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Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Voicebots* (*But Were Afraid to Ask)

Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Voicebots* (*But Were Afraid to Ask)

Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Voicebots* (*But Were Afraid to Ask)

August 6, 2020

Voice is undoubtedly the most used communication channel – among people, but not only. Voice is increasingly being used to interact with machines. There is a body of research indicating that a majority of people uses voice to search for information on their smartphone. In the area of Customer Care, interacting with bots using spoken natural language is the most striking new development of the past few years. The systems that make it possible are called Voicebots.

Voicebots are a modern and highly effective addition to the customer experience function in companies. Not only Voicebots make the customer experience better on first contact, they also help human agents in their job, by relieving them of the most repetitive and boring tasks and allowing them to serve customers more creatively and engagingly.

In this article we will explain the main concepts around Voicebots. First, we will talk about technical matters: how voicebots work. Then, we will go into the advantages of this type of solution. Our goal is to demonstrate how voicebots can play the role of key elements to optimize Customer Care.

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Voicebots in customer service

Voicebots are conversational AI applications, that conduct a voice dialog with humans. The application we describe in this article is to automate customer service – using their natural language capability to substitute the old IVR systems and saving customers from having to press keys to generate tones and slowly reach the desired service (if they are lucky).

With older IVR systems, still quite common today, users waste substantial time listening to menus and waiting for the option that seems the best fit for their need. Unfortunately, besides customer frustration, this originates many errors that causes calls to be routed to the wrong queue. The best outcome in this case is that the agent taking the call will transfer it to the right department, but often the call simply does not complete, and the user must call again – maybe a different number.

A well-designed Voicebot is instead an excellent tool to solve the problem of understanding the users’ intents. “Voicebots are a fusion of several technologies, some very new and other more traditional, like AI, computational linguistics on the one hand, and old-fashioned Information & Communication Technology on the other.” says Roberto Valente, Interactive Media’s CEO.

Users can interact with Voicebots in a natural way, answering open questions like “What is the reason for your call” Not necessarily the Voicebot will understand what the user wants immediately to the point that the service can be provided, but in this case it can ask disambiguation questions that restrict the field of possibilities, to make sure the intent is understood correctly: for example “would you like to fly in the morning or the afternoon?” It all comes down to the Voicebot design, and with 10 years of experience and many successful deployments, Interactive Media guarantees excellent customer experience results and a high percentage of interactions handled by Voicebots.

How Voicebots work

Voicebots are extraordinarily complex software applications. They must be able to listen, understand, talk, solve problems, look for information within the company’s knowledge base. They must do this with a high degree of security and for many users concurrently – hundreds, or like in some of the services deployed by Interactive Media, thousands.

One of the most important of the technologies involved is the Speech-to-text engine. Its function is to transcribe the voice from the user into the corresponding text. According to Mr. Valente, for better performance the Speech-to-text engine should be primed with information regarding the spoken language to be expected in the specific application domain. This could be for example financial services, or air travel, or telephony services provided by a mobile carrier. Each sector has its own specific set of terms that appear more frequently than in normal speech. There is then specific customer information that is very hard to understand, like names, alphanumeric codes (license plates for instance), addresses. In this case the system cannot use the context to narrow down the number of terms to recognize. As an example, if the conversation is about animals (for instance, at a veterinary clinic), the system may initially understand a word as “vow” but it can quickly correct it to “cow” – a far more likely interpretation. But for surnames, that are all unique, no such correction is possible.

The semantic engine is another fundamental technology for Voicebots. It is not enough to isolate words; the system must also understand their meaning – this is where the semantic engine comes in. As an example, “a ticket” could be many things, but a traffic ticket is different from a customer service ticket or a concert ticket. The role of the semantic engine is to distinguish these different tickets, and other more complex constructs.

Mr. Valente also highlights how important it is for Voicebots to be able to integrate with the telephone networks, and the numerous Contact Center software suites. This is an aspect that is often underestimated while implementing a Voicebot project but is often essential.

In addition to the ASR engine, the semantic engine and the telephony and Contact Center integration platform, there are other important parts to a Voicebot environment, such as a graphical environment for designing and managing the application flow, the management of alerts, reporting and service provisioning. All this is needed for a reasonable ease of implementation and operation of the Voicebot application.

Voicebots advantages

A properly implemented Voicebot offers many different advantages. It is clearly easier and faster to interact with a system using your voice than typing. A fast typist can enter up to 45 words a minute, but a normal person says at least 110 words during the same time. This speaks in favor of voice-based engagements with Customer Service, while maintaining the digital channels advantages as the speech is converted into text which is easy to manage and analyze.

