Artificial Intelligence and its Effect on Business Communications

Yes, artificial intelligence and natural language processing are progressing at a rapid pace.

That might not sound too exciting, but it’s actually going to mean a lot for business. Any business. Your business.

Almost any business in any kind of industry uses the phone to interact with clients and customers. But many of them don’t really use it well.

Here’s how AI and new technologies are going to revolutionize interactive voice response and call-center work in very exciting ways in just the next few years.

The Old Way: Customers are Tired of Bad IVR

Interactive voice response has actually been around for a while in the form of virtual assistants and digital people that “speak” to you when you call a business.

However, too many executives and company leaders don’t understand just how poorly their IVR works with actual live callers.

There are a lot of words for it. Menu hell. Press one for English frustration. That now-familiar story of a grown man or woman throwing a tantrum and yelling “representative!” into his or her phone over and over again.

Simply put, IVR is not responsive in the ways people want it to be responsive. It sounds pretty – but in most cases, it’s pretty dumb.

Think about it – if you’re a caller, you have an actual problem you want to discuss. You don’t want to hear that you can “press one” to go to some department and then drill down your list of options by pressing more buttons. You want somebody to get on the phone and tell you it’s going to be okay.

We have the idea in our heads that IVR can’t deliver this – that robots and humans are night and day in terms of their interactions. But this is changing. Just look at this Guardian article to really surprise yourself about how it’s going to feel to talk to AI entities in the years ahead. They’re getting smarter. And that means an awful lot for IVR.

Press or Say One

You may or may not have noticed, but IVR took a great step forward when engineers found a way to offer multimodal responses. Press or say one is inherently much better than either “press one” or “say one” by themselves. It offers customers the choice to pick the modality that they want. Maybe they’re hands-free, or maybe they have the phone keypad right in front of them, and it’s easier to hit a button. The IVR system won’t know – but it can provide the option.

Emotional Response Tools

We’re hearing a lot in tech media about new emotional tools, where machine learning is able to guage a person’s mood from their cadence, the words they use and the inflections in their voices.

This is one of those impressive new technologies that can be used for good or ill – but it can be put to really good use in the world of IVR. Imagine what it would be like if that virtual assistant who is asking you to press buttons can tell from your voice if you’re getting frustrated. They’ll either put a human on the line or radically change the IVR messaging to put you at ease. What if a robot voice could actually help you? That’s coming, and it’s coming soon.

The Technology of Response

What we’re talking about here is improving the ways that technologies pass the Turing test. Alan Turing, that renowned World War II-era mathematician, had a brilliant idea when he came up with the benchmark of the Turing test that assesses whether computers can fool us into thinking that we’re talking to a human.

Traditional IVR can’t really do this – partly because of the tone of the voice, which we can hear is artificial, and the lack of responsiveness. But again, go back to that Guardian article. Look at what engineers are putting into robots these days.

Businesses that can utilize new artificially intelligent platforms are going to spike customer retention and customer loyalty. They’re going to grab enormous market share. Imagine if you were happy every time you got off the phone with your cable TV provider or your ISP, or your utility company or your lender. That’s not an emotion we associate with the task of calling businesses.

That’s got to change – and machine learning and artificial intelligence give us those keys. It’s just a matter of whether we take advantage of them


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