Voice-enabled interfaces are here to stay. No longer a future-cast about where technology is driving user experiences, voice assistants are being integrated into all types of products in all industries around the globe. From cars, to cruise ship cabins and hotel rooms, to doctors' offices, voice assistants can be found in multiple places.
By 2022, the amount of voice commerce sales is going to grow to as much as $5 billion in the UK and a whopping $40 billion in the U.S. While these numbers represent the growth of commerce through voice AI, the opportunities for revenue are already being realized by many of the larger voice assistant providers.
Companies have responded to this new trend in a variety of ways, including immediately implementing voice into their products by either integrating third-party voice assistants or partnering with a customized voice AI provider.
In spite of the predictions about the future of voice assistants, many companies continue to approach the technology with caution. For organizations still in the exploration phase, one of the greatest challenges to moving ahead is likely choosing between developing and implementing a custom voice assistant versus installing a third-party “free” application. The key here is to reframe the conversation from a price comparison to a discussion about the value of customer connections, market data, customer information, and future-proofing your products.
When approaching the C-suite and key stakeholders about the viability of adopting voice AI into your products, begin with a discussion about the available options. Start your conversations around the definition of “free” and the actual costs of integrating third-party voice assistants into your products or devices. When examined more closely, the price you pay for implementing a free solution may be too high.
Monetizing your brand’s investment in voice may come down to more than realizing an immediate return through increased product sales in the first quarter—although that could be one of the benefits. ROI may be more about remaining viable for the next 5-10 years.
Just as the rapid rise in mobile adoption once created a chasm between brands—those who adopted the format to meet their customers in their own space versus those who waited for prospects to come to them—so will voice AI divide brands into those who provide the user experience their customers expect, and those who ask their customers to continue old ways of interacting.
According to Dave Kemp, creator and publisher, FuturEar, “Brands should take a long-term view when it comes to extending their brand into voice and creating voice experiences that offer more conversational aspects to their offering. Just as some companies may have been resistant to migrate their service to the internet and a website of their own in the 1990’s, it eventually became a no-brainer and table-stakes for any company. Today, we’re seeing a similar reaction to voice and over time, as customers increasingly move toward ambient computing and voice-based applications, it will be considered a best practice by companies to exist in a conversational, voice-based setting.”
Remaining relevant in a landscape defined by the user experience requires that company leaders look closely at the technologies and product enhancements that are most likely to future-proof the company and its offerings. If the predictions are to be heeded, voice interfaces will be the expected mode of human-to-technology interactions in the very near future. Companies and products that don’t offer a seamless hands-free experience will be overlooked in the market in favor of similar products that do.
No longer a technology of the future, voice assistants are making inroads into every aspect of people’s lives, and eMarketer forecasts that nearly 100 million smartphone users will be using voice assistants in 2020. As the capabilities of voice user interfaces develop and consumers become more comfortable with using the technology for themselves, so do the possibilities of improving virtually every user experience—from shopping to commuting.
What’s more, quickly advancing machine learning will make interacting with these interfaces more personalized, offering more relevant answers to common questions as well as curated choices for music, recipes, and any kind of content you care to name.
However, the voice assistants that will succeed will need more than speech recognition and user accounts. They will need to be backed up by a new kind of voice intelligence capable of navigating real-world situations. In the future, brands will differentiate themselves from their competitors based on the efficacy of their voice assistants. A new standard will emerge that requires voice assistants to be able to parse the complex, moving soundscapes of the real world and track their target speakers. In certain applications, these voice interfaces must also discern whether the speaker is authorized to make purchases and accept or reject purchase commands appropriately.
Consumers are moving in the direction of hands-free interactions. Brands that haven’t already put a voice-first strategy in motion risk being left behind. According to a study from Pew Research Center, 46% of U.S. adults say they use some type of voice technology to interact with devices and that percentage is only going to grow. How will your brand measure up against the competition in a world filled with voice assistants who make conversation the new way of interacting with technology?
