Organizations need to consider the challenges and opportunities as they ready themselves for the shift to voice technology in customer engagement.

A vast majority of businesses believe that COVID-19 has only served to accelerate the shift from touch to voice technology.

However, only 30% are confident in the readiness of their IT infrastructure to handle the shift, according to Cognizant’s recent ‘From Eyes to Ears: Getting Your Brand Heard in the New Age of Voice’ report.

In light of the study’s findings, DigiconAsia sought further insights into customer experience in the age of voice, in a recent discussion with Manish Bahl, Associate Vice President, Centre for the Future Work ― Asia Pacific, Cognizant.

As organizations look to ramp up their voice strategies in the coming years, what are some of the challenges and considerations that they cannot afford to ignore?

Manish Bahl (MB): Voice technology is still relatively new and lacks precedent across industries. With best practices still evolving, our research revealed the top five challenges companies in APAC face in executing their voice strategy:

  1. Maintaining data privacy (89%)
  2. creating voice-centric content (84%)
  3. Developing a brand voice personality (81%)
  4. Dealing with a shortage of required talent and knowledge (80%)
  5. Working with a lack of understanding about how to approach voice search (74%)

Instances of voice assistants automatically switching into “record” mode or devices listening to conversations in the background have also dominated media attention in the past. Brands can start to address privacy concerns in two key ways to earn ― and keep ― consumer trust.

First, businesses need to make transparency core to their voice strategy by clearly defining the voice data they will collect from customers and what they will do with it, as well as what customers will get in return. Second, organizations should add features that provide users with a sense of confidence, such as a voice authentication feature that ensures access control to a product or service by limiting whose voice will be recognized.

Shortage of talent is another key concern. Developing a compelling voice user interface requires technology, marketing and deep human understanding, which requires expertise from voice designers, search experts, strategists and natural language understanding (NLU) engineers. With limited resources and budgetary concerns, brands are seeking out independent partners with expertise.

What would be some essential elements in an organization’s game-plan for delivering on comprehensive customer experiences?

MB: Brands must make voice core to their customer experience strategies.In a fast-moving, interconnected world, brands that flow with customers’ lives are valued most highly. The majority of companies surveyed by Cognizant (82%) said that voice will become an essential part of their customer experience initiatives.

To deliver hyper-personalization through voice, brands must identify hands-free moments for users ― at the gym, in the car, in the kitchen ― where the effective use of voice-enabled applications can be a game-changer.

They must also review troubleshooting queries to understand consumers’ pain points, analyze customer service calls and social media conversations, and address customers’ pain points through voice to enhance the customer experience.

Brands can go a step further by linking their own voice assistant to third-party connected products ― smart plugs, connected cars and fitness trackers ― to create those memorable moments that consumers expect from their brands.

How should an organization ‘rewire’ its core processes for the right employee experiences across businesses to deliver the right customer experiences?

MB: Whether companies add a voice element to existing processes or create new experiences built on voice as the primary medium, their success will depend on how seamlessly processes integrate voice for maximum ROI.

Unfortunately, only 40% of companies in the region are confident about their ability to integrate voice into existing business processes. Process by process throughout the entire value chain, companies must identify ways to apply voice to change how work is done and how employees work and engage with customers.

Simultaneously, businesses should be prepared for a substantial configuration process to make the voice technology fit their business requirements. For example, voice assistants could act as an IT help desk, quickly addressing employees’ tech concerns.

When voice technology is integrated with intelligent processes, more day-to-day tasks can be done more quickly, resulting in new revenue growth opportunities, productivity gains, cost savings and talent retention. A good starting point is identifying processes (customer-facing or employee-focused) where adding a voice capability can drive significant efficiencies.

What technologies need to be in place to enable this?

MB: At the heart of a successful voice strategy is natural language processing (NLP), machine learning and other AI technologies that will make brands’ voice strategies truly intelligent. In fact, 75% of businesses in the region are keen to leverage AI for their voice strategy.

AI technologies will make interactions between humans and machines more natural. AI can also extract the intent and sentiment behind conversations that brands can leverage to steer the conversation toward a conversion.

Examples include enabling a voice assistant to suggest investment adjustments based on a customer’s recent voice queries, recommending new financial products based on customers’ life milestones, or sending a budget alert based on spending levels versus financial goals.

NLP will also be core to brands’ content optimization and creation strategies as it can help them automatically extract keywords and information from machine-readable pages to create lists of desired phrases and words much more quickly. A new language model known as GPT-3 from OpenAI will further boost interest in NLP, as it promises to localize and translate any spoken language.