Voicebots represent a technological quantum leap for initial engagement with customers. Gone is the need to listen to IVR menus and send tones. With open questions and the use of natural language, the customer experience becomes much better, while the time it takes to qualify the intent of the call is dramatically reduced.

Another advantage is the better use of human resources within the company. Agents are freed from the most repetitive and frustrating parts of their job – which are mostly simple tasks that Voicebots can accomplish very well – and can be reallocated at least in part to more productive and strategic activities. There is less turnover among the agents, who find their job more rewarding, and data entry errors, rather common with humans, are greatly reduced.

In summary, Voicebots:
• provide a better customer experience compared with the current IVRs
• reduce the cost of customer service, since human agents are expensive especially when they perform routine tasks
• provide a standard service, with always the same answers to the same questions
• continuously improve, with feedback coming from report analysis driving cycles of tuning

Mr. Valente adds: “companies that employ only human agents have obvious problems rightsizing their workforce for the number of contacts they receive, that changes by day and hour. Especially in times of uncertainty and during emergency, there can be enormous peaks. For instance now with the COVID epidemics, there are services that are completely swamped, like government organizations in charge of providing subsidies.”

“Organizations that operate Voicebots can instead scale the service up and down quickly, with no wait time for customers and with much simple service management.”

If you have reached this point, it is likely that you have some interest in investigating deploying a Voicebot in your organization. Interactive Media has more than 10 years of experience in Voicebots, we would love to talk to you.

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Every contact center offer is Omnichannel these days. Companies operating in the space of contact center software – like everyone else – follow trends, and having Omnichannel operation, the ability to save and retain context gathered on a channel to then use it the...

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Giving chatbots the gift of voice

Giving chatbots the gift of voice

Giving chatbots the gift of voice

July 14, 2020

A battle of the bots

Chatbots are everywhere. According to Gartner, at the moment of writing between 1500 and 2000 companies worldwide have in the past couple of years developed a chatbot platform that they offer their customers as the base for applications. Of course, not all of them are good and the one-shot question-answer bots abound. But many are able to sustain a real dialog and use a well-designed knowledge base and semantic / learning infrastructure based on AI to really recognize and understand what people type, keeping the context, and following up with more questions if the initial meaning is unclear.

But even these “good chatbots” are mostly text-based. While chat usually refers to text (embedded in a website, over a dedicated chat platform like Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp or even via text messages), it’s important to recognize that voice — and in particular voice over the telephone network — is still a big part of how customers interact with businesses.

Voice-enabled bots are still the exception and not the rule. But the time is fast approaching when omni-bots (which can manage equally well voice and text conversations) are the ones that will emerge victorious from this “battle of the bots”. This in turn will be a factor in deciding the winners in the inevitable shake-out that the conversational interactions industry will experience in the next couple of years.

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Why voice?

People like to text and type short messages from their devices. It is a very convenient way to communicate on most occasions, but as a habit it’s fairly new, sparked by the availability of devices that let people text and type to communicate. If we focus on customer service, until 10 years ago it was only over voice. There many more channels on which to contact companies now, but telephone calls are still the most common way to do that, and certainly the most satisfying.

After all, if you get upset about a service or a product, it’s difficult to yell while typing: you could use ALL CAPS but, somehow, it’s not the same. Putting jokes aside, voice is what people use when they need to have real-time feedback, and voice enables people to convey information much faster than chatting: if you type fast and well you can put in 40 words per minute. But an average talker will speak 150 words in the same time (even excluding from the stats the end of pharmaceutical commercials). Finally, when all else fails people pick up the phone and call, so one could say that while voice calls may be going down as a percentage of the total interactions, their importance is actually going up.

Also, there are occasions when it’s OK to talk, but not to type: don’t text and drive! Although there are also occasions when texting is the only way to communicate, like when you are at a rock concert…

So, voice has a big role, and especially voice over the telephone network: dialing 1–800-SUPPORT is still the easiest way to get you there. Adding voice support to bots is consequently a great way to expand the reach of conversational technology in the customer service domain to the 50% or so of communications that are currently out of reach.

The challenges of voice

For bots, voice is harder that text. While voice can be transcribed into text rather easily by an ASR (automatic speech recognition) and the transcription can be fed to the bot’s AI, this is still an additional step that needs to be integrated into the system. There are also several TTS (text-to-speech) services that can be used to convert the bot’s answers back to voice — still another step.