Voice interfaces are changing the way people think of—and feel about—the products and devices they use. The implementation of voice has humanized the machine interface and deepened people’s connections to the devices and brands they represent. Complex speech is the most human of all characteristics—the one characteristic that isn’t found in any other living thing on the planet.
As our machines begin to interact with us at this very human level, we have begun to attach human characteristics and personalities to the products we use. This level of personalization through voice opens the door for companies to create a deeper connection with customers previously unattainable with keyboard or touch screen inputs.
Already, top brands across a variety of industries are delivering on their brand promise by creating greater convenience, delivering better service, and showcasing products and features. In these organizations, branding is not limited to marketing. In fact, branding is part of everything they do.
Organizations in these markets are augmenting product experiences and removing friction from the buying process, while providing greater convenience and delivering immersive experiences that delight and engage audiences.
A voice skill shouldn’t just replace a mouse click. In a market that demands individuality and differentiated experiences, brands will need to seek out the unique use cases for their products and focus on delivering functionality not available through a third party or by the competition.
Brandon Kaplan, founder and CEO of Skilled Creative explains how his agency helps brands find their voice, “One of the first exercises that we run with clients is what we call ‘park bench workshop’. Imagine that your brand is sitting on a park bench, and one of your consumers sits down next to you. What conversation would your brand have with that customer—who is likely a stranger—that would result in them wanting to meet you again for a quick chat? You aren’t likely to turn and yell a purchase offer at them in real life. Find that conversation starter, and you may have the beginnings of a great voice experience.”
If the goal of a voice-first strategy is to monetize on the voice investment, your customers must come to regard your product as necessary in their lives. In this scenario, everything about your user experience keeps your customers coming back to buy your products, recommend them to friends, and look for ways to add more of your offerings to their collection. When your customers come to you to solve their needs, wants, and desires, and then speak highly of you on review sites, surveys, and social media, you’ve already started monetizing on voice.
According to research firm, McKinsey, “Personalization, fully implemented, can unlock significant near-term value for businesses—such as 10 to 20 percent more efficient marketing and greater cost savings and a 10 to 30 percent uplift in revenue and retention.”
To reach this level of loyalty, connection and referral—and the ultimate goal of monetization—companies are creating customer journeys that begin with a single voice interaction and extend into other aspects of the customer/brand relationship.
For example, in the hospitality industry, booking information can be seamlessly added to guests' calendars and information about additional amenities can be delivered via the hotel or cruise line app or via email. Repeat guests can be greeted in their individual rooms by a voice assistant that has already set the temperature and lighting to the their regular settings along with amenities like extra towels or other preferences recorded from previous stays.
Using voice assistants to deliver customer service is a large area of growth for voice AI. In this use case, companies are able to deliver instant answers and immediate access to information and resources that help customers continue to interact with their products without interruption.
This area of voice AI is growing so quickly that Gartner predicts 25% of all customer service and support operations will use some version of voice-recognition technology by 2020. That’s an increase of 23% in just two years. Predictions for the massive growth in the use of voice assistants is mirrored by MarketWatch. There, experts believe the global voice recognition market will top $31 billion by 2025.
Mapping your customer journey through voice may include gamifying your product experiences, or immersive product experiences, and even enhanced accessibility. Depending on your product offering, designing for things like physical impairment may expand your loyal customer base to include individuals who may not have been able to use your product in the past—allowing you to capture a market not available to your competition.
Whether or not you create a meaningful and helpful journey for your users through expanded functionality will greatly depend on how well you know your audience and how much you can continue to learn about them through responsible data collection.
Collecting and actioning customer feedback can be a powerful ROI tool for your company. Connecting with customers at every phase of their journeys with your product or device will provide the actionable data required to improve their experiences, thereby increasing customer loyalty and market share. Most companies already understand the value of collecting customer sentiment and have established Voice of the Customer (VoC) roles within existing marketing teams.
By their very nature, Voice of the Customer (VoC) programs create dialogues between a company and its most important audience—existing customers. Common goals for these programs include: improving customer experiences, informing product development, and creating brand evangelists.
