Tim Stevens
Wednesday, June 3, 2020

How AI Voice could Transform your Relationship with your Customers

Modern voice bots can understand and communicate with human beings beyond the limitations of scripts or pre-recorded messages. Tone, emotion and personality can all be incorporated. And it’s now possible to switch the gender of the voice, and even change speech styles or accents.

Last year, Chinese tech giant Baidu revealed it could clone a voice within four seconds of audio – 12 months earlier, 30 minutes of audio were needed to do the same.

A report from research firm Gartner found 70% of white-collar workers will interact daily with conversational platforms by 2022 and that by the following year 25% of worker software interactions would be mediated by voice. The company said client interest in the technology had grown 160% in recent months. Meanwhile, Accenture is running the equivalent of five call centres using robots for one client, while the banking and energy sectors are already taking up this tech.

Artificial and Real Voices: Almost Indistinguishable

Google’s Tactron 2 text-to-speech system uses WaveNet, which generates the voice for Google Assistant. It has made the difference between human and AI-generated voice virtually non-existent. The algorithm has mastered pronunciation of potentially tricky words that would otherwise have been a giveaway of artificiality, and improved enunciation.

What’s more, fascinating research has shown that our brains are better at identifying artificial images than voices, and that we have no brain signals to distinguish between real and not-real speakers.

This has admittedly thrown up security concerns over the potential for misuse of this technology. So it may well be that we’ll have to heighten our ability to assess a situation critically and verify the information we receive.

Uses of AI Voice Tech

The technology can be used in myriad different ways in products and services from video games and audiobooks to text readers, virtual assistants and more. It can now also be used in channels such as text messaging and websites, so there are many new ways for customers to interact with brands using artificial voice.

From allowing people to check their account balance to placing orders to paying a parking ticket to submitting an insurance claim or booking a hotel room, the technology throws up endless possibilities.

Other applications include:

AI voice conferencing software: This may eventually be able to analyse meetings and give feedback on how those attending can be more productive and effective.

Voice dashboards could allow staff to record, organise, find and analyse data just using voice commands. Indeed, some workplaces already use this tool.

Use of AI Voice in Sales and Marketing Calls

This is one of the most interesting and exciting applications of AI voice, with sales staff being among the early adopters. The bots could schedule meetings, promote a new product, confirm or reschedule appointments and let you know who is keen for an initial demo of a product or service. Equally, they could be used in customer support calls or for client surveys and reviews.

So it’s hardly surprising that Accenture and Gartner believe integrating conversational AI will become a priority for top executives, this year and beyond. And with over 2,000 suppliers of chatbots now operating, their importance is only set to grow.

What do people think?

Although it’s still too early to say exactly how voice tech will change businesses, when research firm CCS Insights surveyed 700 employees across America and Europe, nearly a third (30%) said they already used voice assistants at work.

Another survey in the US has found that Americans were roughly divided 50/50 on AI generally.

The Financial Times reports that employers see voice interfaces as a key recruitment tool for attracting and retaining younger staff members who may already use voice-based assistants outside work.

Meanwhile, the current pandemic lockdown situation offers the unique chance to establish new patterns of consumer behaviour and meet emerging needs – a report from NPR indicated that smart speaker use rose during quarantine. Brands which previously used in-person marketing such as events to get in front of consumers will have to find new ways of reaching their audiences.

How we're Responding

At i-4business, we’re looking into AI voice, and working on a new related project that’s still in its earliest stages. We’ll reveal more when we can. Equally, we’d be interested to learn what you think about this concept, and whether it’s something you’d like to hear more about.