Voice is dead! Long live the Voice Interface!

Joe Manuele, Group Executive, Customer Experience and Collaboration, Dimension Data
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As a long-time suffering Miami Dolphins fan, I was ecstatic to see my team finally earn a playoff berth in this years’ NFL post season. Coming off a 10-6 regular season, I had high hopes they would end their playoff win drought, which dates back to December 2000, when they beat the Colts. But, David, my much more pragmatic son, was quick to remind me that the Dolphins will never advance to the Super Bowl as long as Tom Brady, QB of our archnemesis New England Patriots, stands in the way.

So, I turned to my Amazon Echo, a hands-free speaker that I control with my voice to play music, check my stock portfolio, follow my Habs, and even provide up-to-date information on NFL players.

“Alexa, how old is Tom Brady?” I asked.

In recent years, whether through the proliferation of super computers that fit in the palms of our hands, or the much touted forms of advanced communications being deployed by millennials, we’ve heard from industry pundits that the “voice channel” will soon die as the preferred way to communicate. Well, if Brexit and the recent US election has taught us anything, our trust in the so-called experts should be scrutinized.

If we go back to the not too distant past, businesses around the world provided their employees a space of real-estate, typically the dreaded cubicle, along with a plastic phone that was connected to one of the local exchange telephone companies, and a desktop computer used to create spreadsheets, write documents, create presentations and, of course, email.

The laptop computer then provided us with the ability to take our work home, and the first corporate mobile device was likely a BlackBerry. Now we had the ability to work more remotely because of advancements transportable devices. We kept up with the goings on of our corporate lives by checking our voicemails at the office, perhaps listening to internal broadcasts on company news and returned phone calls that often landed on your colleagues’ voice mail systems—also commonly referred to as “telephone tag.”

  ​Our industry continues to discuss the wonderful advances we are making with chat-bots, augmented reality, robots in the workplace for improved automation and optimization  

Now let’s flash forward to a few years to the aforementioned supercomputers in our pockets, when Apple and Google ushered in the “App Era.” The proliferation of productivity apps combined with ubiquitous broadband from work, home, even your favorite coffee joint has created the multiplier effect we call the Digital Era, disrupting every business known to man.

Even the way we travel. We don’t ride in taxis. We Uber. We don’t book hotel rooms for our family vacations. Now, we use Airbnb and stay in a stranger’s home. It is precisely this proliferation of digital apps that led industry analysts to call for the near-term death of voice as a preferred channel of collaborating and communicating.

But a funny thing happened on our digital disruption journey.

When your Uber driver can’t find you, because the GPS isn’t quite accurate enough to tell your driver which street corner you’re hailing them from, you want to be able to just call and explain where you’re located. And before pulling the trigger on that Tuscan Medieval castle you’re sharing with three other families, you may want to connect with the owner and ask if a queen-size bed means the same to them as it does to you.

So, what was once left for dead by the industry experts is being resurrected and has truly evolved. Emerging is the ability to connect via voice within the actual application you’re using on your smart device. Companies like Twilio perform that magic for Uber by allowing users to call their driver directly from the Uber app, using a unique phone number that will be useless once used and, subsequently, protecting both. 

What the market has realized is that, voice does matter. In 2016, Apple opened up its voice API, allowing collaboration app developers to more tightly integrate their voice channels into iOS. Cisco is taking it one step further, enabling Quality of Service (QoS) when launching a voice call from within the Cisco Spark collaboration app. With its partnership with Apple, Cisco is aiming to redefine how we communicate with our colleagues and/or clients, and jointly realize that, again, voice matters.

From a customer experience point of view, we are seeing a dramatic shift in how businesses view their contact centers. A support call into a call center was traditionally viewed as a cost that should be controlled and moved on to other digital channels. But what if the person calling is an important client about to award a large multimillion dollar contract? Would you want that call routed to the best qualified agent who will ensure satisfaction, and perhaps pass on the information of that call on to the sales team? Or, would you direct them to  chat-bots to try  save the cost of the call?

With the tremendous amounts of data we capture about our customers, we can use Business Intelligent (BI) tools and the integration of contact centers with CRM software–being led by enterprise cloud pioneer Salesforce—and turn what we previously viewed as a cost of doing business into an opportunity to delight our customers through an exceptional customer engagement experience. And when we’ve applied the appropriate qualifications of “who’s really calling” and mapped it with our BI tools, we program our routing protocols to send this person to a qualified agent, preferably on a quality voice channel.

Our industry continues to discuss the wonderful advances we are making with chat-bots, augmented reality, robots in the workplace for improved automation and optimization, and also the promise of Block Chain to eliminate unnecessary processes. These tools, undoubtedly, will make us more efficient; however, as stated in the recent Dimension Data 2016 Contact Center Benchmarking Report, our 1,300 global client survey respondents told us that the human touch was not only preferred, but absolutely required.

So whether calling for an Uber driver, asking Siri for the latest weather forecast in Singapore or connecting with colleagues across four continents via a video conference call, voice matters. And quality of voice absolutely matters. When communicating with cloud-based search engines, like Alexa, using our own voice as an interface to get information we want is turning out to be the preferred User Interface (UI).

Speaking of which, Alexa has informed me that Tom Brady is 39 years old. Now I wonder if Alexa can provide his mobile number so I can call Tom and convince him to retire.

“Alexa, call Tom Brady!” 

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