In pursuit of these goals, VoC groups routinely conduct surveys and engage in one-on-one interviews with customers hoping to uncover both points of customer satisfaction and areas where the company can improve.
Despite these lofty goals, turning VoC data into action has been a challenge for many companies. Because the data is often collected in one-on-one interviews—or through limited response surveys—companies have difficulty organizing the data into patterns and reportable statistics. One major roadblock of actioning the mostly qualitative data is the limited number of responses collected by VoC surveys and interviews—often representing only a small fraction of the company's customers.. In addition, survey respondents are often either those already engaged with the brand or, occasionally, a particularly disgruntled customer.
The addition of a customized voice assistant to your product or device solves many of the challenges associated with hearing the collective voice of all your customers at every stage of their journeys with your brand. When you own your voice interface and the resulting data, you’ll begin to see the ROI of the true voice of the customer. Data collection and aggregation become simpler, and the ability to take action on customer sentiment and experience becomes a reality.
Before you begin gathering data through your voice assistant, set a goal for data collection and focus on assembling the data required to meet your goals.
Voice AI is changing the way we think about the Voice of the Customer. No longer siloed to just our good customer connections, we can now begin to expand our influence and really listen to what our customers are saying.
If your organization is looking beyond the monetization associated with increased market share, improved customer retention, and an enriched brand image, there are other ways to generate revenue with your voice assistant.
Despite the fine line between privacy and monetizing data collection, big players in the voice assistant market are serving up opportunities to reorder products and buy advanced functionalities, such as games, music, weather, and sporting event updates through their in-home devices. In addition, car companies are partnering with gas station franchises and restaurant chains to feature those destinations in their in-car voice experiences.
For individual organizations, establishing partnerships with products and services complementary to your own may serve to increase your bottom line through direct monetization of your voice assistant. In some cases, partnerships can help to broaden the usefulness of your voice experiences—providing your customers with the convenience of discovering services or functions closely associated and in context with how they are already using your products or devices.
The real world is a complicated place, and partnerships and opportunities for direct monetization must be carefully weighed against the possibility of damaging the primary customer relationship.
An area of voice AI monetization that is currently being explored is voice-related advertising. Although it doesn't exist on a large scale, yet, some apps are beginning to experiment with paid opportunities. According to a recent study by Adobe, 38% of consumers agreed that voice ads are less intrusive than traditional forms of advertising—TV, print, online, and social media. The same study found that 39% of those consumers felt the voice ads were more engaging.
Of course, the big push towards monetizing through voice will begin when the device manufacturers decide to announce the availability of voice ads on their platforms. Once the first voice assistant begins generating revenue from advertising buys, other platform providers will likely quickly join in with their own offerings. Soon, the channel will be like any other advertising medium.
Ongoing personalization is key. To succeed in the voice environment, advertising will need to adapt—providing useful and relevant suggestions that don’t sound like a pitch to buy a particular product or service. Ads will become more entertaining and interactive to match the use cases of the devices and products themselves.
For those organizations not already on a mission to create a customized voice interface for their products, the lost potential for monetizing may be great. Because when advertising comes into play, only the brands that are on a voice platform will partake.
While voice AI is on the product roadmap for a majority of brands, we are still in the early stages of voice commerce. As the technology improves and users become more accustomed to using a voice-only interface where they previously had the benefit of a visual component, these opportunities may become a conventional part of the voice experience. Until then, brands can focus on developing a voice that will help them rise above the noise in the market.
According to Dale LaRue, strategy director at RAIN, “With senior backing, voice is elevated into the organizational consciousness in a more systematic way, better positioned to tap into a wider ecosystem of digital touchpoints. In order to ensure leadership backs your initiative, make sure you can answer these voice-first strategy musts: In what way are you being assistive? What need states along your customer’s journey are you targeting? How is this driving an outcome for your brand and business? What will enable you to learn from iterating in this space?”