Can Alexa Skills Extend Your IVR?

March 13th, 2018

“Hey, Siri…”

“Hey, Google…”

“Alexa…”

Each day, millions of people recite these incantations to summon the virtual assistant on their phones, smart speakers, and televisions.

“Set a timer for 20 minutes.”

“Play the latest episode of This is Us.”

“Did the Yankees lose last night?”

“Dim the lights in the family room.”

Our networks are registering an uptick in these oddly phrased commands and requests for information, and, slowly but surely, we are becoming increasingly comfortable issuing them.

At this technological stage, we are like parents who deceive themselves into thinking they are still more intelligent than their children. When Siri produces driving directions that point you toward a Thelma and Louise cliff or Alexa overhears a conversation on television and proactively orders a dollhouse, it becomes fodder for the break room, as we wonder if these small wonders will ever mature into a state of dependability.

Each time we use them, regardless of whether they hear us correctly or accurately interpret our meaning, they get fractionally smarter. Bit by byte. As their natural language processing abilities become more linguistically sophisticated and their artificial intelligence seems less and less artificial, their skills seem less like a parlor trick and more like the work of a virtual assistant. And who among us couldn’t benefit from the help of a reliable assistant?

The Skills to Pay the Bills

Since Amazon has amassed a commanding chunk of market share within the world of voice-driven smart speakers (estimates range from 75% to over 80%, compared to 15-20% for Google), it makes sense to understand the lingo they use. To begin with, we need to understand what a “skill” is.

While software developers create apps for iOS and Android, voice developers create skills for Alexa.

Moreover, like a software developers kit, Amazon allows developers to code and publish skills for Alexa using the Alexa Skills Kit. In the same way that the success of the iPhone had much more to do with introducing the App Store than its ability to make phone calls, the surge in skills has helped drive the growing ubiquity of the Echo and the Echo Dot in American homes. (The low price point, Amazon’s insistent marketing machine, and the multiple microphones that make these devices so attentive certainly didn’t hurt either.)

There are currently over 30,000 skills in the Alexa Skills store, which are available through the Alexa app. While some users only ask Alexa to set timers or provide a weather report, the depth and range of skills being released show how much potential the VUI (or voice-user interface) has, ranging from playing Jeopardy with Alex Trebek to queuing up soundscapes to help you sleep.

It’s clear why these have become such fashionable accouterments in the kitchen and the nightstand. But, for SMBs, the question is whether this technology can make the leap from the home into the office.

Alexa, Extend My IVR

While most SMBs and call centers may have little use for a device that can produce thunderstorm sounds at the drop of a hat, they do see the value of using these devices to reduce the friction of our daily work lives. We regularly encounter situations where minutes are lost and/or wasted because someone can’t get the technology right. And each delay has a cascading effect on the days of everyone involved.

But if you focus entirely on what an Alexa skill could do to improve your bottom line from an operational standpoint, you’re going to miss the more important shift happening at the customer level. When companies first started rolling out IVR systems, they often presented it from a defensive crouch, believing that customers were going to complain about having to talk to a soulless robot. And to a certain extent, their concerns were warranted, since the technology was inconsistent, and the customer experience varied widely. A great IVR experience with Charles Schwab could be erased by a terrible experience with United Airlines. There was no trust.

The proliferation of these voice-driven devices shows that customer tastes are changing, due chiefly to the increasing reliability of the technology and the fact that the technology is helping solve customer problems. The rapid maturation and mass acceptance of “the lady in the tube” has come with a growing preference for an interactive voice response, especially for simple and straightforward requests, like:

  • What is today’s forecast?
  • What is my current checking account balance?
  • Pay the gas bill.
Alexa offers new routes for customer interaction. Businesses are creating Alexa skills that let customers check accounts, make payments, and obtain basic information from their device—similar to how they can use your 800# and IVR. (See business and finance category.) It’s a win-win for call centers and customers since they can seamlessly get the answers they’re looking for, while agents are freed up to tackle the thornier problems that can’t be solved by selecting options from a menu. The next step is “Alexa, call Company Y” to connect the VUI with the IVR and your customers with your agents.

Here at Voxtelesys, we’re excited to work with our new virtual assistant overlords. While many of the skills that are offered within the telecom space are still rudimentary (playing back and responding to voicemails, sending and checking SMS messages, and placing outbound calls), the Vox DevGroup sees unlimited potential within the IVR Voice Experience space. If this is an area that you’re beginning to explore, reach out so we can help you take the next steps in your IVR voice applications.

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Can Alexa Skills Extend Your IVR?