Voice assistant use on the rise
Nov 12, 2020
7 MIN READ

How Voice Technology is Creating a Contactless World Post-Pandemic

Voice AI continues to make inroads into almost every area of our lives. From smart speakers and IoT devices in the home, to cars, mobile apps, call centers, and conference rooms, people are talking to devices and apps in much the same way they talk to each other—well almost. There remain significant discrepancies in the quality of voice experiences from one device or app to the next due to key differences in the technology used to build them. In some cases, people are getting amazingly accurate and speedy responses to their requests for information. In other cases, confusion over accented language, imprecise speech, background noise, and other voice recognition issues are causing a rift between voice assistants and their users.

While voice assistant usage has been on the rise since their inception, the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated adoption in many industries. A side effect of the pandemic has been the emergence of opportunities for brands to provide voice interfaces that deliver touchless transactions in response to a growing consumer demand for safety and hygiene.

The 2020 Adobe Voice Survey reported an overall increase in the usage of voice assistants, user confidence, and a growing demand for voice access in more devices, apps, and services. The report also found that consumers continue to be frustrated by voice assistants and experiences that don’t deliver accurate results. The key takeaway was that even with a certain level of frustration, the majority of users found that voice assistants make their lives more convenient, easier, and safer. 

Here are a few key takeaways from Adobe’s newest study to help guide the future of your voice-first strategy.

Voice Assistant Adoption Continues to Grow

Not surprisingly, 77% of respondents of the study plan to increase their use of voice technology in the next 12 months, and 57% are using voice commands for complex tasks at least once a week. As the technology continues to advance and natural language understanding becomes the industry norm, more and more voice assistants will get smarter, fueling the increase in use cases and adoption. As more people use voice for the first time, their continued usage is highly likely—assuming that the initial experience was positive.

Currently, the most popular use cases are tied to the most common contexts for voice interfaces: in cars, mobile apps, and smart speakers. Within those contexts, the use cases are fairly familiar to most of us. 

Top activities used with voice technology today include:

  • Playing music – 48%
  • Making a phone call – 48%
  • Navigation – 43%
  • Text messaging – 42%
  • Getting weather updates – 41%
  • General web searches – 40%

According to the survey, people who are already using voice assistants are now looking for assistants that can make other aspects of their lives easier, more convenient, and hands-free. Their preference for voice user interfaces are strong indicators that brands in certain industries, including travel and hospitality, banking and finance, retail, restaurants, and enterprise systems will either have a voice solution in the near future or lose customers to competitors that do.

The most desired voice applications include:

  • Getting travel directions – 39%
  • Reviewing bank balances – 37%
  • Updating work tasks and calendar events – 34%
  • Making payments – 33%
  • Making a restaurant reservation – 32%
  • Booking medical appointments – 29%

Voice Interactions Feel Safer in Today’s World

Another finding from the study revealed that voice assistants make people feel safer in a variety of contexts, not just driving—although driving is one of the major contexts for the safety benefits of hands-free convenience. In fact, 92% of respondents noted that voice technology makes them feel safer while driving. Focused on keeping their hands on the wheel and their eyes on the road, people have turned to in-car voice assistants to help them with tasks previously performed by typing and swiping on their smartphones, or by manipulating knobs and buttons on the car’s dashboard. 

In-car controls that are safer with voice:

  • Making calls – 66%
  • Controlling music or audio – 57%
  • Changing the navigation or GPS destination – 54%
  • Using cameras – 25%
  • Adjusting cruise control – 22%

92% of respondents noted that voice technology makes them feel safer while driving.

In 2020, The pandemic put a spotlight on our public interactions, including screen sharing. No longer comfortable with touching shared surfaces, people are seeking ways to retain the ease and convenience of automated interactions without sacrificing their health and safety. Voice-enabled devices, machinery, and kiosks enable hands-free interactions, while providing natural language interfaces that actually improve functionality and increase brand affinity.

