Is voice dead? It’s a fair question. Chatter about the digitization of processes, new apps, and enhanced mobile banking technology runs rampant and suggests that a place for voice tech no longer exists. I disagree. We’ve seen an unprecedented surge in smart voice technology, especially as Siri, Alexa, and Google all stand at the ready, here to answer all our most pressing questions like “Alexa, what’s the weather today?” I’d even posit that people actually like talking to robots. Here’s how I know: tens of millions have invested in smart speakers and over half of smart speaker owners use them to ask fun questions.
Yet the debate rages on, with many suggesting that people aren’t keen on placing a call or using their voice for, well, anything. This camp is adamant that people only want to interact through written digital means. To get to the bottom of this quandary, I spoke with Jim Freeze, Chief Marketing Officer at Interactions on a recent Tech on Reg podcast episode. Interactions offers a market-leading Intelligent Virtual Assistant (IVA), which combines various technologies that work to provide the front lines of customer service operations for companies.
Their main differentiator is that they’ve succeeded in enabling technology to adapt to customer preferences rather than the other way around. For anyone who has ever had to scream repeatedly into their iPhone “TALK TO A HUMAN! TALK TO A HUMAN!” out of sheer frustration from poorly constructed voice command options that go something like “Press 1 for billing, press 2 for appointments, press 4,5894,389 for another useless option,” this should be a healthy dose of good news.
Making the Case for Voice Technology
Voice is growing in importance for several reasons. Voice has experienced a renaissance with the introduction of Siri and other voice-activated personalities. People are also using voice commands to get GPS directions, build grocery lists, and more. We can talk three to four times as fast as we can type, so voice is incredibly efficient.
Digital transformation also plays a key role. Using technology to automate and increase efficiency is critically important because it has the power to improve the customer experience. When companies begin digital transformation initiatives, it makes sense to start with the channel that is the most impactful from a customer experience perspective. This means absolutely, positively starting with voice. The end game is to let consumers meet you where they are rather than trying to tell them how they should be interacting with you. This leads to better outcomes all around, including fewer compliance issues, fewer upset customers, and fewer lawsuits (yes, even *I* advocate for fewer lawsuits!).
Your Compliance is My (Voice) Command
Speaking of compliance issues, a big consideration around AI-backed voice technology is how it will jive with current regulations and compliance initiatives. In financial services, there is an alphabet soup of rules and regulations that must be followed when speaking with customers. Here’s the thing: humans are fallible. We also all make mistakes — even unintentional ones — but those mistakes can become expensive for highly-regulated industries like financial services. All it takes is one customer service rep who has one bad morning that leads to one off-script convo with a customer to land a company in regulatory hot water. And then of course there is the cottage industry of plaintiff’s lawyers drooling over any mistake that might earn them some statutory damages, fees and costs.
Jim pointed out that the benefit of using technology is that programs and conversations can be very carefully crafted to mitigate risks of noncompliance. Aye he isn’t wrong; I’ve actually done it. IVA can be designed to be always compliant and is programmed to know exactly what needs to be said in certain circumstances and how to say it. IVA also uses a human voice that can be programmed into a persona that is consistent with a company’s brand. That’s good for business and even better for the customer. The result is compliant calls and excellent customer experiences. Now, the technology is only as good as the way the users are implementing it, so you still need a team designing your call flows that knows what they’re doing, and, ahem, what rules need to be followed. But that dream team coupled with the tech – winning combo.
The other compliance conundrum is the ever-evolving nature of rules and regulations. The debt collection industry is a perfect example of this. It’s looking like the CFPB will be handing down a final rule about call limitations this fall. (Fingers crossed, the industry has only been waiting for 7-ish years.) Restrictions on calls within the debt collection industry is a hot topic because calls are bread and butter for many of these companies.
Limitations would certainly shake up the industry. It would also make the quality of the limited number of calls a central focus because companies would be getting far fewer bites at the apple, so to speak. Jim agreed. Interactions can demonstrate a material uplift in debt recovery through IVA technology due to the quality, accuracy, and timeliness provided by the platform. Limitations would (and should) make companies think seriously about how to be as efficient and effective as possible and how technology might play a role in that.
So, Are Robots Taking Over?
Is there a downside to implementing intelligent virtual assistant technology that can be both effective and conversational? One concern that has been voiced (wink, wink) is that this type of technology will displace traditional customer service agents and other service-oriented jobs. We’re talking hundreds of thousands of potential jobs around the world — jobs that come with livable wages, benefits, and can be easily obtained without a college degree.
Jim pointed out that disruptive technology disrupts, but it also makes us more productive…and productivity always leads to growth and opportunity. He has seen this play out in the debt collections space, where collections agents sometimes fear that the technology is a job-killer. While the goal is to mimic a company’s best agent, that means better collaboration rather than replacement. Better collaboration means better efficiency.
This nuance became crystal clear for one of Interactions’ clients when IVA was implemented for time and then turned off. When it was turned off, agents experienced increased instances of getting hung up on, getting sworn at, or dealing with the wrong parties. It’s completely inefficient — and unpleasant. With the technology switched on, those same agents report that 50% of their time is now spent having helpful conversations and aiding people in negotiating their debt to agreeable terms. The final verdict: job satisfaction has gone through the roof as a result of this technology. Perhaps more importantly, the fundamental belief that humans need humans still stands. Humans and technology just happen to work very well together.
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