Gentlemen chatbots for B2B, ladies to the fore for online consumer services

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What do Eva, Ruhh, Anya, Keya, Disha and Sia have in common? If you thought they are just a group of young girls whose parents came up with fancy names, you aren't entirely wrong. They are all chatbots for Indian consumers across sectors like banking, insurance, pharma and even tourism. Indian companies aren’t far behind their global counterparts when it comes to introducing AI assistants and chatbots to ease customer service not very different from an Alexa or Siri.

It is interesting to note. however, that while companies christen their B2C technologies with female names, the story for B2B platforms is quite different. Barring Infosys’ NIA, most companies have very masculine names for their technology platforms, like IBM Watson, Salesforce Einstein, Wipro Holmes or even a TCS Ignio, which are largely AI- and analytics-based platforms that help businesses make better decisions.

“From voicemails to GPS directions to railway announcements to the busy messages on phone calls -- we’ve all heard a female voice for the automated messages. This also hints at how unconscious bias is leading this gender stereotype and influencing the market in general. Brands usually go with the habitual flow of human perceptions,” noted Sachin Jaiswal, CEO and co-founder of Niki.ai, a company that is behind a large number of chatbots in the Indian market today. 

He added that people are more likely to talk to bots that have a gender, as they yield some sense of familiarity and personalisation.

With automation, AI and intelligent platforms in B2B and B2C operations being the flavour of the year for companies, it is no wonder that everyone from financial services, pharma and tourism to e-commerce and manufacturing are all trying to invest into these digital technologies. On the consumer side, this investment usually translates into a chatbot that takes queries from users, offers them suggestions and new products, or takes feedback -- the kind of roles performed by call centre attendants, receptionists and help desk informants, all of which are roles traditionally allocated to women.

Note, that the frequency of adult female voice (90Hz average) is greater than that of a male (70Hz average). This larger frequency makes it easier to use synthesised voice in text-to-speech. Simply put, if a company has plans to convert its text-based chatbot to a voice-based one, a female voice will be more audible. However, the same requirement doesn’t seem to apply for enterprise technology platform, which is not always voice-based and which work with mission-critical data.

“If the bot cannot help the user with the issue at hand, the overall experience of the system will be rated low, irrespective of the avatar/persona of the bot. Personas are a basic novelty/hook when things are new - it helps with onboarding of users by giving them a sense of relatability by interacting with a human-like system, but (gender) has limited impact on long term adoption/utility,” said co-founder and COO, Light Information Systems, Sanjeev Nair. The company specializes in creating conversational chatbots for enterprises.\

 
He added that considering our natural instinct driven reactions to voice stimuli, the female voice is easier to engage with, comes across as more empathetic, giving a sense of being more likely to be of help.

Experts do however note, that it being a nascent market for tech assistants at present, it will take some time for consumers to lose their psychological notions of gender and this requirement for a gendered persona will disappear in time. That does not, however, explain why most enterprise platforms prefer to go for masculine names for their analytical and artificial intelligence platforms.

Chatbots for Indian consumers:

SBI SIA, ELA (credit card)
Kotak Mahindra Bank Keya
Lupin ANYA
Axis Bank Aha
HDFC Bank Eva
HDFC Ergo Dia
IRCTC Ask Disha
Source: Companies