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What do today’s customers need from customer service? For starters, they expect immediacy: 98% believe waiting times via phone or chat are too long. They also want more autonomy: 72% would rather look for answers online instead of contacting customer service for help.

So, how can brands and businesses provide a customer service experience that achieves this? By implementing customer self-service tools that both reduce customer service contact rates and ensure high-quality responses.

One tool that does both is a chatbot. In fact, it has been estimated that more than 80% of businesses today have automated their customer service conversations in some way. Chatbots have played a major role in this and, given the rise of advanced speech recognition technologies, we anticipate voice bots will become the next customer self-service frontier.

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What are voicebots? How do they work? And what role will they play in the future of customer service? We will answer all of those questions here.

What are voicebots?

A voicebot is a conversational agent capable of communicating with a customer via voice alone.

Voicebots can ingest, analyze, interpret, and respond to customer inquiries spoken to them in natural language, with the end goal either being able to answer a customer’s question in real-time or continue a verbal exchange with the customer to clarify the question at hand. If the voicebot is unable to answer a question for any reason, it can pass the inquiry onto a human agent for additional support.

What is the real difference between chatbots and voicebots?

More and more companies are using chatbots as part of their overall customer service experience today. In fact, based on a recent Juniper Research study, chatbots are projected to drive cost savings of over $8 billion per year by 2022 in the banking and healthcare sectors alone.

Why? To transform the customer service experience through conversation. By simulating real-life human interactions through chat- or voicebots, businesses can further streamline the customer journey and reduce the number of contacts into the customer support team.

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In many ways, the rising popularity of chatbots is merely a precursor to the forthcoming pervasiveness of voicebots in the customer service experience. After all, they both service the same purpose: to engage customers in dynamic and highly personalized conversations around getting answers to their questions. The only difference: one interacts via messaging while the other engages purely through voice.

The biggest difference between voicebots and chatbots, however, is that voicebots specifically require added speech recognition and speed synthesis capabilities. Not only do voicebots need to understand customer requests, but they also must be able to discern the intent of the question. This is critical for providing an accurate response.

Additionally, voicebots must be able to access information about the customer who’s asking the question—whether it be that person’s gender, age, past purchases, and other information in the customer profile—to be able to provide more relevant and personalized responses as well.

To do this, voicebots must be able to synthesize a voice request, which then becomes converted into text for processing, in order to provide an accurate vocal response in return—all within a matter of seconds.

Lastly, the biggest benefit of voicebots is their inherent accessibility: inputting a request can be 100% hands-free, without ever needing to input text manually. And seeing how voice search, for example, is becoming a bigger trend among consumers, it only makes sense that voice-based customer service, through voicebots, will follow that same trajectory.

Why brands are so interested in voicebots

Voicebot use amplified by connected devices

The rapid progression of speech and voice recognition technologies has caught the attention of several large companies, including Google, Apple, Microsoft, and Amazon globally as well as Baidu, Xiaomi, and Aliababa in China. They all anticipate that the voice assistant market will be driven by the widespread adoption of connected devices, which is expected to be a $20+ billion market over the next five years.

As of now, the biggest drivers of speech and voice recognition connected devices in the market are Google Echo and Amazon Alexa—with new entrants in the marketing popping up each day.

Voicebot use driven primarily by younger consumers

The popularity and adoption of voicebots, across a number of use cases, including customer service,  has been driven almost entirely by younger generations. In fact, 51% of consumers aged 14-17 have said that they’ve already interacted with a speech or voice recognition interface or device. This drops to 38% for consumers aged 18-34, 27% for consumers aged 35-55, and only 15% for consumers 55 years and older.

The generational divide tells us a lot about the wants, needs, and expectations of today’s consumers. Younger consumers, for example, those who have grown up in the digital age, likely find the act of manually typing in requests to be outdated. Of all generations, they are the consumers who value immediacy and instant gratification over everything else.

The popularity of giving simple voice commands to get the answers or information they need is merely part of this mindset. This is also a big reason why many brands and businesses are making it possible to engage with customers—and even allow them to make purchases—through advanced voice-enabled technologies.

Voice search and the future of SEO

The entire world of SEO will be fundamentally changed if voice search becomes the new norm.

Today, when you input a request into the Google search box, you are provided with a list of answers organized by their perceived relevance. With voice search, however, people will no longer be given a choice between several answers; they will be provided by what the search engine—through advanced algorithms, artificial intelligence (AI), and machine learning—deems to be the best answer.

This means that brands will no longer compete to appear on the first Google search results page but rather, will be forced to fight head-to-head to land in the top spot (“position zero” in SEO terms).

You may have also seen a box filled with information appear before the list of search results. This is known as the “rich snippet” and is commonly referred to as the “Holy Grail” of SEO experts. In voice search, brands will have to focus their efforts to secure this position at all costs.

