Boosting the development of voice-enabled virtual assistants

Boosting the development of voice-enabled virtual assistants

Boosting the development of voice-enabled virtual assistants

Written by Livio Pugliese

PhoneMyBot by Interactive Media is a service that transforms chatbots, that work only on text conversations, into voice-enabled virtual assistants. To do this, PhoneMyBot terminates the voice channel – be it a telephone line, a recorded voice message, or other streaming voice channels, transforms the voice into text through a speech-to-text service, and sends the text over to the chatbot.

When PhoneMyBot receives the answer as a text message from the chatbot, it renders it into speech and pipes it back to the user. You can learn more about PhoneMyBot here.

There are many nuances and details that are missing from the description above (some of them are patent-pending), but a key to PhoneMyBot’s success is the ability to integrate with many chatbot platforms. PhoneMyBot offers a standard cloud API that chatbots can use, but it also includes adaptors that use the chatbot platforms’ native API, simulating a simple web client. This way, PhoneMyBot can communicate with existing chatbot deployments without the need for new developments in the chatbot code. At the moment, PhoneMyBot deploys adaptors for about 10 chatbot platforms, but new ones are coming out all the time, depending on our customers’ needs. If you don’t see an adaptor for your platform, let us know and we can add it.

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This service was designed to make it cheap and immediate to add voice to an existing chatbot deployment – and it does that, but as an interesting side effect it also lowers the cost of new voicebot developments, while speeding up their deployment time.

Why is that? It all comes down to the dynamics of the conversational AI market for enterprise customers.

A successful conversational AI project entails more than just software and communications. It needs to be tailored to the company’s workflow, products and services, and lingo. Often, the type of language that needs to be used is not the same as in a general-purpose conversation, and this requires conversational applications to be trained to better support it. Of course, this is a common requirement in this type of project, and conversational AI platforms support language customization. But it still means that project development, testing, refining, and deployment take substantial time and effort.

Now, there are only so many conversational AI vendors offering voice integration, and system integrators who can use their platform to implement projects. In addition to the conversational AI part, a voice-enabled project includes integration with the telephone network or the corporate PBX, insertion into the IVR flow, and integration with the voice path in the contact center – both to forward calls if the virtual assistant cannot service them completely, and to provide call-associated data to human agents to make their work easier and provide better service.

All this requires specialized expertise, which few vendors have. These companies and people are in high demand, so delays can be long and costs high. 

But PhoneMyBot provides a ready alternative, with its pre-integrated voice channels. It includes telephone network and WhatsApp connectivity, and APIs to transfer calls to other voice endpoints (for instance, a contact center queue). Interactive Media has tons of experience integrating with the most common contact center suites both to insert the virtual assistant into the IVR flow and to send data attached to calls to the human agent who is servicing it.

This means that the pool of vendors that can bid on a voice-enabled conversational AI project is suddenly much bigger. Even companies with little or no voice expertise can now deliver a high-quality omnichannel virtual assistant: they only need to test their PhoneMyBot integration and iron out any small wrinkle that the additional channel may create in their conversational application strategy.

There are many more text-only conversational AI offers than voice-enabled ones. PhoneMyBot opens the omnichannel market to them, which benefits vendors, their customers, and ultimately the customer experience that you and I receive when we call a customer service line.

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Boosting the development of voice-enabled virtual assistants

Boosting the development of voice-enabled virtual assistants

PhoneMyBot by Interactive Media is a service that transforms chatbots, that work only on text conversations, into voice-enabled virtual assistants. To do this, PhoneMyBot terminates the voice channel – be it a telephone line, a recorded voice message, or other...

read more
WhatsApp voice messages and how chatbot can use them

WhatsApp voice messages and how chatbot can use them

WhatsApp lets people record and send voice messages. What does it mean for the chatbot customer experience?Like most Europeans - well, I should say most people in the world - I am a WhatsApp user. WhatsApp has more than 2 billion users worldwide, about a quarter of...

read more

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WhatsApp voice messages and how chatbot can use them

WhatsApp voice messages and how chatbot can use them

WhatsApp voice messages and how chatbot can use them

Written by Livio Pugliese

WhatsApp lets people record and send voice messages. What does it mean for the chatbot customer experience?

Like most Europeans – well, I should say most people in the world – I am a WhatsApp user. WhatsApp has more than 2 billion users worldwide, about a quarter of all humans. And although WhatsApp’s penetration in the United States is lower than in most places, if you are a foreign-born US resident who wants to keep in touch with friends and family back home, like me, WhatsApp is THE app to use.

WhatsApp offers chats, voice calls, video calls, one-on-one or among ad-hoc or organized groups. It also has a business offer, allowing companies to be messaged or called on WhatsApp to be where their customers are.