Respondents identified four areas where businesses can use voice tech to make their lives more sanitary:

  • To open a door – 56%
  • To choose a floor in an elevator – 55%
  • To use a vending machine – 49%
  • To guide them at a crosswalk – 33%

Other recent reports have identified consumer demand for more voice user interfaces including one by Juniper Research, which predicted that the growth in voice shopping will grow faster than e-commerce between 2020 and 2024. Although payment security remains a challenge, the growing consumer demand for increased convenience and touchless interfaces has prompted advancements in both voice AI and payment security. 

Prior to the pandemic, MDR Group and Progressive Insights reported that 64% of Americans were interested in ordering food via a voice assistant. New concerns in 2020 have led to more people than ever before to seek touchless interactions, and the restaurant industry is pivoting quickly to respond.  For example, Mastercard recently announced its AI-Powered Drive Through solutions for restaurants, QSRs and retailers.

“As opposed to before, where your organization’s utilization of voice was a sort of insight into how innovative you were, now, it may be viewed as how mindful of your customer’s health and safety you are.”

Bradley Metrock, CEO, Score Publishing & Founder, VoiceFirst.FM

According to Frost & Sullivan, voice applications were among the 8 major trends for the global healthcare sector even before the pandemic. Now, healthcare is at the center of the voice AI conversation and the industry as a whole is looking for ways to increase health and safety for practitioners, hospitals, and patients alike. 

In a recent webinar, Bradley Metrock, CEO of Score Publishing and founder of VoiceFirst.FM, made an observation about how brands without a voice-first strategy will be viewed by customers in the future. He said, “As opposed to before, where your organization’s utilization of voice was a sort of insight into how innovative you were, now, it may be viewed as how mindful of your customer’s health and safety you are.”

Consumers want more voice-enabled apps and smart home devices

Voice users surveyed overwhelmingly want to see more voice-enabled mobile apps. Other desired integrations included smart home devices and multi-modal voice interfaces.

Breakdown of most wanted types of voice assistant integrations:

  • Voice assistants in more personal and productivity apps – 67%
  • Voice interfaces for more smart household devices – 34%
  • Adding a visual element along with voice – 33%
  • Voice assistants in wearable devices – 27%

Voice-enabling your mobile app is the lowest hanging fruit for any brand looking to join the voice-first era. The customer base and hardware already exist in an environment where users are using voice to access the functionality of their phones or other apps. According to a study by App Annie, the number of mobile app downloads was already projected to reach 258 billion by 2022 – a 45% increase over 5 years. App store consumer spending is projected to increase by a whopping 92% to $157 billion worldwide in that same time frame.

When asked what is causing the shift among consumers from touch to voice, Simon Sidhom, Sr. Manager of Software Engineering, Voice, SiriusXM and Pandora, said it was the convenience and speed afforded to users of voice user interfaces.

“I think it’s the ability to take a shortcut. With voice, you can skip a series of taps in the mobile app and get the results you want just by saying exactly what you want and get an immediate, accurate response. In many scenarios, like sitting in a car or while cooking, being able to get something done hands-free adds a layer of convenience and ease for consumers,” Simon stated.

In addition to remaining competitive, the benefits for brands of voice-enabling a mobile app include the ability to reduce navigational complexity, boost engagement, and improve convenience for users. Soon, the increased functionality and easier navigation afforded by a voice assistant will shift from a novelty to an expectation—just as a mobile usage has over the last decade. Increased use of mobile apps and voice assistants due to the worldwide pandemic is likely to accelerate the migration to voice-enabled services and products and create a competitive chasm between those that offer it and those that don’t. 

Inaccurate voice assistants cause frustration

More accuracy is one of the most requested improvements by users of voice assistants, and continues to be one of the greatest hurdles for brands. The survey found that 57% of respondents are looking for greater accuracy from their voice experiences. While adoption continues to surge, many users are feeling frustrated over the inability of some voice assistants to understand them and deliver accurate responses, creating the need to repeat queries and spend more time to get what they need.

According to the report, voice technology is accurate about 75% of the time. That means that one in four requests is met with friction and frustration. Early adopters may have expected a few bumps in the road, but users coming on at a time with voice assistants are populating every aspect of our lives won’t be as forgiving.

Voice technology is accurate about 75% of the time. That means that one in four requests is met with friction and frustration.

