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Let's talk! Is your customer experience voice-compatible?

Customer Service Channels

From virtual customer assistants (VCAs) to voice-controlled home speakers, voice-enabled technology is everywhere these days. In fact, Gartner predicts that 25% of all customer service operations will employ VCAs by the year 2020. It won't be much longer before "voice-first" interactions are the rule instead of the exception.

Increasingly, consumers are recognizing the convenience of verbally searching for information, and preferring to engage with businesses through the power of speech. Compared with text-based chatbots, voice-activated bots that exist on mobile devices, computers and smart speakers are even more accessible. For busy, on-the-go consumers, the hands-free interaction option is hard to beat, which begs the question: Is your business's customer experience (CX) voice-compatible?

The value of a voice-enabled CX

Companies of all kinds have begun to examine voice-enabled technology, and it's particularly relevant to customer care. "Voice-enabled communication is the future of customer service," says Blake Morgan, customer experience expert and author of the upcoming book The Customer of the Future. "Companies that leverage voice-enabled technology now, will set the stage for the future and be leaders in customer experience."

Consumers already spend significant time on digital channels like mobile apps and messaging tools, and are simultaneously becoming more comfortable with voice-enabled home devices like smart speakers and TV remotes. Merging the two is the obvious next step. According to Morgan, this not only provides customers with a chance to interact with brands in a "natural, seamless way," but also creates goodwill. By adding this practical, functional feature to your customer care strategy, you can offer a higher-quality CX with more value for consumers.

Voice conversations feel more personal, thus boosting engagement and strengthening your customer relationships. With the help of a voice-driven conversational bot, companies can assess the nature of the query upfront and direct it to the most appropriate agent or department. All of this decreases handle times, improves rates of first call resolution, reduces costs and ultimately creates a more streamlined and efficient CX.

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Another perk of this approach? Speech analytics generates scores of customer data that can be used to improve your CX as a whole. Analyzing key words and phrases for frequency, inflection and sentiment provides deeper levels of information about customers' experiences that can lead to even quicker resolutions down the line.

Ready your brand for voice technology

Of course, the benefits of voice technology can't be achieved without a strategic implementation. Before you can assist and delight your customers with voice-based interactions, consider the following best practices.

1. Determine where and how your customers are most likely to use voice technology, and ensure that your company is there for them by creating a branded 'skill'.

The first step toward offering a voice-enabled CX is determining where it should be implemented. Are your customers more likely to use a mobile app or a chatbot? Do they prefer the Amazon Alexa smart speaker or Google Home? Start by conducting customer research using surveys and polls, and analyze it alongside existing behavioral data to more accurately pinpoint preferences.

This will point you to the best place to grow your voice capabilities, whether it's via mobile platforms, conversational bots or branded Alexa and Google skills. 'Skill' is a term used to describe the built-in voice-activated capabilities that provide information when prompted.

"Customers want things to be as easy as possible," says Morgan. “Adding a skill to an existing device is much easier than downloading a new app or (buying) a completely new device." From a business perspective, she continues, "It's much more cost-efficient and faster to create a skill than an entirely new channel that customers aren't interested in."

2. Use artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to determine consumer conversation preferences, and refine your computer-generated language and suggestions accordingly.

AI and machine learning are a big part of branded voice interactions. With AI, customers can ask questions in full sentences and have meaningful conversations with brands. It also allows businesses to determine how consumers engage with voice channels and note signals of intent, which can be used to tweak and enhance the experience. Machine learning, meanwhile, enables bots to understand specific requests, categorize them, retrieve the relevant information and use past interactions to improve future ones.

"Modern customers want to be able to talk to brands naturally and get instant answers," Morgan says. "Voice-activated conversations are convenient in our busy modern age, and are much faster than finding a device to text a query."

"However, even the most convenient voice technology isn't effective if it doesn't work well," she continues. "Brands need to invest in machine learning and AI to ensure their voice-enabled technologies can understand natural language, hold a conversation and get smarter the more they're used."

3. Rely on voice-recognition bots to address quick and easy queries, like basic questions about products and services. Think of these as an extension of your self-service tools.

"Talking is easier and more convenient than typing a query," Morgan says, adding that she believes the majority of searches will be voice-enabled in just a few years. It makes sense, therefore, to use the characteristics of voice technology to point customers to their frequently asked questions. Since they don't require an agent's constant attention, voice-recognition bots can supplement your existing self-service options, providing answers to basic questions that typically put unnecessary strain on your contact center.

The time is right to start talking to your customers in a whole new way. By incorporating these best practices, you can help your brand capitalize on the voice technology opportunity and provide a superior customer experience.

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