voice-enabled mobile apps
Aug 06, 2020

3 Key Steps for Voice-Enabling Your Mobile App

If you’ve haven’t already started working on a voice strategy for your products, services, or mobile app, you may want to start soon. Taking a wait-and-see approach may have similar consequences as delaying a migration from desktop-only to mobile for hundreds of thousands of businesses just a decade ago. Now, as then, those who wait to voice-enable their products and apps will most likely lose market share—and the longer you wait, the more you stand to lose.

If, on the other hand, you’ve been keeping up with market trends and know that you need to prioritize a voice-first strategy sooner than later—but don’t know where to start—we’re here to help. Implementing a voice-first strategy is not just a nice-to-have, the imperative is supported by recent research:

  • 40% of adults now use mobile voice search at least once a day
  • 52% of smartphone owners in the U.S. have used voice assistants on their mobile phones
  • 31% of smartphone users worldwide use voice tech at least once a week
  • Global voice commerce is expected to be worth $40B by 2022

Here are 3 key next steps for voice-enabling your mobile app:

1. Easing your shift to voice-first through mobile

Your company may be considering adding a voice user interface (VUI) in a variety of areas, including products, service, customer service centers, physical stores and mobile apps. If this is your first foray into the world of voice technology, a voice-enabled mobile app may be the easiest place to start.

Those who wait to voice-enable their products and mobile apps will most likely lose market share—and the longer you wait, the more you stand to lose.

Since the phone itself provides the hardware, speaker, visual screen, and the method of content delivery, the only task left is to add your branded voice assistant to an existing app. For most companies, this is the low-hanging fruit of voice AI adoption and a great vehicle for discovering more about user needs and usage. 

A good example of this strategy is Snap Inc., a self-described camera company that decided to focus on the user experience in their hugely popular Snapchat mobile app and leave the hardware manufacturing to the phone companies. Their Snapchat app has grown exponentially in the last year to include more than 400,000 lenses that allow users to customize their photo experiences and express themselves via a range of looks, backgrounds, or moods. This year, the company introduced Voice Scan to enable their users to quickly and conveniently find the right lens without needing to tap and scroll through an endless menu. 

The beauty of this approach is that you can solve for your user preferences and use cases without worrying about manufacturing deadlines for a physical product. As with most instances of implementing a voice assistant, you need to prioritize the analysis of your user data as a way to improve the experience and eliminate points of frustration. Using the mobile app first allows you to iterate quickly and solve for the greatest challenges up front.

Voice-enabling the Snapchat App has made the experience hands-free, eliminating the need for users to continually reset the shot after searching for the right background or visual effect.

Starting your voice-first journey by voice-enabling your mobile app gives you the freedom to learn, develop, and extend the user experience into your roadmap without impacting your physical products. But, it’s not the only way.

2. Extend your in-product voice experience into a companion app

For those early adopters like Mercedes-Benz who added voice user interfaces into their cars, the imperative now is to create an omni-channel presence with a consistent voice experience across other channels like mobile apps and websites. Just as the world’s leading brands work hard to ensure that every touch point reflects a single brand identity, all companies with voice assistants should be working toward a consistent, branded voice experience across channels.

The best example I’ve seen of an omni-channel experience is the Walt Disney Company. If you’ve had more than one experience with the company you’ll probably agree. From theme parks, to retail outlets, to media content, if you’re interacting with the Disney brand you are aware of their efforts to create a little magic and make dreams come true for the young and young at heart. “Be our guest” is at the forefront of every customer service interaction in any location at any time.

Most brands can only dream of creating the kind of brand affinity and identity that Disney has achieved, but, for those that aspire to it, making sure your voice experience matches your branding and is consistent everywhere is key.

Just as the world’s leading brands work hard to ensure that every touch point reflects a single brand identity, all companies with voice assistants should be working toward a consistent, branded voice experience across channels.

The automotive industry was an early adopter of voice user interfaces and is still a leading innovator. Brands in this industry are already looking at creating an experience that extends beyond the car. Mercedes-Benz executives often talk about how cars are no longer just a method to travel from place to place. They understand that today’s vehicles have become computers on wheels and will soon be an integral part of the internet of things. 

To stay ahead of the curve, car companies are looking at all the ways they can help make their customer’s routines easier, driving safer, and everything faster. When predicting the future of their in-car voice assistants, leading car manufacturers understand the competitive edge that can be gained through an omni-channel approach.

“The car becomes your personal digital device that starts understanding you and supports you in all of your lifestyles. All of a sudden you’ve unlocked an ecosystem of opportunities as a customer that you weren’t able to do before.”

Ben Boeser, Director of Open Innovation, Mercedes-Benz R&D North America

In the future, voice assistants in products will transcend their humble beginnings to become a truly personal assistant that can follow users from home, to work, on road trips, and anywhere in between. For brands, completing that journey may start with voice-enabling a mobile app and then integrating that same voice assistant into a product, or vice-versa. 

Eventually, that one custom, branded assistant will flow into the company roadmap as a customer service assistant or an on-site voice-enabled kiosk. Wherever your voice assistant is available and everywhere you plan to add it later should be based on one guiding principle that informs your implementation strategies: To own and control your brand experience and valuable user data.

3. Create a central, independent hub for your voice experience

If you’re already offering a voice user interface on your mobile app, but your experience and user data is tied to a third-party platform like Alexa or Google, you’re missing out on getting the insights and the brand benefits of an independent voice solution.

Creating an independent voice assistant frees your brand to grow user engagement through improved interactions based on the data you collect and own. 

That’s not to say that you should abandon the reach and popularity of third-party platforms. While you may need those as channels for reaching some of your audience, what you don’t need is to give up your customer relationships and valuable user data. Creating an independent voice assistant frees your brand to grow user engagement through improved interactions based on the data you collect and own. 

Owning your voice assistant gives customers an opportunity to develop brand affinity through a voice experience designed for their needs that also reflects all your brand values and attributes.

As voice-enabled advertising opportunities begin to take hold, you’ll have less control over monetization if you don’t own your voice experience. The benefits of a custom, branded voice assistant far outweigh the short-term cost savings of using someone else’s platform. 

Pandora realized the need to take ownership of their customer experiences when they added Voice Mode to their app. The decision to implement a voice-enabled strategy was anchored in Pandora’s core mission to provide frictionless and effortless listening experiences, every time, to every user. Their efforts resulted in a 2020 Webby award in the Best Branded Voice Experience category, and very high user engagement within less than a year of implementing Voice Mode.

If you’re just getting started on the journey to voice-enable your products, services, and apps you’ll want to familiarize yourself with best practices and start internal discussions to get buy-in from key stakeholders. You’ll also want to accelerate the process as much as possible because the market will soon demand touchless, convenient, and frictionless experiences for every touchpoint with your brand, especially in a post-pandemic world. To help you get started, our in-depth VUI Guide includes expert advice to help you along your journey.

Even if you already have a voice strategy and are facing some common challenges, here are some actionable recommendations to help you drive adoption, gain a competitive advantage, and grow market share.

Explore Houndify’s independent voice AI platform at Houndify.com. 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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