Increasingly, brands are discovering that creating a truly conversational voice assistant is a difficult undertaking that can’t be achieved by internal teams alone. Working with trusted voice AI platforms has become a popular choice for those companies seeking to create a custom, branded voice experience that allows them to retain their brand, data, and valuable customer relationships.

Boomers find most benefits and least satisfaction with voice 

Overall, 88% of users find voice assistants easy to use and 50% find them very easy. But, ease doesn’t always translate to satisfaction. While user satisfaction has only grown slightly from 28% in 2019 to 35% in 2020, the Boomer demographic group has stated that they are the least satisfied among all other groups with only 25% stating that they are very satisfied. 

Until all voice assistants deliver on their promise of providing a natural interface for products, apps, and services, we don’t expect the satisfaction levels to go up. The dissatisfaction among Boomers may be a wakeup call for brands to ensure future designs address the needs and desires of the earliest adopters of voice AI—older adults and children.

The Boomer demographic group has stated that they are the least satisfied among all other groups with only 25% stating that they are very satisfied.

The group that is the least satisfied with their voice experiences is the same group that identified the most benefits. In fact, Boomers are more likely to identify hands-free convenience, time savings, ease-of-use, freedom to multitasking, and always on service as benefits of voice technology than Millennials or Gen X. 

The study combined the 30-year range of the Baby Boomer generation into one category, and Heidi Culbertson, CEO of Marvee, cautions against making assumptions about older adults based on preconceived notions of their wants and needs.

“Regardless of age, activity level, or stage of life, all older adults do have similar priorities: physical health, cognitive health, and staying socially engaged. If voice can keep people moving, thinking and connected, it’s a wonderful thing! We’ll see improved quality of life and increased engagement—and resulting upticks in the business around us,” Heidi said.

Heidi also notes that the largest cache of disposable income lies with the Boomer generation and that voice designers are missing a large portion of their future consumers if they don’t adjust designs to align with these potential users and their needs and preferences.

No matter their demographic affiliation, all users were able to identify many benefits of voice user interfaces, including health and safety. 

Top benefits of voice assistants identified by users:

  • Hands-free – 63%
  • Convenient – 60%
  • Saves time – 52%
  • Easy to use – 51%
  • Freedom to Multitask – 50%
  • Always on – 35%
  • Sanitary – 31%

The study found that among all demographic groups, 88% of users find voice assistants easy to use and 50% find them very easy—once they know where to begin.

Onboarding and education –  Users don’t know where to begin

What can your voice assistant help them with? That is the question your users are asking. According to the study, an average of 63% of users sometimes don’t know where to begin, including those who use voice daily. The percentage is even higher among those who use voice less frequently—72% of infrequent users are confused about how to begin the conversation.

In our work with some of the world’s leading brands to implement a voice-first strategy, we have also identified discoverability as one of the three greatest challenges they face. In our recent strategy guide, over a dozen voice AI experts offered advice and best practices for companies working to roll out voice solutions that drive adoption, deliver a competitive advance, and grow market share.

With most voice assistants, an average of 63% of users sometimes don’t know where to begin.

One of those experts, James Poulter, CEO of Vixen Labs told us, “Many voice experiences fail at the first hurdle because they fail the ‘long menu’ problem. If you go to a restaurant and there are 100 things on the menu, it’s so much harder to choose what you want, than with a limited but carefully chosen list of options. Remember that users have chosen voice to get to the point, not be dragged through menus, drop downs, and filters of a website.

According to Adobe, “In comparison to Adobe’s 2019 results, users are embracing the technology in more ways for more contactless interactions—like shopping, ordering and banking—but are also exhibiting more confusion about how to use it. This year holds promise of continued innovation, more user adoption and more possibilities.” Read Adobe’s synopsis of the 2020 study here. 

Developers interested in exploring Houndify’s independent voice AI platform can visit Houndify.com to register for a free account, or talk to us about how we can help you bring your voice strategy to life.

Karen Scates is a storyteller with a passion for helping others through content. Argentine tango, good books and great wine round out Karen’s interests.

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