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Bridging the gap between hosted voice and AI

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Telecoms.com periodically invites expert third parties to share their views on the industry’s most pressing issues. In this piece Chris Martin, CTO at PowWowNow, takes a look at the evolution of hosted voice in the AI era.

The growth of new technologies has contributed to data becoming more abundant in business than ever before and led to the development of AI-based tools that can drive more intelligent and meaningful uses of data in the workplace. However, while 84 per cent of business leaders said AI would enable them to obtain a competitive advantage, only 23 per cent had incorporated it into processes and product and service offerings in 2017.

It is clear that artificial intelligence holds tremendous promise for businesses, but its potential is not being fully harnessed, with many companies unclear about how AI can benefit them.

Hosted voice, also known as Cloud PBX, provides business employees with PBX features that can route voice calls to desk-phone or mobile devices, or enable employees to make calls using the company phone system without the need for that business to buy and maintain their own PBX.

Since AI systems thrive in data-rich environments where there are many repeated actions, hosted voice provides an ideal environment for AI; with call logs for customer and employee profiling and handling, call recordings for speech analysis, and associated contact management systems for comparative analysis and trending.

With half of all businesses predicted to move to hosted voice solutions by 2020, it is increasingly important that companies understand how to maximise their communications operations for the benefit of workers and customers alike and are aware of how AI can add value to their organisation. Hosted voice systems are a good step towards integrating customer contact centres and merging these with virtual assistants and AI tools.

Virtual contact centre agents

With the evolution of voice technology and natural language processing as demonstrated by Siri, Google Assistant, Echo and Bixby to name a few, we are at a point where it is realistic for virtual contact centre agents to be deployed to communicate, answer and handle customer calls. Supported by AI systems that have learnt and evolved to deal with the questions asked, voice technology can interpret customer responses and reply with the best possible options to facilitate successful call resolution.

These technologies can also identify and learn from emerging trends and adapt virtual assistant responses. For example, if a utility company has an outage in a certain area, the system would see the trend of incoming calls from the area about the same subject and either set-up a response message for incoming callers within the affected area, enable virtual contact centre agents to ask that question first “Are you calling about the Power cut in your area?, and notify specific people of the reports.

Multi-lingual virtual agents can also be deployed to give callers the option to use their mother tongue or be available to instantly translate languages to allow employees to handle customers more comfortable conversing in another language in real time. Further integration into sales contact centres and product knowledge bases can additionally provide customers with product purchase guidance and take orders or bookings on a 24/7 basis.

Interactive voice response (IVR) systems

IVR systems can allow companies to personalise communications with customers and employees in businesses where a high volume of calls is common. AI systems can gather all relevant customer data such as personal information and recent transactions to resolve queries, and pass this on to the business representative so as to personalise communications. Through AI data gathering, the employee can be fully prepared with everything about the caller and the account, as well as any other details pertaining to the incoming call, and consequently be better prepared to deal with the customer and offer a higher level of service. This saves companies from deploying staff to address all queries, as well as cutting down time spent on the phone by customers, thereby boosting customer satisfaction.

AI Bots

AI assistants or customisable chatbots is another way AI can be used to manage certain schedules, set up meetings, and even automate certain business processes or tasks, freeing workers up to focus on less repetitive tasks. For example, patient contact centres with virtual assistants integrated into diaries can take patient calls to make medical appointments. Further if integrated into patient management systems the AI bot could respond to patients asking details about their procedure, the things they need to bring on the day, and any pre-procedure advice.

Pattern recognition

AI can also be used to identify patterns and create predictive strategies for operations, and the pairing of hosted voice, AI and voice technologies can play an integral part in integrated customer communications and response systems.

While a company’s operations team can continue to use typical time-of-day call trends to plan physical and virtual agent availability, they can also auto-provision additional virtual agents to handle unexpected call volumes when they hit a particular threshold.  The team can also collaborate with the business teams to provision additional virtual assistants to support new product launches, events or promotions.

Businesses which implement AI backed hosted voice services or solutions can benefit from a number of business advantages including reduced operational and capital costs. With the technology behind AI and machine-learning continuously evolving, businesses should keep on top of their business communications in order to implement efficient operational workflows, business process automation and improved customer engagement opportunities.

Applying AI technologies such as natural language processing and real-time translation can implement smarter business collaboration and communication models for the benefits of prospects, customers, employees, partners and suppliers.

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