Alexa, Google Home, Siri: Voice-based Technology in Business

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“Ok Google, set an alarm for 6.30,” you say as you sleepily hit the pillow, knowing your phone or Google Home device will wake you up at the right time, all without touching a button.

It’s the technology that’s slowly infiltrating our lives: voice-based commands spoken to Virtual Assistants (VAs) aka AI personal assistants, such as Amazon’s Alexa, the Google assistant, and Apple’s Siri. These voice-based VAs help us perform tasks we’d usually have to perform ourselves manually, from setting alarms, to checking the weather, to writing out our text messages and emails for us.

Known as voice-based chatbots, these voice-driven technologies combine two fields of computing – natural language processing and machine learning (an advanced stream of artificial intelligence) – to take on administrative and cognitive roles traditionally performed by humans.

The state of voice-based technology in 2019

Voice-based tech is no longer rudimentary, unable to determine what users actually mean, only able to perform the most basic of tasks. The progression in intelligence in natural language processing and machine learning behind the tech is fuelling massive growth in the area.

According to the latest findings by Juniper Research, voice assistants are set to triple to 8 billion by 2023, in particular experiencing rocketing growth with Smart TVs, speakers, and wearables. They go on to say that “Current usage of OEM-based voice assistants (such as Google assist) is estimated to be 46.5% of smartphones worldwide (concentrated in English-speaking countries). In these regions, such as Australia, the UK and the US, usage will approximate or exceed 60% in 2023.”

As Adam Woods, Head of Engineering at hipages, puts it, “To me, the main driver of the growth in voice-based services is convenience. Short of a system that reads your mind, you can’t really get any easier than being able to say what you want and have the system understand that.”

Voice-based chatbot technology in business

These voice-based technologies aren’t only shaking up the home market; they’re also transforming the way we do business. Business chatbots can be either informational, designed for enterprise productivity, transactional, or for device control – all essential services in business.

Accenture Digital’s 2018 report, Chatbots Are Here to Stay, reports some interesting findings from CIOs and CTOs polled around the world:

  • 57% agree that conversational bots can deliver large return on investment for minimal effort
  • 56% say conversational bots are driving disruption in their industry
  • 43% report their competitors are already implementing the technology
  • 61% say chatbots can enhance employee productivity by automatically following up on scheduled tasks
  • 60% report they will improve ability to handle client queries by networking with other bots
  • 57% agree they can deliver personalised attention to clients/visitors to the website by being more conversational
  • 57% say they will facilitate more effective communication within the organisation
  • And 54% agree that they can improve customer acquisition/retention by guiding web/tele-calling customers through the order process

Currently, they report that 47% of executives surveyed have already implemented bots or are planning to.

PwC outlines that in banking and wealth management, there is already coverage for chatbots across:

  • Transactions; including history, P2P, payments
  • Account information; including statements, shares information, loan balances
  • General information: including promotions, opening hours, contact information
  • Advisory: investment recommendations, how to reach savings goals, buying/selling currency
  • Authentication: identifying unique users, authentication of devices
  • Common: customer support, service desk, accessibility services

You may have noticed when on the phone to Australian government agencies, they are now asking you to enrol in voice identification systems, so they can directly tailor your customer journey, identification, and experience to you personally.

Presently, the chatbot market has been mostly directed towards customer service initiatives, CRM, and sales, however, there is far greater reach for chatbots beyond these roles, including in auditing, accounts, R&D, finance, supply chain and more. In fact, almost every business function can incorporate chatbots to do business better.

Voice assistants’ impact on technology and platform development

Fortunately for businesses, Google, Apple, and Amazon offer tools and open APIs (like creating an Alexa Skill), so that developers can build their own solutions from the existing tech – complex systems that would be impossible for businesses to build from the ground up.

Woods elaborates on hipages venture into the field: “hipages is one of the launch partners for Amazon Alexa in Australia.  The first version of our Alexa app is already live and we’ve had several enquiries through it so far. We will continue to build out the functionality of this app and probably look to explore support of other platforms in the future.”

With companies around the world building solutions on top of these state-of-the-art voice techs, and often sharing their solutions, such as Qualcomm’s Mesh Networking Development Kit for Amazon Alexa Voice Service, we are able to see rapid development in the space, driven by open systems and collaborative development and partnerships.

How Australian companies are using voice-based services

Let’s look at some examples of voice-based services in action:

Many, but not all, of the solutions being rolled out for voice are currently focused on the customer-facing end of business.

One non-customer-facing solution, the Polycom Trio conferencing phone, is a smart phone built with Alexa for Business integration, plus integrations for Microsoft Teams, Zoom, BlueJeans, and AWS. This phone basically removes the headache of working across multiple different projects, each with their own preferred communications platform. Unified, seamless business communications are more important than ever, and voice-based tech is helping forward-thinking businesses do just that.

Looking to the future

While companies are now gaining traction developing better and more personalised customer experience and services with voice-based technologies, there is still this tendency to focus solely outwardly, instead of what they can do inside the office.

The next wave of voice-based tech in business is likely to see organisations utilising these tools within the organisation, and even on the go via mobile, enabling teams to be more organised, agile and efficient.

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