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Being Human: The next leap in Voice AI

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By Rashid Khan, CPO & Co-founder, Yellow.ai

Over the past several years, we have seen consumer expectations evolve dynamically; the new-gen customers seek out more meaningful and highly personalised interactions with brands and expect instant gratification. This shift was further accentuated during the pandemic, which undoubtedly acted as a catalyst for businesses to rethink their customer experience (CX) strategies. To up their CX game, brands are increasingly gravitating towards technologies that help them navigate the ever-changing customer demands. And voice has emerged as a crucial channel for delivering stellar experiences to customers, offering the convenience, accessibility, and personalisation sought by them.

A report by Pwc and IAMAI titled ‘Evolution of Voice Technology, the Next Revolution in User Interaction’ states that, in India, on an annual basis, queries using voice technology have seen an increase of 270%, along with 82% of smartphone users adopting speech-activated technologies. Popularly known as the ‘fourth channel of sales’ , voice AI is enabling businesses across industries to create highly differentiating, meaningful, and fulfilling customer experiences. Voice AI agents are already helping brands with customer support, customer engagement, and conversational commerce to HR and IT Service Management automation to elevate the user experience. But where do we go from here?

Humanising voice interactions with Conversational AI
With a steady increase in the use of voice AI, the major focus is now on humanising voice-led interactions. In fact, Forrester recently stated that “voice will be the channel for service as empathy takes center stage.” That’s because voice AI brings in the “human” element of having a “voice” to interact with customers. Powered by advanced NLP and speech recognition technology, it reduces the typical robotic feel and gives a more natural conversational experience. And Conversational AI is the key to replacing the popularly disliked synthetic monotones with completely natural human tones. Some advanced features that are bringing human experiences to voice AI are:

● Understanding human language nuances
Conversational AI-powered voice agents are now capable of comprehending linguistic semantics, regional dialects, emotions, lilt, and figures of speech—a reality that was inconceivable a few years ago. Developments in conversational AI have enabled voice technology to deliver more accuracy in intent discovery. Such voice AI agents are not only making information available 24/7 at a customer’s fingertips, they are also equipped to have conversations with interruptions and identify where to start, pause, and listen. For instance, pre-speech pause duration enables the AI agent to pause, give the customer time to think and answer a question, while either repeating or reiterating the question when the customer has not answered past a specified time. These configurations in a
Dynamic AI agent are vital to making the interactions as human-like as possible.

Not only that, they can also filter out background noises and react only to actionable interruptions by the customer. This ensures that the conversation is not interrupted by conversational intent changes or environmental disturbances. For instance, if the customer requests to hold the call because of reasons like a ringing doorbell, the voice AI agent is now capable of pausing and seamlessly continuing with the conversation once the customer is back.

Furthermore, these Dynamic AI agents can effectively comprehend and convey the sensitivity of customer conversations and deliver empathised responses. Therefore, businesses leveraging voice AI agents are delivering better experiences, scaling and contributing substantially to their cost savings.

● Creating branded voice AI agents
To create unique experiences, brands need to be able to establish their distinct personalities while interacting with their customers. Simply put, a voice AI agent for an insurance company cannot sound like one for a cosmetics brand. And this can be done now by creating branded voice AI agents thanks to Conversational AI. They can deploy an agent that is specific to their brand identity and target market. For example, companies can choose specific voices and languages for their voice AI agents. They can choose between dialects of the same language, such as Swiss German and Bavarian German, British English and American English, or a male or female natural human voice in the chosen language. For instance, Edelweiss General Insurance has implemented a voice AI agent that can communicate with garage employees in Hinglish, a blend of Hindi and English. They can even integrate a myriad of tonalities, including jovial, sympathetic, and serious, to name a few, to make their agents more human-like and contextual.

● Decoding numericals accurately
As customers, we have all been through support calls where we had to share alphanumeric phrases, which can be the flight PNR or order tracking ID number. And more often than not, customers end up having to repeat this multiple times. Voice AI agents are capable of addressing this issue effectively. If a consumer is spelling out the details that contain alphanumeric characters, the agent captures the information with the utmost accuracy to avoid responses with errors. Also, custom models for capturing an alphanumeric response from a user further help the agent to know the kind of alphanumeric data being shared. For example, when the customer needs to share the PAN ID as a response, the agent is aware that it will be five letters, followed by four digits, and a single letter.

● Safeguarding customer sensitive information
For quality assurance, conversations between consumers and the speech AI agent are frequently recorded. These recordings are then examined to enhance the effectiveness of responses to customers going forward. However, there are specific circumstances where a consumer must divulge private information. For instance, the system might have delivered a voice OTP that the user must repeat in order to be recognised. Businesses can now configure when calls should be paused for recording and when they should resume recording leveraging Voice AI agents, with sensitive information deleted from the final recording.

Where does Voice AI go from here?
With the humanisation of voice technology, a space for promoting wider inclusion and accessibility across geographies is already being created. Conversational AI-powered voice agents are helping empower individuals with physical, sensory, and cognitive disabilities to interact with businesses and help them with smooth transactions in their day-to-day activities. They are also helping enable older adults to venture into new avenues of self-sustenance.

With voice commands, simple tasks such as ordering medicine from a nearby pharmacy or even making online payments have become easy and accessible. The capabilities of voice AI agents are not only limited to but extend to automation of subtitling and translation of different languages, which will have a direct influence on the promotion of inclusivity and empowerment in many countries. Also, in certain situations, customers are more at ease interacting with voice AI agents about intimate matters such as their mental health challenges. This is due to the fact that they not only provide an experience similar to speaking with a human, but they also foster an environment devoid of judgement, which lowers their inhibitions.

Moving forward, cutting-edge advancements in humanising voice technology will continue to shape the modern digital user experience. A user from any part of the world would be able to converse with businesses without the need to select their preferred language. The voice AI agent would seamlessly pick up on their language of choice. We will also see a faster shift from analogue voice in telephones to digital voice, which will ultimately evolve into voice interactions supplemented by video. With customers expecting faster responses yet hyper-personalized experiences, voice, aided by conversational AI, will become a way to effectively meet these expectations given it is intuitive and natural to how humans interact.

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