with the day-to-day number of calls they receive and deploy voice assistants to help cover unexpected or seasonal peaks. Before voice AI, outsourcing was one of the main ways to cope with these fluctuations. Now, businesses can keep everything in-house.

One less obvious benefit to voice assistants is that they help lower human staff attrition. A lot of call center staff get burnout from the sheer number of calls they have to handle on top of the repetitive nature of those calls. When customers call your business to check their account status or find out what their credit balance is, a voice assistant can take away this more monotonous task from the workload of a human employee. This is the type of task a voice assistant can easily handle but which a human operator might find tiresome when done day after day. Voice assistants excel at repetitive tasks, taking a lot of the pain away from the human specialists in their day-to-day work.

Many businesses choose to manage their own voicebots through a voicebot platform, and it’s not as complicated as you might think. You can update a voicebot’s script with the latest company information or reconfigure how it handles certain tasks and processes without writing a single line of code. Voicebot platforms give businesses control over their voice assistants, so it’s easy to manage brand content and quality in-house.

For businesses that are driven by data and metrics, voice AI is ideal for tracking call center performance. Voice AI uses speech-to-text and text-to-speech conversion. Not only can the voicebot platform log call statistics, but it can also keep text-based records of speech interactions. These transcripts can be used later for quality control, troubleshooting, and market research. So be careful what you say to a voicebot next time!

You can also integrate your voicebot platform with your other business software. For example, if a customer makes an appointment using the virtual assistant, the voicebot can update a designated calendar that alerts human agents about the appointment and sends the customer an SMS reminder. Not only is it accurate, but as we discussed previously, the automation is relieving some of the administrative burden on human staff.

Industries using voice AI for contact centers

There’s a wide range of business sectors making use of voice AI: logistics, healthcare, hospitality, security, marketing, and finance, just to name a few. Just about any business with a call center or some form of a contact center can benefit from automating with voice AI.

For all the sophistication of modern voicebot platforms, the barriers to entry are remarkably low. They’re not expensive, they don’t require technical staff to run them on a daily basis, and the setup time to launch a voice assistant service can be as fast as a week in some cases.

Consumers have responded well to the convenience of voice automation and the improved customer experience it offers through conversational AI. Still, it is likely that there will always be a need for human specialists to be available. Accenture research (2020) reported that 58% of customers still prefer to talk to a human agent when they have an urgent problem to resolve.

Travel company TUI uses voice assistants from in tandem with their ‘live’ team. With their seasonal travel campaigns, a lot of effort goes into ensuring that customers get the best possible deals from their services. Voicebots are used to contact customers to remind them of expiring offers and help customers finalize purchases with the maximum financial benefit. In the case of TUI, voicebots handle around 50% of calls from start to finish. Human operators are there to take care of more complex customer questions, but the voice AI does a lot of the heavy lifting for the contact center.

A symbiotic alliance between humans and voice AI

While voicebots excel at repetitive tasks, arguably, they still fail to measure up to some human standards when it comes to things like empathy. Ask a voicebot to take into account your difficult personal circumstances at home or at work, and, in most cases, your pleas will fall on digitally deaf ears. Humans, on the other hand, are generally quite good at empathy. A lot of people assume that AI will replace jobs done by humans, but in the case of customer care, the relationship is much more symbiotic.

“A lot of people assume that AI will replace jobs done by humans, but in the case of customer care, the relationship is much more symbiotic.”

This is why we can say that this relationship is an unlikely alliance between customer care and voice AI. Customer care, at its heart, is a deeply human service, despite the bad rap it occasionally gets. Automation, at first glance, seems to be all about removing the need for human intervention in the services. With voice AI and customer care, however, we see humans and robots working together as a team, each to their strengths and each others’ mutual benefit… and ours, we hope.

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