What’s more, the knowledge base and AI training for text and voice is not completely overlapping: we say things and use turn of phrases while speaking that we wouldn’t use while typing; on the other hand, the ASR will not make typographical mistakes that are common in chat and must be accounted for by chatbot engines. But these are issues that can be overcome with better AI training — we at Interactive Media know this since we support both voice and chat in our conversational Virtual Agents.

More challenging, the system needs to be very responsive for voice: while no-one would object to a 10-seconds pause between typing a message and receiving a response, try that with voice! And so, the integration needs to be architecturally sound and fast. And not all ASR systems are created equal: while recognition performance of the latest ASRs is uniformly quite good, some systems have an advantage for specific tasks: for instance, Google Speech APIs excel in recognizing addresses due to their integration with Google Maps. It makes sense to use different ASR vendors for different parts of an application.

And then, there is the telephone network to deal with. There are certainly RESTful APIs that are easily integrated into a conversational system, but at volume they can be expensive. Also, usually the companies deploying the bot already have their own telephony infrastructure, and it doesn’t make sense to overhaul it for the use of the bot. Be it implemented through a local switch (PBX) or a SIP trunk from a carrier, telephony is more challenging to integrate with than a purely HTTP based interface.

Finally, if the interaction does not complete within the self-service conversational domain it will need to be forwarded to a human agent. This implies not only forwarding the call to a Contact Center suite (usually over SIP), but also passing over the context gathered so far, and for this an integration with the CTI interface of the Contact Center is needed.

So, there are several factors that contribute in making voice and telephony for bots a complex proposition.

An offer to help

Interactive Media knows a lot about voice and integration with other voice platforms. We started with voice applications, telephony and customer experience in 1996, and so we have both a long experience in what it takes to integrate successfully with the telephone network, and a super-solid platform that has evolved to incorporate the latest architectures and protocols into a proven foundation for all voice communication.

We also have a platform for conversational application with several sizable deployments, both for voice and chat. This has helped us understand the most impactful features of the telephony platform and optimize them as they relate to bots.

So the idea is simple: Interactive Media is on a mission to help chatbots add voice to their repertoire. This starts with telephony integration, of course, but continues with speech transcription and generation, and integration with Contact Center platforms — we integrate natively with several of the most common ones. Our software is already in the cloud, and you can try it at Phone my Bot.

We are looking forward to giving all deserving chatbots the gift of voice.

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How to apply customer service KPIs

How to apply customer service KPIs

How to apply customer service KPIs

July 8, 2020

Customer service KPIs (key performance indicators) are the parameters and metrics used to evaluate the performance of this service in companies, as well as the satisfaction of customers with it. Monitoring the performance of the customer service process within companies has become paramount, as more and more, customer experience is one of the factors that most impacts the reputation and results of organizations in all sectors.

Consumer culture has changed dramatically in recent years. The modern consumer is demanding and attentive, and the immense offer of products and services further increases their bargaining power. In other words, this means that organizations that do not put their customers at the center of their strategies are at risk of being pushed aside.

With this in mind, it is not enough to offer an excellent solution. It is necessary to deliver a complete experience, from the first contact with the brand to the after-sales service, and customer service plays a decisive role in this process.

But how to check its performance and make sure that your company is on the right track? This is where the KPIs come in, and in this article, we bring you some considerations that cannot be missed in your analysis. Check them out!

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Cost of customer service

The cost of customer service is a financial metric that can be divided into two types:

  • hourly cost: which must also include overtime, benefits and charges when calculated for teams of employees.
  • total cost per service: the total cost of the period (day, week, month or year) divided by the total service at that specific period of time.

These KPIs are widely used as a criterion for comparison, considering that there are several solutions to deliver the service, from outsourcing to the implementation of virtual agents, such as chat and voicebots.

Abandonment rate

The abandonment rate indicates the percentage of people who drop out of the contact center calls while waiting for customer service. To calculate it, just divide the total number of dropouts by the total number of calls and then multiply the result by 100.

This is one of the most important KPIs, as it reveals points that need immediate improvement. If your calls are not being completed, certainly your customers are not only having trouble solving problems with your company, but they are also irritated by this situation.

The dropout rate, however, can be linked to several different factors and, therefore, other metrics need to be analysed to understand what can be done to lower it as much as possible.

FCR (FIRST Call RESOLUTION)

The FCR rate assesses the percentage of calls that are resolved in the first contact. It is, therefore, an efficiency KPI directly related to your company’s ability to identify the most recurring problems of your audience or your customers and offer quick solutions.

Its result is obtained from the difference between the total number of contacts resolved in the first call by the total number of contacts made, times 100.

