I Can Talk to My Roomba, So Why Can’t I Talk to My Bank?

Most of you have probably heard of iRobot, the global consumer robot company. Last year, iRobot announced that it was enabling voice control for its connected Roomba vacuuming robots via Amazon Alexa. I stumbled on an article on this partnership again recently, and it got me thinking. If my Roomba and I can talk to each other about my needs, why is it so hard to do that with my bank?

Ever since Apple's Siri came on the scene, we've gotten used to the convenience of voice-controlled intelligent personal assistants. Our frenetic and hyper-connected lifestyle has met easy-to-love home platforms like Google Home, Apple HomePod, and the aforementioned Alexa. These systems make life easier, there's no doubt. But they've also set a high bar for automated customer service channels. When I can order a pizza without human interaction by just saying "Alexa, order pizza," why should I have to "press 1" to hear my bank balance?

With so much convenience-based technology at our fingertips, it's hard to go back to traditional IVR-based service calls. Personally, I get lost in complex menu trees. By the time all nine keypad options have been read, I've forgotten everything from five on. I also can't be bothered putting my phone down to press on keys.

So, I admit that I routinely skip IVRs and wait for a live agent. And I do this even though I realize that there's heavy price for this habit, and it's one that both my service providers and I pay.

The Price of Voice

According to IBM, companies spend more than $1.3 trillion worldwide to serve some 265 billion customer service calls each year. So it's no surprise that one of the biggest concerns in customer service is how to lower these expenses without negatively impacting customer satisfaction.

There are lots of technological solutions for doing this. Traditional IVR is a veteran solution. Chatbots, some powered by artificial intelligence, are another. Whatever the actual vehicle, the trend toward cost-effective, wait-free digital self-service is clear and gaining traction. Unfortunately, those of us who do prefer to use our voices are messing up the equation for call centers big time. We're causing longer wait times, higher call center costs, lower ROI on IVR systems, and overall lower satisfaction. It's just a fact.

The question then becomes what can businesses do about it?

Financial firms and other institutions can effectively ease customers into using existing digital self-service channels. Using the right combination of technology and psychology, businesses are encouraging users to self-provision, and they're succeeding. But these successes have not yet spread to the realm of voice.

Voice would remove the burden of navigation through confusingly hierarchical menus, without punishing those who want to type by making them wait for an hour. If someone is calling a bank, he should be able to say, "Check balance." If she's calling an insurance company, she should be able to say, "Check claim status," and the list goes on.

In the age of voice-driven digital assistants, I can talk to my air conditioner, my vacuum, and my car. Isn't it time for the major organizations to get into the voice game, too?

Ori Faran is founder and CEO of CallVU.

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Posted June 08, 2018