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Is your customer service ready for the voicebot era?


As McDonald's tests voice recognition tech at its drive-thrus to take orders, how much will voicebots influence service strategies in the future?

23rd Nov 2021

Earlier this year it was revealed that McDonald's had begun testing the use of voice recognition tech at drive-thrus to take orders. 

McDonald’s began piloting its voice-ordering solution at 10 locations in Chicago, with the solution approximately 85% accurate, leaving about a fifth of orders to be taken by human staff.

And McDonald’s is not the only fast food chain experimenting with automated voice ordering, with White Castle also reportedly exploring its application. 

It's just the latest demonstration that we are entering the age of voicebots. 

Voice recognition in the form of products such as Google Home or Amazon's Eco have become a valued technology in millions of homes in the UK, especially for those who are visually impaired. In the service context, this unlocks significant new possibilities to align customer interaction strategies with the growing popularity of voice technology. For customers, voicebots provide the option of making a quick call to get answers to questions, which is particularly valuable to customers who don’t want to, or can’t, use written forms of communication.

The technology that separates voicebots from traditional “voice-recognition” software is the emergence of Natural Language Processing (“NLP”) and speech recognition. NLP enables the computer “bot” to understand conversational voice interaction covering the myriad of nuanced ways in which customers might ask for something. This voice interaction is translated into text for the bot to process and analyse (much like a chatbot), from which answers are relayed to customers in the spoken word.

NLP is not a new phenomenon, it was cited as early as the 1950s with reference by Alan Turing in his article titled “Computing Machinery and Intelligence” referring to the task that involves the automated interpretation and generation of natural language. However, it is only recently that we have the processing power widely available to us to unlock a combination of NLP, machine learning, and artificial intelligence which has made NLP not only a truly conversational experience, but also an affordable solution.

Much like the deployment of chatbots, it is important that customers understand they are interacting with a computer system rather than a human customer service agent, however the functionality afforded by voicebots can go further than chatbots, with the natural flow of conversation matching that of your company brand. 

How do you start a voicebot strategy?

Making the first step towards the implementation of voicebots within your organisation starts with defining how voicebots might fit in to your overall customer service strategy. As with any form of inbound communication management, understanding the pain points of where your customer journey hits friction should be the first focus area, especially where you experience either a high number of drop-off calls or negative customer feedback. It is obviously easier to understand your customer journey friction points for customers who have made or attempted to make contact, however if you are able to look at metrics for customer who stall before they even reach one of your contact channels, this can provide powerful insights into whether promoting a telephone number as a contact method is aligned with the preferences of your customer base.

A growing motivation for the implementation of voicebots is the need for companies to reduce the number of calls filtered through to human customer service representatives. The emergence of chatbots has done a good job of supporting customer enquiries for many businesses. However, chatbots don’t support customers who prefer to make a phone call, and therefore these customers often bypass chatbots and go straight to customer service representatives for even the simplest of enquiries. Worse still, they don’t bother to contact you at all, and therefore resulting in missed sales or disgruntled customers who vent their frustration through online reviews and negative feedback.

It is important to undertake analysis on your customer base and their preferred method of contact. Don’t make assumptions based on the age of your customers, as preference of contact method can be influenced not just by your customer demographic, but by the type of service or products you offer. For example, time sensitive products such as tickets for events tend to attract high volumes of voice calls, as customer are looking for immediate answers. Whereas customers tracking a parcel ordered online may prefer a written interaction as this is a secondary activity to what else they are doing at the time of their enquiry.

When planning the implementation of voicebots, careful consideration should be made as to how it will fit amongst the existing technology in your customer service chain. The sophistication of voicebots often surprises those that implement them, with the ability for voicebots to process and manage complex and intricate requests. Therefore, implementation and process-flows should reflect this level of sophistication, and only hand-off calls to a human customer service agents at the right time to avoid pulling this trigger too early.

Fitting voicebots into your contact channel suite doesn’t need to be rigid, as contact options can be presented to customer dynamically depending on time of day, day of week, type of enquiry, etc. Be careful however not to confuse customers, as channel hopping from voicebot to chatbot to email can be seamless if implemented correctly but can be a disaster if not.

As a rule, when looking to implement any new technology, it is best to deploy small at first, test success internally and with your customers, and refine based on your findings. The technologies surrounding voicebots are lightweight, and require little integration, so you can rollout, rollback, and adapt your strategy easily without the need to commit to expensive big-bang deployments.

In a time when companies are hiding contact telephone numbers and forcing customers down a narrow contact pathway, voicebots offer a refreshing and unique alternative to provide your business with a real opportunity to stand out from the crowd. Why not take a leap and publish your contact number front and central in your customer care strategy, if nothing else it’ll show your customers you’re listening.






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