Home / Technology / News /  Industry, govt step up voice-led services to engage with masses

Customer-facing businesses and government agencies have stepped up efforts to deploy voice-based services to save time, cost and to engage more proactively with the swathe of population living in smaller cities.

Walmart-owned e-commerce company Flipkart and telecom operator Bharti Airtel Ltd have recently deployed voice search option in English and Hindi on their apps. Likewise, Axis Bank has deployed an AI-powered multilingual voice bot, AXAA, at its contact centres. Developed by Bengaluru-based startup Vernacular.ai, the voice bot can be expanded to support over 10 Indian languages and over 160 dialects.

“Organizations have understood the importance of the next billion users who are coming online. These users form a large part of India’s population and are mostly non-English speakers who depend on voice," Vernacular.ai chief executive officer and co-founder Sourabh Gupta said, adding that voice bots took centre-stage after the coronavirus outbreak.

In the early months of the pandemic, several businesses in the banking, financial services and insurance (BFSI) sector reported a surge in call volumes as more customers tried to reach out to them to seek guidance. But most contact centres running on traditional systems were not prepared to deal with the sudden increase. “With the high volume of calls and repetitive calling, contact centres also found it difficult to direct the calls to the right agent," Gupta said.

For enterprises, voice services entail several benefits, like they can help cut costs by over 40-50%. “Conversational platforms can be used to cross-sell and upsell. They can be used to gauge consumer sentiment during the conversation," said Arup Roy, research vice president, Gartner, adding that this can enhance revenue, offer better analytics and serve customers well.

Industry experts said technological improvements mean people can do a lot more with voice commands with greater accuracy, and in a language of their choice.

“Earlier the technology was not mature enough to handle the complexities of voice interaction. Technologies which are coming now use radical new models which bring more efficiency in natural language conversations," said Roy.

That is further driving adoption among consumers: interactions with Amazon’s voice assistant Alexa have increased 67% in 2020 with non-metros now accounting for over 50% of all interactions.

“Covid has accelerated the notion of automation within business operations, which in a way is driving adoption of voice technology," Roy said.

In addition to the industry, the government is also finally realizing the importance of voice- based services. The ministry of electronics and information technology (MeitY) is working to deploy a voice-enabled chatbots for UMANG and other government services, and is looking for a partner agency from the field of deep learning, cognitive learning and machine learning.

Deploying voice-based services on citizen centric platforms makes it easier for the government to reach out to people who are visually challenged, less literate, or more comfortable with vernacular languages.


Abhijit Ahaskar

Abhijit writes on tech policy, gaming, security, AI, robotics, electronics and startups. He has been in the media industry for over 12 years.
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