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6 ways voice tech can transform your company

AI-powered voice technology is poised to revolutionize the ways we do business.
The future book cover with voice tech transformation.
Cover of 'The Sound of the Future,' by Tobias Dengel
Key Takeaways
  • The process of incorporating voice as a tool to activate — and enhance — your existing customer apps can be challenging.
  • When looking for meaningful improvement, focus on cases where the keyboard is currently the chief mode of communication.
  • Move carefully and deliberately when integrating voice tech — a couple of experimental projects will help you judge which cases work best for your organization.
Excerpted from The Sound of the Future: The Coming Age of Voice Technology by Tobias Dengel with Karl Weber. Copyright © 2023. Available from PublicAffairs, an imprint of Hachette Book Group, Inc.

Beginning the work of incorporating voice as a tool to activate and enhance your existing customer apps, rather than imagining that some future version of Alexa or Siri will do it for you, is a challenging and important job. The work begins with identifying your voice cases: looking closely at every significant process within your business system. That includes interactions among your employees and interactions between your company and its customers. 

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In each case, ask yourself how information and instructions are being transmitted. What modes of connection are being used? Where is friction apparent — instances where an interaction is time-consuming, awkward, error-prone, or simply annoying? And how can those interactions be streamlined, accelerated, made more accurate, reduced in cost, or otherwise improved? 

Particularly in cases where a keyboard is the chief mode of communication — whether on a computer, a tablet, or a smartphone — there may be the opportunity to convert the communication to voice, achieving meaningful improvements in the process. 

There are six categories of interactions that are especially good targets for this sort of improvement: 

  1. Conveying information to devices: Interactions involving extensive data-entry tasks — for example, filling out an insurance claim form, opening a checking account with a bank, submitting an expense-account report to human resources, or customers completing a customer satisfaction survey.
  2. Retrieving data: Interactions aimed at retrieving specific information or solutions from the sea of data in which we are all immersed. Because users can easily say much longer search phrases than they can type, voice enables much more detailed and specific information search than traditional keyboarding.
  3. Handling transactions: Interactions largely focused on economic exchange — for example, purchasing a product or service from an online market, making a cash transfer between one person’s account and another’s, subscribing to an online publication, or paying a credit card bill.
  4. Operating hands-free and heads-up: Interactions in environments such as warehouses and factories, or while engaging in activities such as driving, law enforcement, military operations, or engaging with customers, in which having both hands and eyes available and unoccupied is critical.
  5. Gathering ambient information: Interactions in which information from the surrounding ecosystem can be captured, analyzed, and responded to. Typical settings include hospitals and clinics, government and legal offices, and call centers.
  6. Facilitating instant responses: Interactions that enable direct navigation to an experience that was previously cumbersome, such as finding a show or responding to an ad.

Start by listing all the processes like these that are a routine part of the interactions your organization engages in. The users involved may include external customers (the people who buy your products or use your services); internal people in your offices, factory, warehouse, and out in the field; and external business partners such as retailers, vendors, and service suppliers.

Then review the list of processes with a team drawn from every department that touches the transactions. These might include sales, customer service, finance, production, marketing, logistics, and human resources. Brainstorm whether some or all of the keyboard-based communications you engage in with your users could be simplified by substituting voice communication. For each interaction, ask the question: Is it likely that users would find it easier, faster, and more convenient to handle this interaction, in part or in whole, through voice? 

If your collective answer to that question is yes, then you’ve identified a process that can serve as one of your organization’s initial voice cases—opportunities to begin improving your operations by incorporating voice technology. As you get started in incorporating voice technology, you may choose to focus on just one or two cases. The experience you gain from a couple of experimental projects will help you judge which voice cases work well for your organization, which ones are less compelling, and how you may want to expand your use of voice into other areas over time. 

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We spoke with an information technology administration manager at a professional services firm who described the way his company has gradually incorporated voice tech into a growing range of business activities. (He requested anonymity for competitive reasons.) The firm first employed voice to help streamline its customer relations department. A voice bot with AI-powered links to various databases was developed to provide round-the-clock information service to client companies. Next, a voice bot was created to serve the company’s own employees in the marketing department. While working offsite — for example, making presentations to clients at their headquarters — the marketing staffers could use the voice bot to get data and answers to questions at any time of the day or night. 

Brainstorm whether some or all of the keyboard-based communications you engage in with your users could be simplified by substituting voice communication.

Having discovered how useful these voice tools could be in helping the company connect effectively with customers, it began adapting such tools for internal purposes. For instance, the human resources department now uses a specialized voice bot with access to the company’s employee database to handle most of the questions formerly managed by HR professionals: “How much paid-leave time have I used so far this year, and how much time do I have left?” “I’m planning to take a graduate-level course in software design next fall — Will the tuition by covered by our educational benefits program?” 

Today, the company is examining the possibility of adapting voice tools to facilitate automatic payment of invoices from outside contractors, suppliers, and others. The goal would be to eliminate the time-consuming process of generating and circulating paper forms when payments are due, instead allowing selected team members to process payments simply through voice messages. It expects to move carefully and deliberately on this front, for obvious reasons — when large sums of money are involved, safeguards against error, fraud, and security breaches are essential. They’ll implement this next stage of voice adoption only when the systems appear practically impervious. That, of course, is the appropriate attitude to take.

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