Voice Technology

What the Mass Adoption of Voice Technology Will Look Like

Tobias Dengel

The barriers to businesses adopting and deploying AI-powered voice technology are falling rapidly. Industries such as finance are already creating conversational AI experiences built on automatic speech recognition (ASR) and natural language processing (NLP). Customers can now have brief conversations with and give basic voice commands to their banking apps.

Examples like these may be fringe now, but they’ll soon be common — and smart business leaders know it. They want their businesses to be at the leading edge of voice technology now, so they’re poised to lead the competition for years to come.

The good news for these forward-thinking business leaders: We’re still early in the first wave of voice technology adoption. But with each successive wave, the impact of AI-enabled voice will be more powerful, pervasive, and transformative. That increases the urgency for businesses to integrate voice as soon as possible.  

Here’s a look at each wave and some examples of how each will impact three industries where voice is making major inroads: banks, restaurants, and hospitals. These inroads enable us to forecast with some clarity what each wave of adoption may look like.

Wave one of voice technology adoption: productivity gains through automation

Automation is the dominant force behind the first wave of voice adoption, driving efficiency gains by automating many of the slow, repetitive tasks in everyday communication. For instance, some businesses may discover an AI assistant can resolve 80% of their customer service requests. That could transform customer service departments from armies of agents to small tactical teams focused on complex, creative tasks. Here's how Wave One may play out.

Banks: 90 to 95% reduction in call costs

Smart in-app voice tools are already replacing the basic interactive voice response systems banks have long depended on. That’s a boon to banks, saving them an estimated 90 to 95% of their cost per call. At the same time, customer satisfaction improves as account holders get the help they need when and where they need it. Wave One will begin to free service personnel from handling basic inquiries to focus on more challenging services, from offering investment options to handling complex transactions.

Restaurants: voice automates ordering

Voice-based smartphone and computer apps, drive-through terminals, and delivery services will increasingly receive orders via voice technology. This removes friction for both restaurants and diners. Restaurant personnel handle fewer routine, non-creative tasks and shift to more challenging work that requires the human touch — greeting customers, handling special requests, and developing innovative menu options. Diners, on the other hand, will order a meal in less than 10 seconds rather than taking several minutes with a live server.

Hospitals: real-time data capture lowers costs 60 to 80%

Imagine talking to your doctor while a voice app captures, transcribes, and processes your conversation in real-time. The expanding use of voice-tech tools for tasks such as dictation and real-time data/order entry will begin making this patient experience a reality. At the same time, AI-powered voice will result in cost savings of 60 to 80% compared to traditional tools and practices. Moreover, real-time data capture within hospitals — from patients, nurses, therapists, doctors, and technicians — will make data more accurate and timely systemwide, improving the quality of care.

Wave two of voice technology adoption: business process redesign

In its second wave, voice technology adoption will spread to additional organizational processes, leading to the redesign of traditional business operations. Familiar elements of organizational structure may change their nature, shrink in importance, or disappear altogether. For example, voice-powered AI shopping assistants will increasingly guide consumers through complex decisions where they’d traditionally rely on an expert consultant, such as purchasing insurance. Here are more ways Wave Two may play out.

Banks: more customers, fewer branches

Voice will make banking accessible to all demographics, including less affluent individuals and those who live in poor communities, many of whom are currently among the unbanked. The long-sought vision of the “branchless bank” becomes a reality as physical branches are no longer needed for routine transactions. Instead, employees take seamless handoffs from the bank’s voice system to manage complex or unique problems and provide customized financial advice. As service options multiply, more consumers will flock to banks that offer the lowest fees and the best user experience, often driven by voice technology.

Restaurants: voice automates payments

Fast food, quick service restaurants (QSR), and casual-dining restaurant owners reimagine their businesses as voice technology will handle routine communication tasks, including ordering and payments. Employees focus more on preparing and delivering food to homes, pickup areas, and dining tables. As a result, restaurant owners will see significant cost savings and increased service speed. They can also redeploy personnel from routine tasks to more challenging services that demand people skills. Eventually, restaurant spaces enter a redesign to reflect the diminished importance of administrative processes.

Hospitals: lighter workloads, lower costs, fewer errors

Hospital processes and patient handoffs will happen much more smoothly as voice-based tools automatically capture data in real time, phasing out technology such as computer workstations on wheeled carts. As a result, hospital workloads, equipment costs, and error rates all decrease. Hospitals’ physical layout may also change to take advantage of these new efficiencies.

Wave three of voice technology adoption: business model transformation

In the third wave of voice technology adoption, voice becomes even more widely and deeply embedded in organizations, to the point some industries may find their business models radically altered. New ways of delivering value, new forms of competition, and new strategic challenges will emerge in many business arenas. Here's how Wave Three might impact our trio of industry landscapes.

Banks: apps replace branches

Traditional banks fade as a concept as the ease of voice-powered banking apps and digital tools make physical branches largely obsolete. Financial platforms focused on user experience — like today's Venmo and PayPal, but more versatile, efficient, and powerful — will offer a wide array of services, from direct deposit and account interest to voice payments and even customized investment advice, chatting virtually with human financial planners. As consumers increasingly question the value of traditional banks, teenagers start asking their parents questions like, “What is a savings account?” and “What is a check?”

Restaurants: new dining concepts emerge

The entire concept of a restaurant will morph into unfamiliar new forms. With voice-automated ordering and payments from end to end, restaurateurs can establish central kitchens in low-cost areas. There, they prepare food deliveries for homes, pickup locations, or communal dining areas serviced by multiple restaurants. An example: Uber founder Travis Kalanick’s CloudKitchens, which helps ghost kitchens launch in a month. With all its implications for restaurants and real estate, this business model transformation will be driven by voice technology and the improvements in efficiency and consumer satisfaction it makes possible.

Hospitals: voice tools diagnose illnesses, improve patient relationships

Traditional healthcare delivery will be reimagined. Voice-analysis tools will diagnose a range of common illnesses through interpreting voice biomarkers. With patient data entry automated and accelerated, real-time analysis of patient/caregiver interactions will generate care plans, monitor progress, and issue alerts. Some hospital functions will be replaced by services offered at home or in convalescent centers. Likewise, voice tools will continue making telemedicine increasingly accessible, efficient, and powerful.

How businesses should ride the wave of voice technology adoption

The adoption of voice technology will vary widely from one industry to another. At WillowTree, our work with a wide range of industries offers us a unique vantage point on how quickly each is changing. Financial services, food and hospitality, retail, and TMT (technology, media, and telecommunications) have made the deepest inroads so far.

No matter the industry, the roadmap to adopting and deploying conversational AI and voice technology looks broadly the same:

  • Identify your strongest use cases for voice technology
  • Create a list of “jobs to be done” for each voice use case
  • Study user interactions to design a voice system prototype
  • Define the language needed for each “job to be done”
  • Train, test, and improve the voice model accordingly before launch

And, of course, it’s essential to continuously improve after launch. The complexity of this work demands businesses know how to choose an AI consulting company. Ideally, you should partner with an AI firm with a strong track record of building voice applications and who understands how voice technology shapes your industry overall.

See how WillowTree can help your organization with our conversational AI and voice technology consulting.

To learn more about how voice technology and conversational AI will revolutionize life and business, check out the USA Today and Wall Street Journal bestseller The Sound of the Future: The Coming Age of Voice Technology by WillowTree President Tobias Dengel.

Tobias Dengel

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