Naturally, the faster the demands are resolved, the greater the customers satisfaction. Time is just as valuable as money, so any metric aimed at gaining agility in the different stages of the purchase process is highly appreciated by consumers in general.

TME (AVERAGE WAITING TIME)

If a long service time is stressful, a long waiting time is even worse. This is one of the main complaints of consumers of large companies that depend on call centers. The famous electronic songs played during the waiting calls have already gained space even in comedic scenes from successful series and films.

We have the TME by dividing the total (sum) of all waiting times by the number of completed calls. Its result allows us to estimate the efficiency of the team and the digital support solution, including pointing out the need to invest in training or expansion.

As you can see, service indicators are closely related. A small problem at the beginning or in conducting a contact can increase the waiting time for others and affect the quality of everyone’s experience.

TMA (AVERAGE SERVICE TIME)

Following the same direction as FCR and TME, TMA is used to identify the average time that has been required for your service to be performed. The TMA is the result of dividing the total and uninterrupted time of all calls by the number of contacts received.

However, this KPI needs to be used with caution. While it is always desirable to provide agile service, your strategy needs to be based not only on the customer’s solution, but also on delivering the right experience. This means that there is no point in solving the problem quickly if the impression generated by this call is impatience, neglect, or any other negative feeling. Whether performed by a human agent or carried out by a chat- or voice-bot, it is essential that your service is adapted to the rhythm and demands of your audience.

NPS (NET PROMOTER SCORE)

NPS is a methodology that aims to identify the contentment and loyalty of a company’s customers. It is one of the most used service and Customer Success KPIs in the world and its application is relatively simple.

In practice, it is a kind of a satisfaction survey in which a single question is asked: on a scale of 0 to 10, how much are you willing to recommend our company to a family member or friend?

When presented at the right time, the simple and incisive character of the question favors the honesty of the respondents, and their answers are classified into three groups:

  • 0 to 6 (detractors): it does not necessarily mean that these people do not like your product or service, but it certainly indicates that they expect more from them.
  • 7 and 8 (neutral): these are those who probably had their problem solved but did not have such a satisfactory experience.
  • 9 and 10 (promoters): these are the ones who felt very well looked after, either by the product or by the experience provided, and are willing to promote their brand.

This type of analysis, as well as all others presented throughout the article, is usually performed with the help of software that is also able to organize this data and indicate the best actions to be taken by managers.

Strict monitoring of these metrics is one of the safest ways to evolve your service strategy and, consequently, increase customer retention and satisfaction. However, this is just the beginning. It is very important to optimize your internal processes, and technology can also play a key role in this regard.

Interactive Media is an expert company in the development, implementation, and improvement of virtual conversational agents. In addition to improving the experience of your customers and improving its service KPIs, the Interactive Media virtual conversational agents also benefits your employees by freeing them from exhausting and repetitive tasks and concentrate on really improving the customer experience for the benefit of your customers, and your company.

Get in touch with us and find out how to take the future of the customer experience into your daily business!

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My take on Omnichannel digital transformation

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Every contact center offer is Omnichannel these days. Companies operating in the space of contact center software – like everyone else – follow trends, and having Omnichannel operation, the ability to save and retain context gathered on a channel to then use it the...

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Customer service technology: what changes with the coronavirus pandemic?

Customer service technology: what changes with the coronavirus pandemic?

Customer service technology: what changes with the coronavirus pandemic?

June 26, 2020

The past few weeks have been marked by a profound transformation in society. The coronavirus pandemic has forced huge changes in habits and brought about a series of urgent adaptations – for both people and businesses. Technology in customer service, for example, has gained even more space and relevance, corresponding to the new demands of the market.

On a daily basis, COVID-19 modifies the routines and causes people into new ways of learning and buying. In companies, the coronavirus has forced the adoption of more integrated, transparent, and flexible tools, to try and ensure the quality of service in these challenging times.

In this post we add our view of the new corporate scenario and of what the importance of implementing the right technology for customer experience.

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The impact of the coronavirus on consumer behavior

The first case of COVID-19 in the US was officially announced in January 2020. Since then, with the rapid expansion of the virus and aiming to contain the spread of the disease, states and counties have adopted restrictive measures to try and preserve the health and maximize the safety of individuals.
The recommendation for physical isolation was, therefore, one of the first guidelines. As a result, daily activities – such as going to school and dining out – needed to be replaced by routines at home.

From the point of view of consumer behavior, the changes have been immediate and profound. Schools switched to online classes and so usage of remote conference software like Zoom skyrocketed overnight. Gyms were among the first businesses to close their doors, and sales of at-home exercise equipment went through the roof.

