The popularity of smart speakers such as Amazon’s Echo and Alexa and Google’s Home Hub is increasingly rapidly.

A recent study by Adobe revealed that almost a third of US households now own at least one of these devices, with the global adoption of voice assistants predicted to increase 1,000 percent by 2023, according to Juniper Research.

While digital text-based platforms have been the focus of customer service channel shift in recent years, it’s clear that consumers are falling back in love with voice. This presents a real opportunity for brands. Executed well, voice assistant technology can offer a natural-sounding, speedy response to common customer service queries, 24 hours a day.

The challenge for businesses is to integrate it successfully with existing customer service platforms, in order to provide a seamless experience that is consistent across all communication touch points. 

The human touch

It’s crucial that voice technology is deployed in a way that is genuinely useful for customers – businesses cannot fall into the trap of the novelty of voice automation, rushing to roll it out without properly considering its use. To engage with customers meaningfully, companies must be able to effectively leverage the technology that underpins all automated platforms – data analytics, machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI).

AI is already allowing brands to deliver round-the-clock solutions to customer enquiries, using automation and data to process simple questions and provide responses via chatbots. The next step is to broaden the scope of queries that this technology can manage.

Delivering outstanding customer service requires personalisation, ensuring that responses are relevant to the customer’s specific situation no matter the channel they choose to make contact through. With a comprehensive customer management system (CRM) supported by AI, it’s possible to collate data from every customer touch point, to equip smart platforms with the information they need to deliver a more tailored, and ultimately more human, customer service.

Know your limits

Brands must also ensure they’re aware of the limitations of any automated platform. As voice automation technology becomes more popular, customers’ expectations of its capabilities will increase – if they end up trapped in a phone menu that’s unable to find them a solution or direct them to the right place, brands risk losing customers to frustration.

Ultimately, advances in AI will broaden the range of questions voice platforms can comprehend. Businesses looking to implement this relatively new technology now must make sure it is equipped to recognise complex requests beyond its scope, and to connect customers to a human when required. An example of this in practice is a voice assistant providing retail customers with information such as stock availability, delivery timescales, or store opening times, but deferring to an advisor for a personal query such as making a complaint.   

Augmented agents

As the capabilities of autonomous customer service channels become more sophisticated, so too will the roles of human representatives. The popularity of voice technology globally means that consumers will increasingly rely on this and other smart channels to find answers to day-to-day queries. But for those more challenging requests and judgement-based tasks, customer service representatives remain crucial.

Businesses must tailor their recruitment and training strategies to ensure that all employees are equipped with the digital capabilities they need to operate in this tech-enabled environment, as they work across multiple channels including voice, and manage complex CRM systems. However, as advisors will primarily be responsible for the highest-value and often most challenging tasks, an empathetic approach, strong communication and problem-solving skills must form a core part of their skill set.

Ultimately, the successful deployment of automated voice-based customer service channels relies on investment in employees as much as investment in technology, creating an experience that cultivates customer loyalty through convenience and quality. 

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