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The Renaissance of Voice Communications

The rise of digital communications led many pundits to predict the demise of voice as a medium for customer communications. Speech plays a unique role though, and several technological developments are giving it a second life.
Voice has remained pervasive for business communications. While analysts forecast that the explosion in the volume of customer service interactions will mostly come from digital communications, they stress the central role of voice calls as a last resort for complex questions or for handling important moments of the customer experience. Voice communication isn’t limited to customer support. The availability and immediacy of mobile have driven an increase in the number of sales and marketing related calls. A few years ago, BIA Kelsey predicted that calls to businesses from smartphones would reach 160 billion this year.
Voice Garners Importance
It’s very interesting to watch the inside sales space. For decades, it was dominated by cold calling, until email and social outreach emerged. Inside sales immediately turned to these new digital channels, leveraging technology to prospect at scale. However, after a few years, the industry rediscovered the importance of having live conversations with prospects. Today, a call with a potential buyer has once again become the primary goal for most organizations.
In the marketing field, mobile has led to more business calls. After searching on the Internet, they often choose to click on a call button to discuss with someone the details of a potential purchase. Google found 70% of mobile searchers are calling a business directly from search results.
After seeing chatbots boost the development of self-services on the web and over messaging channels, we are now witnessing an equal surge of voicebots enabling conversational experience over the voice channel.
Eventually, as large volumes of interactions get shifted to self-service and automation, brands are placing a high value on having meaningful voice conversations with their customers to remain close to them and develop greater intimacy.
Consumers’ Behavior Fuels the Trend
Voice has also become more important in the daily lives of consumers. Digital assistants on mobile phones such as Siri or Google Assistant are getting used more frequently and for more sophisticated tasks using voice. Amazon Alexa and Google Home illustrate the growing popularity of voice at home. These voice assistants are expanding rapidly and should cross the 200 million mark this year. All these data points show that consumers are embracing voice more than ever.
The Heart of Voice Revival
Speech technologies — speech recognition and text to speech — are central to the renewed popularity of voice. The past decade has seen all the large technology providers making huge investments for developing them. The FAMGAs —Facebook, Apple, Microsoft, Google, and Amazon — and their Chinese counterpart BATXs — Baidu, Alibaba, Tencent, and Xiaomi — share the vision that voice is a critical mode of interaction for a variety of use cases.
These technology giants see strategic value in speech for interacting with applications and devices or when searching for information. Their interest isn’t just to own these technologies but to make them available to the largest possible user base to train and perfect them. There are also several open-source options available. The democratization of speech technologies has created an ecosystem of companies innovating voice applications.
Speech-based Innovation Drives Voice Usage
With this renewed interest in voice capabilities, the market has expanded with a variety of services, and specialized segments are forming, including:
  • Sales conversation intelligence software — from the likes of Chorus and Gong — records, transcribes, and analyzes B2B sales conversations to uncover patterns of successful calls. It tracks a wide range of metrics including the balance of time talking versus listening or at which stage prices are being discussed. The new frontier includes real-time guidance of sales rep based on what is being said.
  • Speech and interaction analytics follows a parallel track for customer service interactions. Vendors such as CallMiner and NICE Nexidia mine customer support calls. They can check adherence to guidelines or correlate what has been said with the support experience. They analyze the attributes of best-performing agents and use them to train and develop others. They spot emotions and specific spoken phrases to trigger the listening and review of calls.
  • Meeting transcription is also penetrating the corporate world. It can take care of notetaking, recording decisions, and logging allocated action points. It’s rapidly getting integrated into most conferencing services such as GoToMeeting or Zoom. Some providers like Microsoft and Cisco are taking this further with real-time speech translation of meetings.
  • Voice biometrics from vendors such as Nuance or Pindrop simplifies identification dialogs. Shortening identification removes a source of frustration. It also provides a more reliable way of authenticating callers. It eventually enables deeper personalization by simplifying caller identification.
  • Virtual customer assistants (VCAs) are also coming to the voice channel. Many startups have joined the ranks of historical providers like [24]7 or Verint Nex tIT to provide voice solutions. These voicebots are promising to change the Interactive Voice Response (IVR) experience, which still amounts to almost half of the customer service interactions. They are starting to be used to automate agent after-call work based on what has been said.
  • Call tracking and intelligence software pioneered by vendors such as DialogTech or Invoca help manage click to calls from search or ads. Popular in industries such as automotive or insurance, these applications analyze the intent of potential buyers, route them to the most appropriate agent or dealership, and provide marketers with comprehensive analytics on the prospect experience and the effectiveness of the promotion campaigns.
Each of these emerging categories includes many providers and startups and is driving the renaissance of voice communications — propelling it into the digital world. 
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De Kouchkovsky is writing on behalf of BCStrategies, an industry resource for enterprises, vendors, system integrators, and anyone interested in the growing business communications arena. A supplier of objective information on business communications, BCStrategies is supported by an alliance of leading communication industry advisors, analysts, and consultants who have worked in the various segments of the dynamic business communications market.