Branded voice assistants
Jul 31, 2020
7 MIN READ

5 Keys to Delivering a Voice Experience That Truly Represents Your Brand

The voice-first era is definitely here. In response, companies and brands in every industry are looking for ways to deploy voice solutions as part of their products and services. If you’re one of them, you may be finding it harder than you thought to get your voice initiatives underway. Instead of launching head-first into a project that is sure to overwhelm your resources, we recommend that you step back, educate yourself on the options available, spend time on planning, and get buy-in from the key stakeholders at your company. 

The first step to a successful voice-first initiative is to know your “why.” Why are you voice-enabling your car, washing machine, or mobile app? This one question will inform your entire journey into the world of voice AI. Beyond that, you’ll need to have a plan for implementing a voice user interface (VUI) and internal agreement on a few key considerations including: 

  • What’s driving your need for a voice assistant? 
  • What are some key problems that you’re trying to solve with voice?
  • Do you really have the time, money and resources to build it all in-house?

And there’s really no right answer here. It’s dependent on what your company is trying to do and the resources you have. Most brands are investing in voice to create better user experiences, gain a competitive advantage, or both. Or maybe you’re trying to monetize it by adding another revenue stream. Whatever the answer is, it will inform how you approach your voice strategy.

The first step to a successful voice-first initiative is to know your “why.” Why are you voice-enabling your car, washing machine, or mobile app?

Once you’ve agreed on your “why,” there are several factors you should keep in mind as you think through your voice strategy. Here are 5 key considerations for any brand looking to roll out a voice solution:

1. Get buy-in from key stakeholders 

When you’re first thinking of implementing voice AI and you’re in the initial stages of figuring out your voice strategy, ask these 5 critical questions:

  1. Have you done this before? 
  2. If so, how has it evolved over time? 
  3. Who are the key stakeholders for your voice strategy? 
  4. Is it one team that actually owns it or is it distributed over several teams? 
  5. Does product design, marketing and sales have the same vision? 

It’s really important to have a cohesive vision between all the stakeholders. A voice assistant is not something that you can design by committee. If that’s your approach, you’re going to have to make compromises. And in the end, the user experience is going to suffer.

It’s actually very tempting for companies to dive in and try to build voice skills as they go along, but this typically leads to less than ideal results. 

Another important consideration before you can implement a voice user interface—and bring your vision and voice strategy to life—is to have a method to validate user stories and make sure that your goals are aligned with the needs of your customers. Determine whether you have in-house user design and conversational design expertise or if you need a partner for that. It’s very tempting for companies to dive in and try to build voice skills as they go along, but this typically leads to less than ideal results. 

There’s a lot of expertise that’s needed to design a good voice system, and there are a lot of best practices that have already been implemented. Therefore, it doesn’t make sense for companies to try and reinvent very basic functionality that already exists. You should take the building blocks that are available and use those as the foundation for your voice assistant. Once you have the core components in place, you can concentrate on building out new functionality that differentiates your voice experience.

2. Choosing a voice AI platform for your needs

How do you make the choice between the multitude of voice platforms out there? Be sure to choose the one that’s right for you and your goals. What path you choose depends on the goals you have set for your voice implementation. Based on your needs, you will first need to decide between partnering with an independent voice AI platform to build a custom, branded experience, or integrating with an existing, generic third-party platform. The choice often comes down to control of the branding, user experience and data ownership.

How do you make the choice between the multitude of voice platforms out there? Be sure to choose the one that’s right for you and your goals.

As a company, you work really hard to build out your brand and make decisions that reflect positively on your company’s reputation all the time. Branded experiences are built in the way that you design things, and the values your customers associate with your brand. Your voice assistant will literally be your voice in the world, your ambassador, and your brand values should be reflected through personalization and customization.

Best practices dictate that you extend your brand values and attributes into voice experiences. Do you want to give your voice assistant a specific personality or tone? Or do you want it to sound like all other voice assistants out there? In a world where more brands are moving to voice-first solutions, you probably want to start thinking about creating a unique, branded experience. 

To differentiate your brand in a crowded market, your voice assistant needs to be unique enough to truly help you differentiate and connect with your customers. Personalization of your voice user interface is possible through a partnership with an independent voice AI platform that has all the core technology and content domains you need to get started.

