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Tech Talk: How Are Smart Companies Using Voice to Delight Customers?

Innovation Smart speaker concept. AI speaker. Voice recognition.

Voice interactions have hit the mainstream. From the Amazon Echo and Google Home units transforming domestic life, to integrated voice tools like Intuit’s own QuickBooks Assistant and TurboTax Assistant, the latest generation of voice chat technologies have won enthusiastic adoption by consumer and business customers. But voice has to be more than a gimmick—it takes the right kind of vision and implementation to deliver real value. How are companies getting it right, and what can we expect as technologies and best practices continue to evolve?

Intuit Chief Innovation Officer, Bharath Kadaba recently participated in a VentureBeat panel alongside leaders from LogMein, Kayak, and Artificial Solutions discussing “How smart companies use voice and bots to get and keep more customers.” While each of these businesses has its own perspective, agenda, and key use cases for voice, the panelists were largely in agreement on the fundamentals of high-value voice interactions—and the way forward.

The essential value of the voice experience

Any AI project has to begin with the question: what customer problem are we solving? How will we make this more than a novelty or a technology for its own sake? The VentureBeat panelists agreed that hands-free, always-available assistance can greatly reduce friction for a better customer experience, whether someone is seeking updated travel information while on the go or trying to get a fast answer to an important question. As Bharath says, “We want to free small business owners from having to go to a QuickBooks screen and navigate multiple screens to get what they’re looking for, so we’re providing a hands-free experience where they can just ask a question.”

How voice blends with other channels

Voice can be a highly valuable channel for customer interaction, but it’s not the best approach for every situation. There will often be situations where an interaction that begins with an AI-powered voice chat needs to transition to either an on-screen experience or live assistance. It’s important for companies to think through that transition. As Ryan Lester, Director of Customer Engagement Technologies for LogMein, says, “How do you move people from one to another?” Bharath agrees: “I don’t think we’ll replace humans any time soon. The idea of seamlessly handing off from bot to human needs to be designed into the system so the user experience doesn’t suffer.”

Rising expectations and competitive pressures

When you think about the vast potential of voice, it’s clear that we’re still in the early days—but not that early. “The bar is increasing all the time,” says Matthias Keller, Chief Scientist & SVP of Technology at Kayak. “A couple of years ago people could dabble, but we’re past that now. Customers want to be successful and need proven, enterprise-grade solutions.” In Bharath’s view, companies shouldn’t linger on the sidelines. “You have to be in it to understand how the space is progressing, so it’s a good idea to start now and start iterating—get it in front of your customers to start learning from them. Otherwise you risk not keeping up with technology and customer trends in terms of adoption.”

The importance of empathy

As you move beyond keyboard-and-screen channels to more natural forms of interaction, a personal touch will go a long way to engage, satisfy, and delight customers. Says Bharath, “The kind of human conversations that are most likable as where the other person understands your context—who you are, past conversations you’ve had with them, and so on. Using that information to build empathy is key.” The system must also understand the message being delivered and how it might be received. “If you’ve just run out of money and you’re going out of business, that’s harsh, but how do we deliver it with a lot of empathy? If we just found a $5,000 savings for you, that’s a different kind of message.”

These are just a few highlights of the VentureBeat panel; the discussion also addressed key use cases, data architecture, the balance between machine learning and rules-based systems, and more. You can view the entire session here. For further insights from Bharath into the state of voice interaction, check out this VentureBeat interview: “How Quickbooks is making its voice assistant best-in-class.”

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