Nearshore Americas

Will Chatbots Remove the Need for Accent Neutralization?

Amid the Covid-19 pandemic, customer experience leaders are trying to adapt – on the fly – to changes in customer behavior. On their radar for several years now have been chatbots – robots that imitate human conversations through voice commands, text chats or both.

Chatbots have emerged as a key player in this newly evolving era of customer experience. A host of new products have been rolled out in the past 24 months, while business leaders have been increasingly vocal about the AI-based machines that are helping them save money and increase sales.

Nearshore Americas has highlighted the role of the conversational designers tasked with training chatbots to communicate clearly. We have also shared a panel discussion from our Nexus event in which experts unpacked the challenges of implementing successful, intelligent chatbots.

According to the research firm Markets and Markets, the chatbot market size is expected to grow from US 2.6 billion in 2019 to US 9.4 billion by 2024, at a compound annual growth rate of 29.7 percent during the forecast period. Key growth drivers include technological advancements coupled with rising customer demand for self-service and 24/7 customer assistance at lower operational costs.

Self-learning chatbots will also deliver more human-like conversational experiences, while the rising use of chatbots in various industries and the increasing focus on customer engagement will create many more opportunities for vendors in the global market. Will this eliminate the need for accent neutralization programs in Nearshore business process outsourcing operations?

Ann Harts
Ann Harts, Executive Vice President of Site Selection and Incentives at ESRP Real Estate Services

Ann Harts, Executive Vice President of Site Selection and Incentives at ESRP Real Estate Services said that companies have depended on “very good, sustainable accent neutralization programs” within their sites.

“Even where the English level is very high… If you are [providing] Spanish support there needs to be accent neutralization for whatever country you are serving,” Harts said. “If you are serving clients in Mexico from Colombia or vice versa, you will need to ensure that you have consistent Spanish because the dialects are so different.”

Are Chatbots a Game Changer?

Industry experts say a rising number of clients want to add chatbots into their processes. The aim is to address the growing need for customer service as a result of the global pandemic.

The good news is innovation in the area is booming. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has partnered with Viber, a messaging service owned by the Japanese multinational Rakuten, to offer an interactive chatbot that provides accurate information about Covid-19 to people in multiple languages. The partnership with Rakuten Viber gives the WHO the potential to reach over a billion people in their local language directly through their mobile phones.

Google also recently announced that it was developing “the world’s most human-like chatbot ever.” The virtual assistant, named Meena, is an open-domain chatbot. Google says it was trained on about 40 billion words of real social media conversations.

The era of bumbling bots may soon be over. But could these advances mean a reduction in the need for accent neutralization programmes, which themselves address a major pain point for BPOs?

Not so, says one of the top experts in the field.

“Voice is not disappearing for BPOs,” said Sebastian Menutti, Industry Principal at Frost & Sullivan. “[Our] research shows that voice calls accounted for close to 80 percent of the interactions handled by BPOs in Latin America and the Caribbean in 2019.”

Sebastian Menutti, a Principal at Frost and Sullivan

“Although we have been seeing a decrease in the percentage of voice-based contacts (versus digital-based) during the last five years,” Menutti said, “this movement has been gradual… We may see an acceleration of this trend in 2020, due to many providers deflecting calls to asynchronous digital-based channels in response to the Covid-19 crisis.”

AI and chatbot technology has been improving, suggesting that one day they could fully replace or augment human communication. But the focus with chatbot augmentation must be on providing the most valuable customer experience.

AI-based machines are helping companies to increase sales. “Business leaders saved an average of US$300,000 in 2019 from their chatbots,” says Intercom, a messaging platform maker, in a recent report.

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However, another survey conducted by Yougov in the United Kingdom reported that 87 percent of consumers said they prefer humans for quick interactions. One quarter said they did not mind who they talk to as long as they achieve the desired outcome.

According to Yougov, more than 26 percent of respondents said the increased use of AI-driven customer experience tools would make interacting with companies “much worse” in resolving issues related to banking, insurance and utility services. Around 52 percent feared that AI would make their dealings with companies and brands more “impersonal.”

Although the use of chatbots and tech-based solutions is growing significantly in the Nearshore region, that does not signify that calls are being replaced.

“What it does mean is that the number of interactions between brands and consumers has increased, and that the most basic and transactional queries are being resolved by chatbots,” Menutti said. “So the phone calls are usually more complex and last longer. Therefore, customers are still engaging on phone calls with Nearshore agents and still appreciate the neutral accent.”

Avia Ustanny-Collinder

Avia Ustanny-Collinder is a senior editor at Nearshore Americas and an award-winning business journalist residing in St. Catherine, Jamaica.

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