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Are voice assistants the new worker?

by Brett Feldon
18 December 2017
Are voice assistants the new worker?
With the rise in popularity of voice-activated virtual assistants, there’s much more to embrace than fear from AI in the workplace.

Most of our conversations with customers are about the impact of new technologies, such as voice, on their businesses. It’s impossible to have this discussion without also talking about the impact on their people. Fortunately, this is typically a positive discussion.

New technologies empower a business’s workforce to be more productive and innovative and, as a result, experience far greater satisfaction than ever before. High-tech workplaces also tend to attract the best talent.

History has taught us that change is inevitable. The introduction of the desktop computer was seen as the death knell for a host of industries and careers, as was the invention of the mobile phone. Prior to these technologies, motorised vehicles and industrial machinery were also expected to have a devastating effect on workforces. 

In all of these cases, despite the automation of processes, new jobs were created, automation led to great advancements, and the world continued to turn.

Were there changes in the workplace? Of course there were. Automation brings change. Good change. So what can we expect to see in the Australian and New Zealand market as voice technology comes of age?

Over the last two decades in Australia and New Zealand, the voice technology industry has been about speech recognition over the phone. Voice technology has been filling a similar space to the work done by call centre agents.

In a lot of ways, machine-driven service has been replacing work that is considered repetitive, helping to answer simple questions that staff previously had to face hundreds of times a day. 

This is because the technology frees up the people delivering customer service  to deal with more sophisticated engagements, making their jobs more interesting and satisfying. It’s a win for the staff and a win for the customer.

How technology impacts all professions

It’s a myth that automation only threatens blue-collar workers. The day-to-day of white-collar professions across all industries is constantly being altered by advances in technology.

Just look at the world of human resources. Many of these professionals no longer have to deal with annual leave request forms or manually enter sick leave details, so they are able to work towards making the HR function a vital strategic partner to the business. 

The same can be said of today’s accountant who can spend more time working on the business strategies of their clients rather than sifting through boxes of receipts and adding up figures with a calculator.

And the marketing department can now, in real time, see the effects of campaigns, measure them against past efforts, and split campaigns between various target markets to further test conversion rates.

Freeing up staff to better serve customers

Now that voice-activated virtual assistants are coming into people’s homes, with Google Home, and soon Apple’s HomePod and presumably Amazon's Alexa, what changes can we expect?

More labour will be removed from call centres, meaning that once voice assistants have become a part of the workflow, the business can strip out the low-value, repetitive work and direct their energies towards delivering better service to the customer. 

A client of ours uses voice technology to enable contact centre staff to provide more in-depth answers to customers. As opposed to the customer engaging directly with the voice-activated virtual assistant, the customer still speaks with a customer service agent. Then the agent is able to do their job more effectively and efficiently through the use of a virtual assistant as support. 

This means staff can focus on having a better quality conversation with the customer because they're freed from the requirement to know every detail about the business. They can focus all of their attention on the customer.

Working smarter, not harder

Professionals will always find ways to make voice technology work for them. I know of one busy journalist who has already bought himself a Google Home and uses it to check facts, convert currencies, or ask the thesaurus for word suggestions as he writes.

He said he doesn’t have to stop writing, open up a web browser, type in his question, or get distracted by his Facebook feed or emails. It becomes a process that takes less than two seconds and his workflow is not interrupted. It means he works faster and smarter, not harder.
At the other end of the scale, the Australian pharmacy group behind Chemist Warehouse and My Chemist is piloting voice technology with what they describe as a “Siri for business”. 
They have built their own voice software solution which they hope will replace manual scanning when unpacking boxes as part of a point-of-sale overhaul.
Already, the voice-activated system has meant a 30% increase in efficiency. But Chemist Warehouse wants to hit the 50% mark before rolling it out across its 400 retail outlets.

Taking the work out of work

Think of all of the little things that take time out of your busy day like picking up the phone and dialing a number, manually entering a reminder into your diary, searching for an address or a business’s opening hours, or scheduling a meeting. 

If you could eliminate those things, most of us would jump at it. That’s the attraction of the voice-activated virtual assistant: to negate these hassles and remove some of the friction from the working day.

There is also a fair amount of job creation thanks to voice technology. My own role as General Manager, Speech Solutions is a prime example of that. Such a title never existed before. 

As professionals constantly upskill and retrain, they find themselves moving into new fields. The new knowledge they gain, and the work they do with the assistance of new technologies, results in innovation, modernisation and an improved standard of living across the board. 

Find out more about Salmat’s speech solutions offering here or call us on 1300 725 628.

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About the author
Brett Feldon
GM - Speech Solutions

Brett Feldon is the General Manager at Salmat’s Speech Solutions business, which delivers tangible business benefit through the use of natural language, speech recognition and voice biometric technologies for customer service. He has a long history in understanding the challenges that underpin the delivery of customer service through contact centres, and the application of technology to improve that service delivery. In his roles across three countries he has had oversight of the delivery of customer service improvements with speech technology and related solutions across Australia, New Zealand, the UK and the US for both government and private sector users.

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