Charting a New Frontier in the Customer Experience with Voice AI
By Kun Wu, Co-Founder & Managing Director, AI Rudder
“Sorry, all our customer service agents are busy at the moment. Please hold and we will be with you shortly.” Cue a lengthy jingle. While refrains like this have become a staple in customer hotline greetings in recent years, they do not have to remain so.
Like me, some 80% of Singaporeans would rather spend money on businesses that offer quality customer experience, one study found. New technologies—including voice-enabled AI — now make it possible for businesses to radically improve the quality and efficiency of customer experience. With businesses overwhelmed by customer requests during Covid-19, voice AI has proven to be a natural choice — especially in financial services and banking — to provide the agility needed to deal with the business impact of the pandemic.
My own fascination with AI as a tool to build connections between companies and customers started over a decade ago. Since then, I’ve had the chance to work with like-minded peers in speech recognition and synthesis, natural language processing, semantic understanding, and other technologies for AI and human-computer interactions. Process automation for businesses is here to stay, and companies should take the leap of faith and fully embrace such systems.
Businesses must be realistic when deploying resources
As Singapore retains its foothold for global competitiveness and as an investment destination, we must be ready to fully support a larger customer base. In the fourth quarter of last year, our services industries saw an overall 15.4% year-on-year increase. Leading the pack were the transport and storage sector and information and communications sector with 49.3% and 32.4% year-on-year growth. Addressing such change solely with human agents or technology would be tough on businesses and staff. Instead, businesses will need to create a symbiotic relationship between human and technological resources, in order to meet greater demand and reduced wait times.
This means that we must invest in resources that are easily scaled up and down with minimal overhead costs. During “peacetime” or business-as-usual periods, the workload can be adequately spread among staff. However, if something goes wrong, masses of customers hoping to elicit an immediate response would likely turn to your contact centre until the issue is resolved. Businesses need to increase and decrease resource utilisation based on market requirements and it can be extremely taxing for human agents alone to shoulder the workload.
Our research shows that 30% more businesses plan to start using technologies like automated robots and speech analytics in 2022, while another 25% are investing in chatbots and virtual assistants.
To that end, IMDA’s Advanced Digital Solutions, which aims to give participating businesses up to 70% funding support for solutions that leverage AI and cloud technologies is an encouraging new development. Basically, a winning combination for businesses to stay resilient in serving customers would be to have a scalable, flexible and consistent technological solution working hand-in-hand with their customer service teams. I believe that voice-enabled AI when implemented with the right strategy, is the answer.
The potential for better interpretation and analysis in voice AI
Customer experience, especially at critical engagement touchpoints like call or contact centres, can make or break customer loyalty. The experience starts from the moment the customer picks up the phone to contact your business. However, it may not be feasible to hire, train and retrain subject matter experts to solve all customer problems. Furthermore, every human agent learns and works uniquely. On the other hand, AI-enabled voice assistants are sophisticated enough to interpret specific behaviours and preferences of each customer and provide personalised recommendations.
By automating the customer service experience – for example by using voice technology to immediately transcribe them into text – we are likely to gather more accurate data collection and analysis. With each new insight, operations can be further optimised, even to the point of anticipating customer needs and knowing the best time to contact them.
Having said that, it’s important to dismiss one common myth — that AI can learn on its own. To provide consumers with a frictionless experience, it actually takes an entire back-end team that gathers data from customer interactions to train the AI to make it smarter. This is a repetitive step crucial in AI’s continual improvement.
Beyond training, humans and machines must continue working together to provide a supercharged experience for businesses and their customers. We tap on AI to handle high-volume repetitive calls, leaving human agents to handle complex conversations that require a human touch. Businesses can potentially serve thousands of customers simultaneously, while agents focus on things only humans can do, and reserve more time and empathy for these circumstances. The possibilities are limitless.
Adapting for the future
There are definitely many people who are not technologically savvy and many who are wary of online scams. A huge challenge the AI industry faces is customers’ fear of the unknown – not putting a face behind the technology and now knowing what will happen to your information.
It is a tough market, with 86% of consumers saying they prefer to interact with a human agent and 71% feel they would be less likely to use a brand if it didn’t have human customer service representatives available. However, the world of AI does not need to come at the expense of genuine human connections. AI Rudder is here to build human-AI relations, by empowering brands to supercharge their customer experience with voice-enabled AI. The opportunity lies in the Asia Pacific, a region rich in diversity, languages, dialects and accents. This is a unique challenge to voice AI developers, and the onus lies on companies like us to truly localise the customer experience by supporting different languages, dialects and accents, and even switch among them in real-time so that customers will always be able to communicate their needs and feel right at home.
The importance of refined human-like voice assistants for enhanced customer experience and satisfaction cannot be overstated. AI products are great at accumulating, processing, and utilising historical data to understand customers and their behaviours better. Right now, providers of this service must assure customers that their trust is not misplaced and their data will be kept safe. This is part of our digitalisation journey.
I am beyond excited for what lies ahead in this industry, and hope that, with enhanced government support, more businesses will be encouraged and empowered to take this road more-increasingly-travelled.
The views expressed in this article are of the author and do not represent the views of Tech Wire Asia
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