Voice Chatbots - A Better Customer Experience

Voice Chatbots - A Better Customer Experience

SnatchBot Team SnatchBot Team, 18/08/2020

Voice Chatbots - A Better Customer Experience

Chatbots are no longer just a text experience as developers add text-to-speech and speech-to-text tools enabling bots to be accessed through smart home speakers, on keyboardless devices and other contact points with customers. So, what are the advantages and use cases where voice beats out the rhythm of keyboard tapping?

It has been almost 9 years since we started talking to Siri on an iPhone, officially as part of the iPhone 4S launch, she existed as a third-party app for some years before that. While voice control and interaction with computers, for voice dictation or audio commands has long been a thing, phones and smart home devices that talk back marked the start of consumer-grade AI-based engagement.

Over the years Siri has become smarter and in recent iOS updates been made accessible to third-party developers to integrate their services. Throw in Amazon Echo with Alexa and Google Home devices, and their smartphone equivalents, and we, as consumers, now have a wide array of voice-based ways to engage with technology.

As businesses or marketers, that creates plenty of interesting possibilities for customer engagement beyond what many people currently think of chatbots. We’ve already seen bots that operate using emojis to change the language and make it more universal. Now, natural language interactions via chatbots are possible, which comes with the advantages and disadvantages of that filter most people have between their brain and typing something that appears on a screen, being able to edit it before pressing Enter or Send.

What Powers Voice Chatbots?

The growing power of artificial intelligence helps makes voice chatbots possible and easy to use. That decade of Siri and other voice services learning what we users are talking about creates the landscape where we can talk to almost any device about anything.

Are chatbots artificial intelligence? Not themselves, but they use the technology in the background powered by the cloud or AI chips within devices to understand what we say. AI techniques used in chatbots include natural language processing and understanding, AI text-to-speech services from a wide range of specialist vendors or generalist providers like Amazon Transcribe.

Most of these are available to the various chatbot creation tools, as APIs or plug-ins so what was once a text-based bot can gain a voice, often in a style or dialect of the company’s choosing. A voice chatbot can become a part of the brand, they can have wider conversations with people and guide customers to successful outcomes in more subtle ways that scripted text chatbots.  Fast-growing and user-friendly chatbot platforms like ours enable business to develop the voice or text bots that meet their specific needs.

Text chatbots vs Voice Chatbots. Which is better?

While the arguments rage over is text or speech better? The end user finds themselves in more situations where talking is easier or more natural, and will appreciate the ability to chat verbally. Then, there are times when text is easier, notably quiet coaches on trains, in places where talking is frowned upon and so on. Having the option for text or speech engagement give users the right tool at the right time, so really, there is no better.

There are several types of voice-enabled chatbots, the most adaptable for most chatbot operators is hybrid model that can use voice or text. Or, the voice-only type that is best suited for applications where people are used to talking to someone, say a customer support helpline.

Given the rapid improvement in bot quality and capability, customers soon might not even realise they are talking to a bot, so it is important to make the distinction during the early part of a chat.

What voice bot creators must also do is ensure that these bots can understand accents, people for whom the primary language is not their natural tongue and so on. Also, that the gendered use of an AI voice does not come across as demeaning. Perhaps automatically offering a gender or keeping the bot’s voice gender neutral should be a consideration during the design phase.

Do customers prefer voice or text chatbots?

Over the decade of smart home voice control and virtual assistants, clearly there are a large number of users that are now happy talking to their technology, and by extension any business or service that they interact with.

Apple claimed 500 million people were regularly using Siri back in 2018 and eMarketer says voice assistant growth was up 9.5% in 2019, in the US, approaching a third of the population. With that rising adoption and people spending less time in front of a keyboard, migration to voice chatbots is a natural progression.

Giving consumers or customers flexibility can be the launch point for your voice chatbot, but as the potential and direct benefits become clear in use, any business can develop and extend the features of a voice bot, or mix and match text and voice responses. For example, people might want to talk about their type of bank inquiry, but not have sensitive details read out loud. Businesses do need to consider the difference between people talking using headphones or ear buds, and those using a smart speaker in a different environment and be prepared to switch modes to meet privacy needs.

In some areas like the car, voice is already taking over for a wide number of interactions, changing routes, making calls and bots will become a natural part of the environment addressing these and other features like in-car entertainment or booking a car charger at the destination.

As public transport and spaces become more digitised, they too will offer bots to help passengers or tourists, and even the quiet of the library is being replaced with bots to help out the many different uses beyond books.

Addressing concerns about AI and Speech Bots

Many business leaders don’t understand AI technology, making them instantly concerned about adopting it. In reality, it is just as easy for a company to build a bot without artificial intelligence, and once it has proven its worth, start adding AI features in a controlled manner.

But all companies need to meet the privacy, data and personal security requirements around all data and apply them to their bots. These are parts of any IT process and chatbots should be no different. Anyone in charge of, or part of the team for, a chatbot project should ensure the needs of the business and customers are addressed in terms of security during design, and testing to ensure that a business cannot come to harm.

Once those needs are met, a bot of any type is no more at risk than a cloud business service or typical smartphone app.

Looking to the Future of Voice Chatbots

As virtual assistants and chatbots become one, it is not hard to imagine a person driving home, telling their bot to open the garage door, turn on the lights and heating on, or to run a bath or turn the oven on. Chatbots will be able to communicate to any smart device in the home on behalf of the user.

Once home, rather than launching a bank app, they can ask in the privacy of their house what their balance is or what transactions are going out that week. Then check the grocery shopping list before committing to an order and perhaps ordering a take away for the evening. Bots will become moderators, handling our requests and passing them to chatbots that operate in all the other businesses.

The bot will also become invisible, working through some smart hardware in the car connected to the phone, then smart home technology around a modern house. Other voice bots might turn up in new places, with budget hotels run by concierge chatbots that welcome you at the desk, appear in the room on-screen to provide information and handle billing or extending a stay from the guest’s phone, wherever they are.

Welcome to the Voice Bot Era

Wherever and however voice-driven chatbots are used, there are clear user needs and business benefits to adoption, or expanding text-based chatbots to support voice. Getting a bot up and running in a company new puts you on the ladder to wherever bots will take us next.

Using a speaking chatbot might seem like cutting-edge technology today, but in a few years they will be everywhere. And, if your business bot can’t talk to their business bot, it is possible that companies lagging behind will be left behind in this connected future.

While all the technology might sound complicated, most of it will hide under the hood of the cloud and multiple services connections, all you need is the bot and the right plug-ins to be able to talk to your customers and all the other bots out there, in one exciting world of digital engagement where ever-smarter bots that learn how to better meet the needs of all people can be a feature of any business or service.