Theatro’s Senior Speech Technologist, Jesse Montgomery, gives a podcast interview about the future of retail with MarketScale Retail, a B2B digital content publication. He discusses the common challenges facing those in the retail space, and how Theatro’s software and hardware are streamlining powerful & effective communication in the work place. You can listen to the podcast HERE or read a summary of the interview below.
Background on Jesse Montgomery, Theatro Senior Speech Scientist
First, a little background on Jesse Montgomery. Jesse is responsible for Theatro’s overall speech recognition strategy that drives Theatro’s virtual assistant that is revolutionizing how the 38 million hourly American service employees provide customer service. Prior to joining Theatro, Jesse was part of Convergys’ Professional Services organization, designing and tuning speech recognition applications across various industry verticals, including health care, telecommunications, utilities and banking/finance management. He holds an MA in Linguistics from the University of Pittsburgh.
The Podcast Begins with a High-Level Overview of Theatro
At Theatro we have developed a mobile communications platform that enables tens of thousands of hourly workers primarily in retail to be able to connect to each other as well as to headquarters and to vital enterprise systems. We do this through the power of our users’ voice. Our platform voice-driven, so our users wear a small wearable IoT computer that they control with their voice to communicate with each other and with enterprise systems. One thing that’s incredible to me, with a background in speech technology, is how speech technology as a core component of our communication platform is transforming the retail world. The retail industry faces a number of challenges some of them you may have driven by and seen empty parking lots at the mall or heard on the news how many stores are closing. There are external pressures that retailers are facing due to the increased presence and success of online retailers which is forcing brick and mortal retailers to adapt and change. For example, there is an increase in services like buy online and pick up in store or curbside pickup. What is less well known is the challenges that retailers face operationally within their own stores. In particular many stores have significant barriers to efficient targeted communication among their employees. They resort to very old technologies like walkie talkies or overhead paging so the employees have poor accessibility to their own enterprise systems. These are kind of crude communication technologies. So as a result, management often has poor visibility into their workforce and isn’t able to optimally mobilize their workforce. At Theatro we address all of these problems by a providing a communication platform that provides targeted communication between their employees. This includes real-time one-on-one conversations between employees as well as asynchronized communication like being able to leave message for an employee who is not available and will get the message the next time they log on. We also provide access to enterprise data such as product availability, pricing, etc all by using a intelligent assistant that resides within our wearable device.
The Rise of Ubiquitous voice
We have speech enabled devices all around us now, like Google’s Alexa, google home or Siri on our iPhone. Speech technology has become ubiquitous and part of our everyday life. Theatro is extending this technology to the hourly worker i.e. to retail environment where technology has bypassed or left hourly worker behind. It’s exciting to see speech technology penetrate into the retail market. When we introduce Theatro to a new store its quite easy for everyone to operate because everyone knows how to use their own voice to interact with technology. It’s literally the most intuitive user interface possible.
Installation and Integration
Our platform runs on a store’s wi-fi system, so the advantage is that to we don’t need an internet connection for our service to run. For example, google home works by communicating with the google cloud server which requires an internet connection. But for our solution, runs on an in-store server and wi-fi network. That means that even if a store has no internet access, there won’t be an issue.
Installation is quite simple. We configure the system based on the retailer’s requirements. And learning to use Theatro is simple. It usually only takes an associate about five minutes. We designed our voice-user interface to be intuitive so associates can master it in no time. We know technology training can be a burden on store managers so we created automated tool to provide the initial training to new employees as well as on-going training for existing employees.
We enable various kinds of communication, like real time conversations, asynchronized communications. It is different from walkie-talkie which causes lot or ear clutter as everyone needs to hear a message even if the message is not for them. But on our platform if you hear something in your ear its actually meant for you. Also, we have a group chat conversation. For example, at a hardware store; a customer comes in and asks an associate a question about plumbing. If the associate doesn’t know the answer they can speak into their Theatro communicator and say, “Connect me to the plumbing department” and the associate is instantly connected to everyone in the plumbing department. One of them acknowledges and can help them to answer the shopper’s question in nearly real-time.
We also have two other primary types of voice mobile applications that we deploy, and our users find great value in it. The first one is the “request and respond“ application. If you have long lines at the front of store, a cashier can press the button and ask for register backup assistance. It initiates a request for the other users who are qualified and able to help at the registers. If none respond, on a configurable basis like every ten-thirty seconds the system will ask again until someone acknowledges the request by saying “copy that”. Once the message is acknowledged by someone… say someone named Bob, the system acknowledges the requestor saying that “Bob is on his way to help” so the person who’s got a growing line at the register knows that help is coming. The system also says to Bob “Thank you for working on the request.” This is a kind of hybrid of human and computer interaction where a human is initiating the request and then the computers brokers everything that needs to happen from there.
Another application that is offered on our platform is the integration to customers back end or enterprise systems. Lot of retailers love the feature of looking up product information. With “Check inventory” the Theatro intelligent assistant comes back and says, “What’s the SKU number of the product you are looking for” and depending on the configuration that is set up various information is played back. This can be a great customer experience as they can answer the customer’s question without having them walk away from the customer to find a kiosk. You can see how it makes the employee more efficient at their responsibilities. It also translates into great customer service because those types of answers can be provided immediately, right in the middle of the aisle where the customer is asking them.
One of the biggest challenges today is that retail is a fast-paced environment and retailers store associates have a laundry list of tasks that they have to do every day. But many they don’t have the right tools to be efficient at their tasks. Daily tasks are posted on a bulletin board for those who aren’t at the morning “huddle.” Communication is haphazardly posted and may or may not be seen or read. But with our new technology, we provide a mobile voice app where an employee can be served a voice message in their ear with their list of tasks once they log onto the system. All these tasks can be automated and help to ensure consistency and clarity in communication. These are large scale challenges that retailers face. Some retailers have tried to solve these challenges with smart phones or tablets. But have found that their employees get distracted (or at least appear to their customers as such) as they look at the screens, so this leads to poor customer service. It’s practically impossible, from a financial perspective, as most retailers cannot afford to outfit each employee with a mobile device. Especially when so many break or walk away. Our solution is “heads-up and hands-free” and the hardware is free as part of our Software as a Service (SaaS) subscription. Its affordable and cost effective so that every single employee is connected to the network through their light weight Theatro communicator.
In the Future
I don’t see things slowing down at all from perspective of ubiquitous voice. We will continue to see voice-enabled applications further in cars and homes and with Theatro we’re bringing that ubiquitous aspect even to the store. We certainly see opportunities in other fields like hospitality and manufacturing industries who face similar fundamental communication challenges. Retail in particular has their work cut out for them. We’re trying to make their internal operations and communications be so much more efficient that there’s a much greater opportunity for retailers to not just survive but to thrive.
Thank you for listening today (or reading). We encourage you to reach out to a Theatro account rep to see an in-person demonstration of Theatro. With a growing number of customers, there’s sure to be a store near you that we can pop into with you so you can really see the phenomenal difference that Theatro makes to in-store operations. www.theatro.com/contact-us