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Additionally, contextualization will become a growing question around voice search. This comes at a time when 46% of voice searches are used to find a local business. For example, imagine it’s lunchtime, and you need to find a place to eat. Voice search will provide only relevant suggestions within the immediate vicinity—and not somewhere else across town. This makes the local SEO surrounding those business listings even more important, which, in turn, makes it possible for search engines to provide consumers with only the most contextually-relevant responses possible.

Lastly, if queries are being submitted by voice, the onsite content must, therefore, be conversational in nature, too, in order to make it to the top spot in voice search results. This is an example of tailoring your content to how consumers are searching for what your business offers.

The increasing popularity of voice search—and its impact on how consumers now find and take action on information—is an indicator as to why voicebots will play a bigger role in the overall customer experience in the near future. However, what role will they play in customer service exactly?

What do voicebots bring to the customer service experience?

Voicebots meet new customer needs

Customer satisfaction is a perennial challenge for every business. The best way to achieve it is by providing customer service and support solutions that meet the needs of your customers. And if you remember from earlier in this article, those needs typically revolve around immediacy and autonomy. 

Voicebots undoubtedly provide an advantage in terms of immediacy, purely in how they help customers avoid having to type in a question or request. If you look at it by the numbers alone, on average, people can type 53.5 words per minute on a standard keyword whereas they can speak around 161 words per minute—more than triple the number of words they can type! Therefore, you could say that voicebots live up to their promise of creating real-time customer service interactions with little to no downtime. 

In terms of autonomy, on the other hand, voicebots are essentially customer self-service tools. This means they help reduce the number of contacts into human customer service agents via email, phone, or chat. It also can help customers with certain disabilities—those who have trouble reading small type on a screen or typing on their keyboard or phone—to be able to find the information they need in the easiest way possible.

Voicebots are accessible at any time

Customers can interact with chatbots and voicebots to get help at any time of day and whenever they need it most. This avoids having to wait on the line to speak with a customer service agent or being forced to call in during call center business hours. The immediacy of these bot-driven interactions can improve the overall customer service experience dramatically. 

Additionally, voicebots allow customers to get the support they need while doing multiple things at once, making them the perfect multi-tasking customer service tools. Because they enable customers to engage in a customer service interaction purely via voice-driven commands—versus having to be attentive to the customer service agent’s questions over the phone or having to type in responses in a chat-based conversation—voicebots make it feasible to deal with customer service matters while going about daily life, whether you’re in the kitchen cooking or at work in the middle of a meeting.

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Voicebots can personalize the customer relationship

Voice-based interactions create new opportunities for personalization. For example, through voice recognition, voicebots can know whether they are speaking with a man or a woman. And like chatbots, voicebots can quickly authenticate the customer and tap into the information within a customer’s profile to tailor their responses based on a customer’s history with a brand.

Because speaking is conversational by nature, voicebots also have the capacity to add a new user-friendly dimension to the customer service experience. After all, we, as humans, tend to be more spontaneous in our verbal interactions than we are in our more premeditated text-based interactions. This can lead to a more positive overall customer service interaction, albeit purely through technology, that helps customers get more accurate and precise answers, fast.

Voicebots know when to pass the baton

Despite how advanced and intelligent voicebots may be, there will inevitably be times when they don’t have all the answers. Of course, providing simple, FAQ-based answers—such as business hours, return policies, and the like—is what both voicebots and chatbots do best. They can tap into a central knowledge base to surface responses to these types of questions quickly and easily.

For more complex inquiries, however, if they haven’t been successful at addressing a customer’s need through the automated response workflow, they are smart enough to know when to pass off the customer to a living, breathing customer service agent to resolve the issue.

However, because chatbots and voicebots are powered by artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, even when they are not able to provide the response a customer needs, they learn from these interactions and begin to contextualize future responses based on these interactions. In other words, they are always learning and always seeking ways to provide customers with a better experience.

Voicebots lower the customer service contact rate

This is probably the biggest benefit that chatbots and voicebots bring to businesses: they help optimize resources and reduce expenses by reducing the overall customer service contact rate through the automation of  simple customer service interactions that do not truly require human intervention. This, in turn, frees up customer service agents to dedicate their time and energy to dealing with more complex issues or inquiries (which is what they should be doing anyway).

According to McKinsey, human customer service interactions will be reduced by 30% in the next two years. This essentially means that chatbots and voicebots have the potential to own up to 70% of these interactions in the future.

This isn’t to suggest that humans will become obsolete in the customer service experience. Quite to the contrary, the combination of humans and smart customer service solutions, like chatbots and voicebots, will add greater value, speed, and efficiency to the customer service experience like never before.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is quickly revolutionizing the customer service experience. Voicebots, building on the momentum created by chatbots, are poised to become a new standard in customer service very soon. The big question is: are you ready to adopt voicebots into your customer service efforts?

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Jeremy Gallemard

Hello! I'm Jérémy, President & Co-founder of Smart Tribune. With my background in the digital & customer experience space I'm happy to share my insight & practical advice on customer experience today & what it might look like tomorrow. Happy reading!

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