Relative to past emergency responses, the novel coronavirus is uniquely challenging because of its extended duration, universal impact, daily situation changes, and an unprecedented range of responses including mass closings, social isolation, and quarantine. While COVID-19 is a global pandemic, its impact and associated response is localized. City, county, and state governments, school districts, and universities are all key sources for disseminating critical information via the web, social media, email/text broadcasts, and phone hotlines.
The nature of the epidemic underscores renewed importance of hotlines. Those at highest risk – the 60+ age group – often prefer the telephone over online resources. Hotlines are universally accessible, hands-free, and more secure because they’re less susceptible to misdirection and misinformation scams than emails and texts. However, traditional hotlines using touch-tone or speech-driven IVR, static recorded messages, and/or live agents, all have serious limitations:
- Often slow to deploy
- High maintenance
- Time consuming to update so they’re hard to keep current
- Capacity constrained by traditional phone lines and number of human agents
- Are limited to voice (no texting)
These are particularly limiting for COVID-19 response which entails a broad range of content, frequent updates, and unpredictable volumes with a potential of a massive surge.
Conversational AI addresses each of these challenges.
As the name implies, conversational AI enables humans and computers to converse naturally via chat, text, or—with the most advanced systems—voice. Think Alexa and Siri taken to the next level, carrying on conversations as a live agent would.
Vocinity’s conversational AI platform is a voice-first implementation, mimicking a live human agent, via telephone, mobile app, connected car, or smart speaker. Unlike chatbots, Vocinity’s natural language understanding (NLU) engine unifies voice and text. So,rather than using different tools or different training sets for voice, web chat, and text message, a single Vocinity implementation handles them all. Vocinity agents can also seamlessly support multiple languages seamlessly.
While more capable than legacy systems, Vocinity agents are far easier to deploy—in hours—via simple online interface with real time results. Further, no technical expertise is required to keep them continually up-to-date.
COVID-related use cases include:
- Diagnostic Assistance – In over 2 million phone calls, Vocinity conversational agents have delivered results on par with human agents with better surge capacity, more consistent data capture, and lower cost. Conversational agents are well suited for triage type services—especially voice-based ones which are more accessible and easier to use than text-based systems. Like human agents, Vocinity agents can interact via voice, chat and messaging with the same underlying training.
- Information Services– The breadth of information—such as cancellations, changing travel restrictions, and frequent outbreak updates—makes conversational agents especially well suited for COVID response. Callers get information more quickly, and with less frustration, than traditional hotlines. Further, Vocinity conversational agents integrate with mobile apps, consumer digital assistants, and messaging apps – delivering the best aspects of voice and visual interface. In addition, for the first time, hotlines can handle text inquiries as well as phone calls.
- Call Deflection– COVID-related workplace closures impact call center staffing. This impairs service levels even with typical call volume, with very severe impact as call volumes rise due to COVID. Vocinity conversational agents deflect more calls than traditional IVRs, with easier update and greater flexibility.
- Virtual Receptionist– for ad-hoc groups such as a field hospital, a Vocinity agent can act as a receptionist as capable as an operator. No frustrating touch tones, easy conversational problem resolution (was that Dr. Smith or Colonel Smith?), no alphabetical limitations, and seamless integration of information hotline call routing without limitations.