In general, electronic commerce increased significantly during social isolation. According to Adobe’s Digital Economy Index, U.S e-commerce market jumped 49% in April compared to the baseline period in early March before pandemic restrictions were put in place. This is thanks to the essential workers who pack and deliver our food and purchases: they are indispensable and very much appreciated. There would be a lot to say about their plight and the risk they go through on a daily basis to help all others, but this blog is more about the technology revolution that has been supercharged by the coronavirus.

Technology plays a central role in enabling routines in line with safety recommendations, and provides very efficient alternatives for solving problems that, just a few months ago, did not seem to exist.

The new work mode in coronovirus times

One of the most stunning transformations forced by the coronavirus has been in the way we work. Working form home, for example, has become mandatory for many companies and is now part of the daily life of 62% of employed Americans in an effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the corporate environment.

Of course, working from home includes meetings. Communication software is powerful enough, and widespread enough, that this is possible: companies providing it have been put to the task for the increased volume and have reacted well. Many will adopt this model even after the coronavirus emergency has passed.

Likewise, the need to optimize resources demanded that managers rethink the workflow and visualize new opportunities to reduce costs and, at the same time, leverage results. Once again, technology has emerged as an excellent ally. Artificial intelligence – which, in 2019, was already on the investment radar of 90% of managers -, to name just one of the possibilities, is a highly productive solution. In addition, it can be implemented in companies of the most diverse sizes and segments, enhancing operations at the factory or at the customer service center.

The importance of technology in customer experience

It has long been clear that, when it comes to customer service, technology is indispensable. Integrated call registration, for example, is quite common in modern organizations and has become essential in the mission of centralizing data, ensuring a more efficient, agile and transparent process.

Neglecting good service is undoubtedly the shortest path to failure. Back in 2017, Walker released a study stating that by 2020, customer experience would overtake price and product as a key differentiator. 2020 is now here and we couldn’t agree more with Walker’s insights. Researches have shown that nearly 70% of people would currently spend more money with a company that has excellent customer service.

This indicator reinforces the urgency of inserting, in the day-to-day contact center, tools capable of optimizing work and maximizing team performance in human service, as well as multichannel self-service modules based on the customer’s profile and history, enjoying the maturity of natural language processing technology (NLP, Natural Language Processing) for a more efficient and humanized service.

In times of pandemic, when most agents work from home and the impact of technology is felt more than ever, it is even more valuable to see the customer service area in a strategic, comprehensive and automated way. To support those pillars, Interactive Media offers IM.MIND, a software platform that makes use of artificial intelligence to manage conversational and multichannel virtual agents.

IM.MIND also functions as a logical infrastructure for development, control and support, which includes several interfaces dedicated to the navigation flows developers, to the service administrators and to the business resources that analyse the service to apply ever more helpful strategies, optimizing the users experience.

Deploying, testing and managing virtual agents and technology in customer service becomes strategic to move the end to end process along and guarantee the efficiency and adherence of the solution to market requirements.

We have seen this first-hand. At Interactive Media, the increase in demand for voice bots is already significant. One of our customers in Brazil, for example, requested to double their monthly capacity: from 800 thousand to 1.6 million calls. According to Roberto Valente, Interactive Media’s CEO, in Italy the increase in requests was equally impressive, reaching more than 100 contacts per second in the biggest voice bot deployment.

In conclusion, we believe that the focus on excellent customer service and the technology that makes it possible must be considered a priority to ease the challenges of the coronavirus, reducing the negative impacts of the pandemic on business. It is a necessity to attract and retain customers, responding to demands quickly and completely.

And the benefits of technology in the customer experience are not restricted to periods of insecurity or crisis. When the pandemic is contained – or even neutralized, through vaccines and / or proven treatments (and we hope that will be soon!), the market will return to more normal conditions, but good customer service will not lose relevance.

It is likely instead that the exact opposite will happen: the relationship between people and companies will become even more intimate and will demand more and more attention. IM.MIND is certainly the right technology in customer service to differentiate organizations that are able to face not only today’s challenges, but also tomorrow’s new normal.

To understand how IM.MIND can help your business adapt to the new reality of the market – during and after the coronavirus pandemic – request a free demo of the software and get to know our solution focused on excellent and efficient customer experience.

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My take on Omnichannel digital transformation

My take on Omnichannel digital transformation

Every contact center offer is Omnichannel these days. Companies operating in the space of contact center software – like everyone else – follow trends, and having Omnichannel operation, the ability to save and retain context gathered on a channel to then use it the...

read more

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