Next-gen Interfaces to 'SPEAK' Like a Human

Next-gen Interfaces to 'SPEAK' Like a Human

Ramu M R, General Manager & Head - Web Technologies & Mobility, Happiest Minds Technologies

The always-connected user/customer today demands and expects personalized experiences and quick responses. Understanding what the customer wants and recognizing past behavior is critical to personalizing actions and experiences. To keep pace with the digital consumer and deliver a more individualized experience across channels, organizations are deploying intelligent conversational user interfaces. However, while conversational interfaces have opened-up a whole new world of possibilities, there is a lot of scope for improvements as they can self-learn only to an extent.

“Conversational platforms will drive a paradigm shift in which the burden of translating intent shifts from user to computer. These platforms will continue to evolve to even more complex actions. The challenge that conversational platforms face is that users must communicate in a very structured way, and this is often a frustrating experience. A primary differentiator among conversational platforms will be the robustness of their conversational models and the API and event models used to access, invoke and orchestrate third-party services to deliver complex outcomes” says Gartner.

The next-generation interfaces will be Smart, Personalized, Emotionally Intelligent, Aware of the Context and Knowledgeable (SPEAK) to interact with humans. They will be smart and will have the capability to deliver more personalized interactions, be aware of the context of the conversation and be knowledgeable about user habits/preferences to provide a good experience and overcome the need to communicate in a structured manner.

Smart Conversational User Interfaces: Engagement Personified
Human-Computer Interactions (HCI) technology is gaining popularity, and more & more organizations are investing heavily in enabling ‘human-like’ features in their user interfaces, both internal and external facing. The objective is to be relevant to the context and tackle challenges inherent to human interactions. The paradigm of Conversational User Interface is nothing but a platform/algorithm/computer program/touchpoint, which allows a user to have a conversation or interact with a computer/bot/technology. A conversational UI can be a chatbot or a voice-activated assistant, or it can be a hybrid interface.

Conversational Platforms are however not new. They have existed in different forms, the most common being Interactive Voice Response (IVR), which interacts with callers, collects information and connects them with the right person. From simple user-response platforms, interfaces have evolved and become smarter thanks to advancements in Artificial Intelligence (AI) & machine learning (ML) and are poised to become more powerful in future as technologies further mature. Interfaces today, be it chatbots, Apple’s Siri or Amazon’s Alexa, engage with customers in the context with a more personalized approach, thereby powering their voice. Interfaces today can analyze complicated requests and participate in real-time by providing quick and human-like responses. They are used to execute a variety of tasks and functions, ranging from answering customer queries and booking tickets online to being virtual assistants at home and outside. Companies across different sectors recognize the potential of smart conversational platforms that are context-aware to increase productivity and business efficiency, streamline operations, onboard new users, engage with employees, and attract and retain customers by creating active communication channels, within and outside the organization.

Personalized Conversation: The Objective
Conversational interfaces are convenient for several reasons. They remove time-lags as they are available when users want them, and they are appropriate for conversations when customers have to share personal information as there is no judgment from an interface. The interactions are frictionless, and issues are resolved without users having to talk to many people. Be it Alexa or Google Home – you can ask these virtual voice and home assistants to do a range of tasks for you. By listening to your voice/command, they can help you around the house, assist you in your shopping, give you restaurant recommendations, make calls on your behalf, answer your questions on current affairs and play your favorite music. The ability to have voice for technology platforms makes the experience more personalized/human and less mundane, especially when human brains are wired to interpret any natural speech as human. This in-turn elevates the audience/users in a far more acquainted context and enables them to connect with the technology platforms. Text-based bots can also carry-out a slew of tasks – Slack, for example, acts as a virtual office assistant and can help manage functions in the office, while Duolingo bots can teach real-life conversation skills.

However, conversational interfaces can do much more than enhance customer experience. They are being used across sectors like e-Commerce, healthcare, banking, and fintech to resolve issues, automate mundane tasks and save on hiring costs, do online marketing, optimize operational efficiency, start projects, boost sales and make profits. Organizations are exploring ways to make internal processes more efficient and streamlined by using conversational interfaces.

As systems mature, it is expected that conversational interfaces will gain intelligence about a context or scenario of an interaction and learn to SPEAK effectively, thereby engaging the customer

As response time is critical, organizations are redefining their digital user experience to ensure that they are connected with their customers 24/7 across all platforms by deploying smart conversational interfaces. While one Gartner report predicts that, “25 percent of customer service and support operations will integrate virtual customer assistant (VCA) or chatbot technology across engagement channels by 2020,” another Gartner report forecasts that, “by 2020, customers will manage 85 percent of their relationship with the enterprise without interacting with a human”.

Being Emotional & Context-Aware are Key
According to the tech giants, conversational interfaces are getting smarter and can also be customized. While AI is making this possible; natural language processing (NLP) is the key to creating an intelligent conversational UI. NLP applies techniques to analyze natural languages and helps interfaces respond to your queries. As the use of conversational platforms become more widespread, organizations will need to tap into NLP to make their interfaces more intelligent and intuitive. Currently, every interface has to be taught how to respond. Algorithms are written, which makes them work. Interfaces cannot understand positive or negative cues or the context of the conversation. The next-generation conversational interfaces will be adapted to even do an emotional analysis of the discussion and respond to the same conversation in a different emotional context, differently.

Comprehending context is important and the ability of interfaces to learn from user preferences and develop a relationship with the customer will be a crucial differentiator in the future. Self-learning will be a key. Every interaction is feedback and an intelligent interface must be able to understand a conversation, give a contextual reference just like humans do, learn from it and use it to personalize its services. NLP will also help businesses leverage the data generated from responses and interactions by capturing new trends and creating actionable insights. Such insights will enable companies to modify or reorient their strategy to suit customer preferences.

Future Interfaces Must be Knowledgeable & Intelligent
The expectation is that the next-generation interfaces will do much more than what they are capable of doing today. Since the idea behind a conversational interface is facilitating interactions that are human-like, the reactions will have to be more than just words or texts and become more knowledgeable based on reasoning, emotional tone and facial expressions. All these future interfaces are going to be powered by insights generated out of the content (audio, video, text) and data (structured and unstructured) accumulated over the years and which is getting added every day in huge volumes. This will make them aware of the history and they will be empowered with analysis to predict the future while being in the context of the present.

“By 2022, 70 percent of enterprises will be experimenting with immersive technologies for consumer and enterprise use, and 25 percent will have deployed to production. The future of conversational platforms, which range from virtual personal assistants to chatbots, will incorporate expanded sensory channels that will allow the platform to detect emotions based on facial expressions, and they will become more conversational in interactions,” says Gartner. Based on the goals and strategy, organizations will evaluate how they take advantage of conversational interfaces and accordingly develop smarter and more knowledgeable platforms that can make them stand-out, among the competition. As systems mature, it is expected that conversational interfaces will gain intelligence about a context or scenario of an interaction and learn to SPEAK effectively, thereby engaging the customer. These next-generation conversational interfaces will recognize speech patterns, analyze user requirements, emotions and tailor their actions/responses accordingly. This will enable machines to SPEAK to humans effectively and allow humans to transition some of the mundane activities to machines and focus on doing things that are more meaningful and productive.

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