This feature was introduced in 2018 and is being used more and more: people appreciate using the same app to communicate with individuals and companies, and many telecommunications vendors resell WhatsApp business numbers and the services that come with them.

While I am a member of a couple of organized groups, I mostly use the app to message my friends or call them directly, rarely involving more than one person at a time. But I noticed a funny thing: some of my friends have stopped sending chat messages altogether. Instead, they use another feature of the app, that lets you record a voice message and send it over in a conversation. I prefer to type and let the autocompletion feature on my smartphone work its magic, also considering that receiving a voice message is certainly less immediate than reading a short text. But I can see several reasons for preferring to send a voice recording.

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For instance, you may be on the go, without the time and place to type. Or you may have troubles seeing the phone keyboard, either because of light conditions or because you can’t see very well (I certainly have problems typing without my reading glasses, I am at that stage of life). You may want to be more expressive using your tone of voice: spoken communication is much better than text to convey feelings. Or you may not be comfortable writing in general – or the person on the other side may have problems reading. For all these reasons, and possibly others that I can’t think of, sending voice messages instead of typing is on the rise.

And this is fine, as long as you communicate with a human who speaks the same language as you. But there is a special use case that is completely destroyed by this habit: communicating with a chatbot. You see, businesses that use WhatsApp to communicate with their customers via text messages often employ chatbots, automatic “conversational AI” attendants that use natural language capabilities to converse with people, understand the reason for the interaction and help them in a more efficient and cheaper way than having a human customer representative on the line the whole time. Except that chatbots can understand WRITTEN communication, and not voice recordings.

Instead, more and more chatbots that connect with WhatsApp receive recorded voice messages. In this case there are two possibilities: the chatbot recognizes that it cannot access the message and dumps the session. Or it transfers the session to a human agent who listens to the message, researches the answer, and writes back. The first case of course brings to an awful customer experience, the second to a substantial increase in costs, as the human agent is doing the job that the chatbot could do, having to listen to sometimes long and rambling messages to extract meaning.

 

What is there to do? Interactive Media, the company where I work, has launched PhoneMyBot, a service that provides an alternative, cheaper and far more elegant solution to the problem. PhoneMyBot was born to expand the channels available to chatbots to include voice channels. It provides a telephone network interface, along with other voice integrations, transcribing the users’ utterances and sending them to the chatbot, and receiving text in return from the chatbot, transforming it into speech, and sending it back to the user over the voice network. PhoneMyBot is completely cloud-based, and also integrates with a number of contact center suites to transfer the call to a human agent if necessary.

In addition, PhoneMyBot integrates with WhatsApp to receive a recorded voice message in a set language from a chatbot, transcribe it, and send it back to the chatbot as text. All the chatbot has to do is communicate with PhoneMyBot’s WhatsApp number to set the language, send the voice file, and receive the transcription. PhoneMyBot also exposes a standard HTTPS-based API for that, which the chatbot can use with a small development effort.

It may be that the primary reason some people use WhatsApp’s recorded voice messages feature is that they have difficulties reading and writing. You may think this is a problem of the past, overcome now everywhere. But not so fast. The latest figures for United States residents put the non-literacy rate at about 1%. The US is in the middle of the pack here: China (3%), Brazil (7%), India (25%) fare a lot worse. (See https://www.macrotrends.net/countries/ranking/literacy-rate for a complete list). The figures for people who have basic literacy but are uncomfortable reading and writing is likely much higher. So, this is a real possibility.

In addition, PhoneMyBot can also convert the text received from the chatbot to speech (with a choice of voices) and send it back to the chatbot to attach to the WhatsApp response message. This way, users who would like to conduct the complete conversation with recorded messages can receive the chatbot’s answer on their preferred channel.

Sometimes useful features in products and services have unintended consequences. I am sure that when WhatsApp introduced their voice messages feature, they were thinking of human-to-human communications only and for this use case it is a great alternative. But it breaks other use cases, like human-to-machine interactions. Fortunately, PhoneMyBot is there to fix it.

You can try PhoneMyBot’s WhatsApp message transcription right now. To get started scan the code below, fire up WhatsApp on your phone and start the interaction with the word “start” as first message. If you type “help”, PhoneMyBot sends you details on how to use the service.

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Boosting the development of voice-enabled virtual assistants

Boosting the development of voice-enabled virtual assistants

PhoneMyBot by Interactive Media is a service that transforms chatbots, that work only on text conversations, into voice-enabled virtual assistants. To do this, PhoneMyBot terminates the voice channel – be it a telephone line, a recorded voice message, or other...

read more
WhatsApp voice messages and how chatbot can use them

WhatsApp voice messages and how chatbot can use them

WhatsApp lets people record and send voice messages. What does it mean for the chatbot customer experience?Like most Europeans - well, I should say most people in the world - I am a WhatsApp user. WhatsApp has more than 2 billion users worldwide, about a quarter of...

read more

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