The bigger question for brands is: “Who owns your customer data?” That data is really valuable and most brands don’t want to give up control to somebody else.

Another consideration is the issue of data ownership and privacy. Depending on where you’re located and where your products or services will be used, there may be specific legislative aspects that will limit your ability to build out specific functionality for your voice assistant. 

The bigger question for brands is, who owns your customer data? That data is really valuable and most brands don’t want to give up control of that to somebody else. Concerns about data ownership are best addressed by working with an independent voice AI platform without a competing agenda that gives you ultimate control over both data and privacy decisions.

3. Creating best-in-class user experiences

The advances in voice AI technology have moved us past the days when a voice assistant was simply an attendant to answer requests made by the user. Instead, we are moving toward a world where the voice assistant is becoming more intelligent and able to proactively engage users in conversations and offer timely suggestions.

Customer education is at the core of a successful rollout. From the very beginning, you’ll need a plan to onboard and educate your customers to let them know what they can and can’t do with your voice assistant. Other user engagement considerations—such as offering tips and push notifications once a customer interacts with your voice assistant—are important tactics that often get forgotten once the voice interface is deployed. 

But voice deployment is never one and done. The moment you let it go, that’s when you lose control of the interaction. To keep users engaged, you will need to continuously understand how your users are interacting with the system and track when interactions are successful and when they’re not.

Voice deployment is never one and done. The moment you let it go, that’s when you lose control of the user experience.

You need to plan for multiple iterations and how you will fix the interactions that go wrong over time. In most cases, you will need to be doing AB testing constantly. There is no silver bullet in speech design and to be successful, you’ll need a plan that allocates resources and time to analyze data and keep iterating, with a long-term goal of continuously improving your voice experience.

4. Overcoming challenges and avoiding pitfalls

Brands developing a voice user interface for the first time have a tendency to unsuccessfully try and cover absolutely everything from a speech perspective. There’s also a tendency to design only for the ideal use case. The problem with this approach is that when people ask for exactly the things that you expect them to ask for, everything is fine. However, once users ask for something different, the system just falls apart. 

To avoid this common mistake, design your voice assistant with these factors in mind:

  • Determine all the many ways that a user can ask for things 
  • Understand how they might ask for things they don’t know about 
  • Prototype early
  • Test with focus groups
  • Design your solution with the user’s environment in mind

The context and environment of your users will be your North Star for developing your voice assistant. If your user is in the car, there will be road and wind noise—these are not the best conditions for high recognition accuracy. You need to be able to adjust for these conditions and build acoustic models based on the environment your users are most likely to be in. 

5. Thinking globally about your voice assistant

If you are deploying globally, don’t forget to take into account the regional differences of your users, including different languages, cultures, accents, and the content sources that may be available. For example, a content source that is very popular in the U.S. might not make any sense in Europe. Beyond the language differences, you would most likely ask for things a bit differently in another culture too. 

How we use addresses is a good example of a slight difference that would make a navigational domain developed for the U.S. market unsuitable for Germany. If I were in the U.S., I would say the number followed by the street name and then the city. In Germany, I would say the street name followed by house number. You have to take all of these things and more into account when you build your voice solution. 

There are so many things to consider when you’re first setting out to implement a voice-first strategy that it can be very daunting. I think the most important thing is for brands to make sure they aren’t giving away their customer relationships or their ability to create really exceptional voice experiences. Make sure you’re delivering a voice experience that reflects your brand by partnering with an independent voice AI platform, and get the technology and expertise you need to quickly build a robust and engaging voice user interface.

I think the most important thing for brands is to make sure they aren’t giving away their customer relationships or their ability to create really exceptional voice experiences.

At SoundHound Inc. we have the technology and the expertise to help any brand get started with voice AI. Explore Houndify’s independent voice AI platform at Houndify.com and register for a free account. Want to learn more? Talk to us about how we can help you bring your voice strategy to life.

Author Vitaly Yurchenko

Vitaly Yurchenko is a Voice AI advocate with over 20 years of experience in voice technology. In his downtime, he likes to surf and build things.

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