AI-enabled VoIP assistants, also referred to as virtual assistants, are becoming more and more commonplace in telephony systems and contact centers. In this article, we examine the current trends and possibilities, as well as what can be expected in the very near future.
The Turing Test
The Turing Test is a test proposed by pioneering computer scientist Alan Turing in 1950 that evaluates a machine’s capability of exhibiting intelligent behavior that is indistinguishable from that of a human. The test is successfully passed if a computer is mistaken for a human more than 30% of the time during a series of five-minute, text-based keyboard conversations. The test was successfully passed on June 7, 2014, almost 65 years after it was proposed, by a computer program known as Eugene Goostman, which convinced 33% of the judges at the Royal Society in London that it was human.
Not all experts agree that the Eugene Goostman program did indeed pass the test. Regardless, the Turing Test is considered by many to be the holy grail of artificial intelligence (AI). The next great milestone is to apply the same testing concept to an AI system that uses natural language; that is, speech. However, AI is not limited to human interaction but has a much greater and broader field of application, including in VoIP telephone systems.
AI in telephony systems
In the past, we’ve examined how AI is affecting telephony systems and call center technology. That was just over a year ago, and many advancements have taken place since. You have likely already experienced AI technology in a call center, when calling your bank or your cellular telephony provider, where you are asked by an AI system to speak and describe what you require. The system deciphers your words and routes you to the appropriate calling queue.
The caller experience
Different telephony systems offer various levels of AI sophistication. Some actually tell you what to say for your options. For example, “For the accounting department, say ‘accounting.’ For sales, say ‘sales.’” Some more sophisticated systems will ask you to simply state what you want. For example, you may hear, “How can we help you today?” By stating what you want using spoken words, the assistant will either ask some more specific questions to identify where your call should be forwarded to, or it may connect you directly with the queue or service you require.
Some of the most sophisticated systems may ask you to say your telephone number or account number so that the human agent you eventually speak to will have your information appear on their computer screen for faster resolution and shorter call times.
Nevertheless, these systems have not been without their problems. How many times have you heard something to the effect of, “I’m sorry, but I didn’t understand what you said. Can you please repeat?” Over the past year, these problems have noticeably diminished but have not yet been completely resolved.
How it works
Virtual assistants can be implemented in various ways, depending on the vendor or service provider of the telephony system. Some on-premises telephony systems have a built-in feature that delivers a VoIP assistant. Such systems are typically less complex and non-upgradable, so the level of service and complexity that is initially offered is often maintained for the lifecycle of the telephony system itself.
An ever-increasing number of cloud-based phone service providers offer virtual assistants as one of many options and features that can be added to service bundles. Such solutions typically offer more sophisticated AIs that improve in performance over time.
Finally, many on-premises and cloud-based options allow you to integrate their services with APIs. APIs can be used to integrate third-party services and features, including VoIP assistants, either via locally installed systems or on the cloud.
What the future holds
AI is a fundamental component of VoIP assistants. As a technology, AI is progressing exponentially. Consequently, we will experience a great increase in the intelligence of virtual assistants, as well as in the complexity of interactions such systems will be able to achieve with humans.
There will come a time, not so far into the future, where we will not know if the call center agent we are talking to is human or is simply an amalgamation of AI and computer code that is simulating human intelligence.
Such advancements provide great benefits for enterprises around the world that depend on contact centers to support their customers and clients, as well as for callers who wish to have their issues dealt with in the most timely and efficient manner.
As AI-enabled VoIP assistants progress in their ability to intelligently route and serve callers, the user experience will continue to improve. At the same time, this service is becoming more accessible so that beyond large call centers, even small to medium-sized companies with heavy call volume can benefit from this technology.
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