What can Voice AI do for businesses in the region’s digital economy across healthcare, FSI and logistics?

The hybrid world combining digital and physical experiences is upon us. Post-pandemic consumers have experienced the best and worst of both worlds.

Meanwhile, the recent popularity and fascination with generative AI tools such as ChatGPT has given consumers a glimpse into the capabilities of AI systems and how AI can help our day-to-day business and personal lives.

At a time when customer experience is all-important for businesses, where is voice AI headed in South-east Asia? DigiconAsia finds out more in this interview with Kevin Wu, Co-Founder & Managing Director, AI Rudder.

More than 80% of the South-east Asia region is in the early stages of voice AI adoption. What is AI Rudder doing to encourage the adoption of voice AI technology in such a linguistically diverse region?

Kevin Wu, Co-Founder & Managing Director, AI Rudder

Kevin Wu: There are 1,200 languages being spoken daily in South-east Asia. In a region as linguistically diverse as Southeast Asia, voice AI providers cannot simply prescribe a one-size-fits-all voice solution.

To meet the needs of consumers and businesses in the region, we first have to understand what is holding up the adoption of voice AI. The uptake and adoption of such solutions have been slow for a number of reasons, including accuracy concerns as well as compatibility with different languages and dialects and accents.

We believe the first hurdle businesses must overcome is the public’s hesitance towards AI in general, whether this stems from skepticism about the technology, or concerns about safety. To do this, we have developed our voice AI assistants to sound natural and humanlike, and the capability to understand a wide variety of human speech, including dialects, slang, and nuances of formal and informal languages.

This allowed our customers to use the product to process human conversations, receive and interpret customer intent, and communicate with near-human intelligence. With sufficient training, voice AI assistants can become adept at communicating with consumers and minimize errors in understanding and responding to queries. This builds trust and credibility in the use of AI amongst businesses, and can help drive adoption.

Furthermore, the recent popularity and fascination with ChatGPT has given consumers a glimpse into the capabilities of AI systems and how AI can help our day-to-day business and personal lives. As more consumers interact with such AI technologies, this can help to ease the integration of AI solutions in our daily lives and make consumers more comfortable with the adoption of AI technology. These developments paint an optimistic picture of the public’s receptivity towards AI and widespread adoption of such solutions might not be as elusive after all.

Finally, to encourage the uptake of voice AI technology in the region, we have built our capabilities to serve customers across different ASEAN languages, including Bahasa, Mandarin, Thai, Hindi, Tamil, Filipino, Vietnamese, and English with regional accents. In Singapore, we launched our very own Singlish bot, enhanced with 3,000 hours of speech data from the National Speech Corpus (NSC) complete with humanized features to process linguistic nuances, to help Singaporeans overcome the challenges they face in understanding or being understood by a voice assistant.

Our capabilities are built by local language speakers, who spend hours tailoring our solutions to converse with locals seamlessly. These nuances in our voice AI technology ensure that customers can be understood, regardless of their preferred language, which can help businesses to overcome the linguistic barriers in these markets.

Projects such as Meta’s Hokkien bot, for instance, also give us a glimpse into how providers are creating AI solutions for languages that are primarily spoken rather than written. By tapping on new innovations in AI, such as AI-powered speech-to-speech translation systems, providers are breaking down language barriers and making AI accessible for all, regardless of language.

Apart from delivering quality customer service, how can voice AI help businesses to scale in multilingual markets and to overcome local barriers?

Kevin Wu: Given the linguistic diversity within the region, businesses in Southeast Asia face the added challenge of supporting and processing a plethora of languages, dialects and accents as part of their customer service offering.

With Voice AI assistants that support customer interactions in multiple languages, accents, dialogue and slang, businesses can quickly expand to other markets while relying on voice AI for immediate customer support. Overcoming that language barrier in the initial stages of the expansion can also help reduce potential apprehension and reservations towards the business.

For example, we have a customer in Indonesia that is using multiple text-to-speech bots to overcome the multilingual challenges in the market. As the locals may use different languages interchangeably, our voice AI is capable of detecting the language that is being spoken and switching seamlessly to suit the customer’s preference and accommodate the change in language.

How can businesses in healthcare, banking and finance and logistics employ voice AI technology? What are the key use cases?

Kevin Wu: Voice AI has immense potential to streamline a variety of business processes, by automating time-intensive and repetitive tasks. Business should tap on the capabilities of voice AI, which is becoming a crucial pillar, particularly for high-growth industries that have to manage a high volume of users, such as healthcare, education and logistics.

For businesses in the healthcare industry, voice AI solutions can help to handle routine administrative tasks such as scheduling appointments and patient follow ups, which can free their staff up to handle other interactions that require a human touch.

Businesses in the fintech sector can employ voice AI, particularly Buy Now, Pay Later (BNPL) services, which have exploded in popularity in countries like Indonesia. These providers make an average of over 500,000 daily outbound calls to their customers for routine tasks like payment reminders and loan collection. This number is only set to increase with more consumers opting for interest-free installment payments for their purchases. Voice AI can help such businesses make calls for payment reminders and loan collection to reduce the high-stress and high-volume work that operators face.

Lastly, logistics companies can employ voice AI in various ways to reduce supply chain risks, support customer agents, and minimize costs. This can help businesses alleviate manpower challenges, especially given the boom in e-commerce in recent years. For instance, in cases of last-mile deliveries, companies can deploy voice AI assistants to respond to customer queries, track deliveries in real-time, amend orders and even reschedule deliveries. Another way voice AI can support logistics companies is by contacting all customers for feedback post-delivery, which can help to relieve the burden on human agents.