Virtual Assistants Drive Voice Renaissance

Just as the smartphone transformed the way that consumers access and view the Internet, virtual digital assistants like Amazon's Alexa, Apple's Siri, and Microsoft's Cortana are changing the way that people place phone calls and track down information.

Almost 60% of U.S. consumers surveyed by call intelligence firm Invoca use these devices to accomplish tasks they previously would have done on their smartphones. Nearly a quarter (24%) of respondents noted that they were making more calls to businesses than they previously did, and 35% reported making more calls to friends and family with their virtual assistants.

For example, 46% of consumers surveyed stated that they have used a virtual assistant to connect directly with a hotel, airline, or travel agent. Similarly, almost half (48%) of respondents used a device to connect to a doctor or hospital.

Invoca's research indicates that many consumers are "speaking more and clicking less" as they become more familiar with the power of their virtual assistants. For telephony service providers, this news couldn't be more welcome. Finally, they can debunk the "voice is dead" prophecy once and for all!

That said, virtual assistants present unique challenges in terms of telephony audio quality; issues such as background noise or multiple voices speaking concurrently can affect call audio quality. For businesses, being able to deliver both reliable connectivity and strong audio quality for calls placed through a virtual assistant (or any device, for that matter) can make or break a customer interaction or an important sale, putting a direct correlation between call clarity and a company's bottom line.

When making complicated or high-value purchases, or dealing with a personalized or customized order, customers most often want to speak with a human agent by phone rather than via chatbot or email. What's most important to customers are that their problems are resolved quickly and that they can accurately hear and speak with the service agents without their calls being dropped or having poor audio quality. Resolution of the issue becomes irrelevant if a customer can't even reach or hear the call center agent to begin with. A strong connection, regardless of the customer's device or who's on the other end, takes chief priority.

As Invoca CEO Gregg Johnson pointed out in a Harvard Business Review article, "Voice communication will need to become a business priority -- particularly considering that nearly 90% of companies say they compete on the basis of customer experience."

Consequently, voice technologies used in virtual assistants and other devices that allow users to place calls are only as useful as the supporting telephony infrastructure and software that powers those calls in the first place.

The ability of a software-centric communications services provider to give businesses direct access and control over advanced signaling metadata can be a real advantage in this case. This information allows developers to identify where callers are located, the rough location of their home switch, if they are on a mobile or landline, and many other important call and network attributes. In the case of a customer service department or call center, this technology could help route calls intelligently to the right destination, saving time and effort for customers looking to resolve issues quickly.

Two other technologies on the carrier side that can influence call and audio quality include

adaptive call routing (i.e., the ability to re-route calls around impaired network infrastructure quickly) and direct media delivery (i.e., ensuring that calls take the shortest, simplest path to their end destination).

As consumers and businesses alike continue to adopt virtual assistants, it's well within reason to think these intelligent devices will emerge as a true competitor to traditional telephony devices. Indeed, Juniper Research predicts that more than half of U.S. households will use these devices by 2020. Businesses, therefore, should work closely with their communication service providers to ensure their ability to deliver a clear, reliable, and high-quality connection regardless of the devices being used both now and in the years ahead.