Voice technology has made great leaps in the past few years. Speech recognition error rates are approaching human levels, and machine learning continues to improve the ability to understand the nuances of natural language such as meaning or intent. Last year, 20% of Google’s mobile search queries were voice queries. While Apple, Google, Microsoft and Amazon dominate with widely used assistant, Facebook and Samsung as well as a handful of other brands are exploring how to incorporate voice into their customer experience.
Voice represents a logical next step in the evolution of how we interact with information. It’s more natural than using a touchpad or keyboard, takes less brain power, and creates even more opportunity for tech to move further into the background where it doesn’t require precious attention. And it’s quickly getting to a place where it will deliver what consumers want most from it: A fully integrated experience that connects their platforms and devices with a layer of context and a smarter assistant that incorporates preferences and behaviors to get predictive.
The broadest application for voice tech with consumers will continue to be realized through digital assistants, primarily through smartphones and home devices. The more a voice assistant can connect with the user’s personal data, the better it will be at layering personal context and making recommendations. According to a report compiled by JWT 60% of smartphone users agree that “if voice assistants could understand me properly and speak back to me as well as a human can, I’d use them all the time.”
But traditional SEO approaches will need to be changed. We neither want to hear 10+ answers to our question, nor would we be too keen on having a sponsored answer precede the answer we really want. One idea posited by JWT suggests an affiliate model might be viable wherein brands pay to be accessible to voice assistants. Another possibility is developing algorithms that understand the decision criteria used by voice assistants, but they may include social data like endorsements, ratings, reviews in how they determine results.
As we saw at CES and SXSW this year, it seems Amazon is licensing Alexa into everything from speakers to toys. As voice-tech becomes more pervasive, it will also grow in demand. All brands should be constantly evaluating ways to remove friction (or adding smart friction) from their customer experience. There may be several touchpoints where voice could be useful.
Retail and hospitality brands might look for ways to incorporate Alexa into physical spaces like lobbies or dressing rooms where customers may have focused needs. Brands with more specific requirements might look at developing their own custom voice solution. A fast food restaurant chain may improve drive-thru accuracy and ordering by using voice-tech customized to the way their customers talk, and in the process harvest heaps of raw data for analysis.
Incorporating more voice as a workable interface will be a profound change for consumers and brands, but privacy will continue to be a major concern in this space. Sensational news stories about digital assistants recording and storing everything they “hear” contributes to already heightened fears and mistrust. A large privacy scandal with one of the tech giants could render a major setback.
While this continues to mature, brands should be mindful to think human first. Most importantly, the application of technology should make lives easier and give us back time. Joseph Evans, senior research analyst at Enders Analysis assures, “Web browsing isn’t going to go away, apps aren’t going to go away, … video on demand isn’t going to go away, … but voice interactions will be one channel. A lot of this stuff will move to being called up by voice.” Which leads us to yet another question marketers must answer…how will your brand tap into this?
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