written together with Carolyn Manion
The future of your successful business depends on its ability to keep up with the fast digitization that drives our younger generations forward. While robots, artificial intelligence, and big data are probably the first things that pop into our minds when we think of relevant innovations to incorporate into businesses , another major player that cannot be ignored is that of voice technology.
Who doesn’t have an smart assistant device of some kind in their house these days? One in six Americans alone own a voice-activated smart speaker, and that number is growing—the Echo Dot was Amazon’s best-selling product during the 2018 holiday season. Statistical estimates vary, but its likely that at least a third of adults use voice search on a regular basis, and even one billion voice searches were recorded in January 2018. The Google Home and Amazon Echo especially are increasingly accurate at understanding human commands, and becoming more and more popular. Voice search has become an integral part of the way users interact with the services they seek through technology—commerce, information, planning their personal lives. Allowing us freedom to multitask without conscious interaction with our technology will transform the way we give commands to our phones as well as streamline parts of our lives together in ways never seen before. Furthermore – in this will feel like new land for marketeers – voice can be analyzed to interpret people’s intent and behaviors. Some devices are already in the market to help brands tune into customers’ state of mind. For example Watson Tone Analyzer is used in call centers to measure the depth and range of emotions customers express. IBM’s AI can even analyze consumer reaction in retail locations.
The ubiquity of mobile devices and voice assistants shows that while voice and visual digital media are intertwined, the role of voice is experiencing significant growth. As our digital services start to act more and more like humans, their users will become more and more comfortable talking to them, integrating them into their lives, and seamlessly reaping the benefits of an experience which 41% of users already say feels like talking to a friend. As voice searches are generally longer than text inquiries, the stress of having the right keyword and shortening our thoughts is also eliminated.
While more and more e-commerce purchases can be made over voice devices, the process does not begin or end with the purchase. 40% of millennial shoppers have used voice-activated assistants to research products before purchasing. This research can occur on a voice-enabled computer, mobile phone, or smart speaker. In addition, with artificial intelligence, one can perform voice analytics and personalize the use experience—whether a speaker is angry, what they say, and what they are looking for can be used to tailor the experience—whether through product suggestions, customer service, and analyzing trends. Given how convenience influences the choices that younger generations make, an easy and positive voice interface may be a deciding factor leading to a purchase. A negative experience, on the other hand, could drive a consumer away for good—not a chance any competitive product should take. The way to draw in young shoppers is through engaging up-to-date processes. Voice technology will no doubt be an integral part of those processes—in retail and commerce especially, but also in how we interact with media, technology, and each other at large. The connected consumer is the shopper of the future, and our businesses must respond.
Digital assistants and chatbots are, in their own right, a vital part of the commerce and customer service world. But enabling such devices with voice capabilities—that may indeed be the future of how people interact with brands, services, and sellers. Voice tech minimizes the discomfort of interacting with a machine and brings back the human, almost empathetic side of interaction. Gen Z is fast proving that they are used to using their phones for social connections and their voice assistants for service. WhatsApp is even testing out voice clips to replace text status updates in some countries, in the wake of the increasing popularity of audio notes replacing traditional text messages. We are fast leaving the age of typing, and the tech users in the future may find keyboards a clunky relic of the past. Text may be dying out as the way we express ourselves to others, and this signals a major change for the digital future. Perhaps in a world where we can speak instead of staring at a screen, the dismal predictions of technology drawing us away from community will prove false.
TechCrunch advertises new voice restaurant assistant technology from Clinc as ‘next-generation.’ Forbes predicts a ‘voice search revolution’ given recent trends. If 20% of searches are conducted over voice technology today, only think how that number will continue to grow as more and more young, tech-savvy mobile users join the majority of today’s shoppers and buyers. We are moving past the novelty of a phone that speaks back to us into a world where nuanced, conversational voice assistants are not only the norm, but are an important sector to gain a competitive edge on the market.