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Could Alexa Replace the Business Phone?

What happens when Amazon Alexa supports platforms like Microsoft Teams and Cisco Webex for calling?

Could Alexa Replace the Business Phone?

As I sit in my home office without internet, a working phone line or any 3G connectivity, this seems a strange article to write. However, it is a complete possibility that Alexa, or similar products from the likes of Google, Cisco or Microsoft, could replace the business phone.

Handsets on desks to softphone

There is a saying that I detest in this industry. “Voice is still king”. Voice is still king, the most used channel, because businesses are yet to offer a replacement medium that means you don’t need to call. If I could live chat everything I needed immediately, I would do so. That may be with a chatbot, or a human, or a mix of both. I can continue with other tasks whilst my questions get answered. Everyone is different, but my personal productivity levels rise when I’m not waiting on the phone.

Accepting that voice is still king, we must look at the fashion that is softphones. Users of a certain age won’t have ever dialled from a telephone keypad. If you’ve just finished university and take an office job, putting a Polycom or Cisco handset in front of that qualified, intelligent person will be a new device and interface to learn. Why would anybody opt to pay for that privilege when a softphone is available at a fraction of the price, on a device that the user is already used to?

Again, everyone is different and certain generations and personas will prefer or require a desk phone. The trend, albeit not complete, is leaning towards softphone adoption.

Could the softphone replace the traditional business phone (handset)? In time, I think yes it could. Is this why traditional vendors like Yealink and Snom are branching out into conferencing equipment and other devices? I’m not sure, but it must certainly form a small part of the strategy.

What will replace the softphone?

Working on the premise that the softphone is here to stay, let’s look to the future. The next generation of softphones is team messaging. My second softphone experience was the original version of BroadSoft UC-One. This provided me with calling functionality, instant messaging, presence and video calling if my device supported it.

Today, BroadSoft UC-One is a completely different animal with team messaging capabilities, meeting functionality and powerful insights. Even this is potentially being phased out in favour of Cisco Webex Teams – a complete collaboration platform. The demand on the technology we make a call on is more and more as technology advances.

Business productivity and efficiency

Every business wants to (or should want to) be as productive and efficient as possible. There are still some examples of businesses that suggest hard work trumps productivity, like an example cited by Tim Ferris in his book “The 4-Hour Work Week”. He recalls a situation where he was fired for being too productive:

“I’m hired for minimum wage as the cleaner at an ice cream parlour and quickly realise the big boss’ methods duplicate effort. I do it my way, finish in one hour instead of eight, and spend the rest of the time reading kung-fu magazines and practising karate kicks outside. I am fired in a record three days, left with the parting comment – Maybe someday you’ll understand the value of hard work – it still seems I don’t”.

As funny an anecdote as this is, you see the point. Business need to be productive. In 2019, I’d like to think that introducing a new technology is a great way to achieve this and widely accepted.

Amazon Alexa to replace the business phone

Understanding the demand and evolution of productivity tools, namely the telephone, is important when suggesting tools like Alexa could replace the business phone. With a cloud phone system, you can do a lot more than an on-premises PBX. But, let’s push the boundaries.

With Alexa, I can automate my grocery shopping, automate the music I listen to and find out the best time for me to leave the house without getting wet and make my train with time to buy a coffee.

Imagine the possibilities if Alexa was part of your phone system. Through artificial intelligence and actionable insights, your phone system could work wonders.

Vendors like Dialpad are already transforming the way call centre agents receive inbound calls with conversational AI. It only takes that logic and existing technology built into Alexa or Siri to reverse the process. There are a few scenarios that I foresee possible with minimal effort:

  • Voice activated calling “Alexa, call Patrick Watson on his mobile”.
  • Voice activated calling per app “Alexa, start a meeting with Ian Taylor via Microsoft Teams
  • Automatic meeting joining at the start of a meeting without the voice activation
  • Suggestions mid call or meeting for common tasks like call recording
  • Powerful people insights from other callers or meeting participants like LinkedIn bios or most recent tweets
  • Voice activated screening “Alexa, don’t accept any calls for the next hour unless it’s Rob Scott or my mum”
  • Intelligent screening where Alexa knows you need to focus on the task at hand because you always ignore calls when you are using a particular app

All the while, Alexa or whichever app or hardware is learning about your habits as a business user. And who’s to say these are drastically different to you as a consumer. Perhaps Alexa for Business and Alexa consumer become interoperable if you so wish.

Some of us are, and most of us should be, moving to a method of working that looks completely different to that of 20, 10 or even 2 years ago. Remote working, flexible working and just the way we do things in life has transformed the way we work.

Technology has been crucial to this. Alexa replacing the business phone could open the door so even more transformation. There will be caveats. Things like security and GDPR must be taken into consideration. Connectivity powering these solutions needs to be thoroughly assessed.

As I began with, as I sit in my home office without internet, a working phone line or any 3G connectivity, this still seems a strange article to write.

 

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