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Good news, bad news for speech technology enthusiasts in the workplace: The bad news is that the dream of having a voice assistant in every conference room and desk has not come true. The good news is that voice technology is still having an impact on businesses outside of the office.
Voice assistants have never caught on in the office. In 2017, Amazon announced Alexa for Business. In the official announcement, the company outlined use cases such as starting meetings in conference rooms or querying information in the office. Amazon didn’t publish detailed statistics on the launch of Alexa for Business, but not even Amazon partners got involved. WeWork paused its partnership and Acumatica’s Ajoy Krishnamoorthy said they had safety concerns. And that was all before offices were empty while workers stayed at home.
Voice technology has made its way into industries like agriculture, where companies like AgVoice, founded by farm owner and technologist Bruce Rasa, are using voice technology to improve data management. It claims to have a 50% increase in performance.
Voice assistants also make warehouse work more efficient. While voice picking has been around for decades, improvements in speech recognition and natural language understanding (NLU) technology have increased the effectiveness and recording of voice.
There is no greater adoption in retail than Wal-Mart, and it also brings a voice assistant to its stores through the Ask Sam Voice app. The app is a voice-controlled tool for employees that brings together information such as employee plans, warehouse information and even recipes. Wal-Mart says this keeps employees on the ground instead of having to find a computer to look up information.
So we see that there are areas where language technology has an impact, and we haven’t even touched hospitality or medical fields yet. But what about back in the company? In many ways, voice assistants didn’t revolutionize the company because there was a solution but not a problem. The dream of asking Alexa about sales numbers doesn’t make that much sense if you’ve had your CRM open in the browser on your laptop all day.
Still, voice technology still has a huge impact on the company, just not packaged as an assistant. Companies like Chorus.ai and Gong are using speech recognition and natural language understanding to give sales teams insights into their performance, with significant impact, including a $ 2.2 billion valuation for Gong.
Customer support is another area where language technology has an impact on business results. Google continues to invest in voice technology for contact centers through Dialogflow and its Contact Center AI. Its virtual agent technology is indeed an assistant of sorts, just a very limited area for customer support, helping customers solve their problems themselves and letting people handle the trickier queries.
In turn, while NLU and speech recognition technology became good enough to make intelligent assistants possible, these intelligent assistants and competition among companies like Google, Amazon, Microsoft, and Apple improved NLU, speech recognition, and semantic understanding technologies.
Technology that a few years ago was only available to machine learning companies with millions and billions of dollars is now available to anyone to integrate directly or through SaaS. While we don’t see voice assistants in conference rooms, we do see the impact they have had when new products that use NLU or speech recognition cut customer support costs, make farm work easier, or coach sales teams.
For most, integrating language and NLU is an iterative process. Customer support is often the best place to start, as businesses can likely see an instant cost reduction if customers can find their own answers to their questions without reaching a human. Another solid starting point is to implement sales tools like Chorus.ai or Gong that bring in more sales. Successful projects focus on those areas where Voice and NLU can improve existing processes in order to leverage early profits for further investments and expansion across the board.
Dustin Coates is Product and GTM Manager at Algolia, co-host of the VUX World podcast and author of voice applications for Alexa and Google Assistant.
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