Voice communication making a comeback
Posted on May 15, 2018
Something unexpected is happening in the digital age: voice communication is making a comeback.
Perhaps upon reflection we shouldn’t be too surprised by this: after all, voice has always been at the heart of how people connect. If one thinks of human speech as having been around for 24 hours, then the written word has been in use for just eight minutes and computers for one millisecond, says Hector Ouilhet, head of design at Google Search and Assistant.
For a while, as online, digital and social channels redrew the landscape of global communications, growth rates in voice fell behind. But recent advances in AI and machine learning mean machines can now converse in natural language. And at the same time, the advent of cloud telephony is reintegrating the telephone into the digital workspace.
The growing demand for voice will contribute to the massive spike in global data use already under way due to streaming video and other factors, and businesses should act now to ensure their data networks are up to meeting the oncoming challenge.
The tech giants Amazon, Apple and Google have all bet big on virtual assistants that communicate through speech. Thanks to services such as Siri there are already over a billion voice-based searches every month, and it is projected that by 2020 over 50 per cent of all searches will be made by voice.
If Amazon’s Alexa can be used to order pizza, why not to call up quarterly profits? Alexa for Business was made available to the public in November 2017. Voice interfaces are the “next major disruption in computing”, with clear applications with business settings, says Dave Isbitski, Amazon chief evangelist for Echo and Alexa.
“You could be working on a report and you need to know how many deals closed last quarter without having to reach into your pocket or find an app or switch websites,’’ says Collin Davis, general manager of Alexa for Business. “You just get the information that you need.”
There are now more than 30,000 Alexa skills. Davis said a growing community of skill developers are focused on building new skills for the workplace, and software vendors are voice-enabling existing applications.
In March, IBM launched Watson Assistant, a new service aimed at companies looking to build voice-activated virtual assistants for their own products, and many other services such as Cisco’s Spark Assistant and Microsoft’s Cortana now also have business uses.
Voice may not be about to wholly replace text, but it is accounting for a growing share of people’s interactions with the technology around them. Increasingly, we communicate through apps such as Facebook Messenger, which is now used by more than half of all Australians, that provide voice and video calls. No wonder ‘FaceTime’ has become a commonly accepted verb.
Why type when you can talk? For one thing, talking is more efficient. Generally, people type around 40 words per minute, but speak around four times that and comprehend the spoken word around at 10 times faster.
Dictating now works reliably enough to be useful, and text-to-speech provides for example the ability to review work documents during a commute.
One digital workplace
One of the drivers behind the trend towards voice is the breakdown of boundaries between services and devices. Companies increasingly view their mobility, digital desktop phones and collaboration platforms as one digital workspace, and for many people, collaboration apps are now a primary business communication tool.
This means that for businesses, a unified communications platform with advanced telephony and integration features is fast becoming indispensable.
And the old chestnut of security needs to be factored as well. With unsecured devices presenting a potential backdoor for malicious entry, organisations need to ensure their network security is flexible enough to exploit the benefits from new technology, but robust enough to keep out unwanted ‘visitors’.
The human touch
Business is also realising the importance of integrating phone calls into omnichannel marketing strategies, recognising that customers value the reassurance of the option of human interaction.
A recent study by the Yale School of Management found listeners glean emotions better from voice-only communications even than from video.
Market research firm Forrester highlights the importance of conversations with customers:
“The tone, pace, or word choice used by a caller provides better evidence of their emotional state than digital behaviours can... One major bank used speech analytics to identify disgruntled callers and target particular offers and agents to them in order to get them to buy.”
ANZ New Zealand’s head of digital and transformation Liz Maguire agrees. “At ANZ we think voice is going to be a key way for customers to interact with us digitally going forward, and we have work underway to make this happen,” she says.
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