Industry, govt veer towards voice services to engage with masses

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NEW DELHI: In the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic, customer-facing businesses and government agencies have stepped up efforts to deploy voice-based services, particularly voice bots to save time, cost and engage more organically with a larger part of India’s population that resides in smaller cities and prefers voice interactions to text chats.

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Walmart-owned e-commerce company Flipkart and Indian telecom operator Bharti Airtel recently deployed voice search options in English and Hindi on their respective apps. Likewise, Axis Bank has deployed an AI-powered multilingual voice bot AXAA at its contact centres. Developed by Bengaluru-based startup Vernacular.ai, the voice bot can be expanded to support over 10 Indian languages and over 160 dialects.

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“Organizations have understood the importance of the next billion users who are coming online. These users form a large part of India’s population and are majorly non-English speakers who depend on voice,” said Sourabh Gupta, chief executive officer and co-founder of Vernacular.ai.

According to Gupta, during the pandemic, voice bots took centerstage when it came to customer engagement for enterprises. “There has been a drastic acceleration in the adoption of voice AI across industries, irrespective of whether covid-19 impacted them or not,” added Gupta.

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In the early months of the pandemic, several businesses in banking, financial services and insurance (BFSI) sector reported a surge in call volumes as more and more customers sought help. Most contact centres running on legacy systems were not prepared to deal with the sudden increase in call volumes.

“With the high volume of calls and repetitive calling, contact centres also found it difficult to direct the calls to the right agent,” added Gupta.

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For enterprises, voice services entail several benefits. Gupta points out, it can enable enterprises to reduce costs, delivering savings by up to 40-50%.

“Conversational platforms can be used to cross-sell and upsell. It can be used to gauge consumer sentiment during the conversation,” said Arup Roy, research vice president, Gartner, adding that this can enhance revenues, offer better analytics and serve customers better.

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Industry experts feel that technologies behind voice-based services have matured to the degree that now people can do a lot more with voice commands with greater accuracy and that too in a language of their choice.

“Earlier, the technology was not mature enough to handle the complexities of voice interaction. Technologies which are coming now use radical new models which bring more efficiency in natural language conversations,” said Roy.

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This has boosted adoption among consumers. Take Amazon’s voice assistant Alexa, for instance. Consumer interactions with Alexa increased 67% in 2020, with non-metros now accounting for over 50% of all interactions.

“Covid has accelerated the notion of automation within business operations, which in a way is driving adoption of voice technology,” adds Roy.

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In addition to industry, government is also realising the importance of voice services. Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology (MeitY) is working to deploy a voice-enabled chatbot for UMANG and other government services and is looking for a partner agency from the field of deep learning, cognitive learning and machine learning.

Deploying voice based services on citizen centric platforms makes it easier for the government to reach out to people who are blind, less literate, or are more comfortable engaging in local languages.

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