Will Voice Take Over Chatbots for Customer Facing Applications?

Last week HDFC Ergo General Insurance Company introduced its AI enabled chatbot ‘DIA’ on Amazon’s voice platform, Alexa for customer assistance. The chatbot allows the company’s customers to easily access any information relating to their insurance policies and get all their insurance related queries answered simply with the use of voice commands. For example, customers can ask Alexa for the nearest network hospital, network garage or HDFC ERGO branches, how long it will take to process the claims, how to renew the policy, understand the products offered by HDFC Ergo, etc. They can even ask for a copy of their insurance policy, which the service will email to their registered email address.

Even as enterprises in India are still in the early stages of exploring text based chatbots use cases, Voice activated Virtual Assistants/bots have already started making their way. The reason is simple. There are some distinct advantages that voice bots have over text bots. The most significant being that voice communication comes most naturally to humans. Thus, having a voice interface enables a more intuitive and engaging experience. Add to this the fact that text takes more time and effort.

Also, with 39% of India’s online population using Digital Voice Assistant (DVA) devices by end of 2018 (2018 Digital Consumer Survey by Accenture), enterprises can’t afford to ignore where their customers are moving and how they prefer to communicate. Interestingly, the survey indicates that the penetration of DVA devices in India is higher than the United States, Brazil, China, Germany and the United Kingdom.

According to experts, what this means is that many organizations in India will likely leapfrog text chatbots and directly get on to the voice bots bandwagon in order to reach out to the customers where they are.

One of the early use cases finding applicability for these voice bots or virtual assistants is the customer service and support function, as seen with HDFC Ergo. Even before HDFC Ergo, Bajaj Allianz General Insurance was the first in the insurance industry to have its chatbot on Alexa. It’s AI chatbot ‘BOING’ offers 24/7 customer assistance and instantly responds to customer queries. As of now, BOING on Alexa addresses generic insurance related queries, but soon in the future it will also be able to respond to policy specific queries that require authentication of the policyholder.

Meanwhile, on the banking side, HDFC Bank started experimenting with Alexa in October last year to enable its customers to check balances, find out when bills are due, and even pay bills in the near future through simple voice commands. Today, the bank is working on both Alexa and Google Assistant to build assistants.

Besides BFSI, some of the early adopters of voice assistants in India are eCommerce companies. These include the likes of Goibibo, Ola, Freshmenu, Zomato and Ixigo. While Ola enables its customers to book rides and do more using their voice, Zomato users can as the voice assistant to recommend nearby restaurants to dine out, book a table or even place an order for home delivery using just their voice. On the other hand, Freshmenu enables customers to browse food categories and place delivery orders using voice command.

As advancements in the area of speech/voice recognition further refine the applicability of voice bots and create more sophisticated use cases, organizations will further gravitate towards voice bots.

The virtual voice assistants leading the charge today include Amazon’s Alexa, Google Assistant, Microsoft’s Cortana and Apple’s Siri. Among these Amazon has been making an aggressive push in the Indian market since it announced the expansion of the Alexa Skills Kit (ASK) and the Alexa Voice Service (AVS) in October last year, enabling developers around the world to build voice experiences for Alexa customers in India. Over 10,000 skills were available when the service was launched. For instance, HDFCErgo is one of these 10,000 skills available.

IBM too has made its foray into the market with the launch of Watson Assistant, which is being marketed as a ‘smart enterprise assistant that brings together artificial intelligence (AI), cloud and Internet of Things (IoT)’ that is customizable and secure.

The ability to localize will hold the key for the voice assistants trying to vie for a bigger pie of the growing Indian market.
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