Benefits of voice AI post-pandemic
May 22, 2022
5 MIN READ

How Voice AI Can Meet the Needs of a Post-Pandemic World

by: Karen Scates

In a post-pandemic world, our reliance on touch screens, credit card transactions, and paper money is poised to change rapidly and permanently. Even as we return to our normal routines, some of the habits and aversions we’ve acquired during this period are likely to stick with us. Our newly-formed hyper-awareness of physical interactions has already changed how we prefer to transact our personal business, decreased our willingness to touch surfaces in public places, and increased our preferences for contactless and voice-enabled interfaces. 

Recent reports show that in the U.S., consumers are already reconsidering using cash as coronavirus has continued to spread across communities. Credit cards that are commonly made of plastic, resin, or metal aren’t much better. A study conducted by LendEDU tested for bacteria on the surface of 41 different credit and debit cards and discovered that the average credit card has more bacteria than the NYC Penn Station bathroom. In addition, the growth of in-home voice-enabled devices like smart speakers is fueling an accelerated public demand for more access to products, services, and apps through hands-free voice interfaces.

Our newly-formed hyper-awareness of physical interactions has already changed how we prefer to transact our personal business, decreased our willingness to touch surfaces in public places, and increased our preferences for contactless and voice-enabled interfaces. 

Besides the added convenience it provides, a voice interface makes products more accessible for children, older adults, and those with disabilities who often struggle with touchscreens and keyboards.

Given the changes in consumer sensibilities, we’ve identified 5 industries that are now ripe for contactless interactivity to meet growing consumer demand:

  1. Smart devices in public areas
  2. Contactless payments
  3. QSRs
  4. Voice shopping
  5. Hotels and cruise ships

1. Voice-enabled smart devices in public areas

In a society where the demand for touchless interfaces is growing at an exponential rate, there are multiple opportunities for voice interfaces in public areas to truly help people. Just as in the home, light switches, thermostats, and bathroom fixtures in public areas can be voice-operated. Other opportunities include highly-trafficked amenities like elevators and doors.

While many manufacturers are already offering voice-enabled products for the smart home, now is a great time for businesses to consider their use more broadly as a way to make public spaces touchless and accessible. In addition to convenience, companies and government agencies will benefit from the increased productivity and profitability of workplaces and public spaces that are less affected every year by absenteeism as a result of the spread of germs. 

In addition to convenience, companies and government agencies will benefit from the increased productivity and profitability of workplaces and public spaces that are less affected every year by absenteeism as a result of the spread of germs. 

As an added benefit, moving to a voice-first system improves accessibility for individuals with disabilities and increases convenience for many others including older adults and children. A voice interface does not have to replace the current method of interaction but can be integrated in addition to touch screens or buttons to provide options for those individuals who can’t or simply don’t want to physically interact via touch.

2. Contactless payments

Contactless payments are increasingly becoming a go-to method for consumers wishing to avoid touching surfaces laden with bacteria. According to a report by Mercator Advisory Group, 38% of consumers make voice-activated payments via smartphone regularly or occasionally. And according to another report by Research Dive, the global contactless payments market size is expected to generate a revenue of $20,340.3 million by 2026.

38% of consumers make voice-activated payments via smartphone regularly or occasionally.

Mercator Advisory Group

Advancements like Speech-to-Meaning® technology in voice AI have made it possible for voice-enabled interactions to be as natural as talking to another person. In the near future, instead of handing over a credit card or typing a code into a touchscreen, payments and financial interactions at ATMs, gas station pumps, drive-thru restaurants, and pharmacies will be as seamless and convenient as asking your voice assistant for the weather.

Already, car manufacturers are developing in-car voice assistants that can pay for gas by using their voice, allowing customers to pull up to the specified pump and get gas without interacting with the payment system at all. 

But that’s just the beginning. As banking customers become more comfortable with virtual assistants in their homes and in their cars, they will begin to expect the same convenience and hands-free interactions for their payment transactions, including making a payment to a credit card or transferring money from one account to another. 

Already, car manufacturers are developing in-car voice assistants that can pay for gas by allowing customers to pull up to the specified pump and get gas without interacting with the payment system at all. 

Mobile payment options like Venmo and Paypal are paving the way for people to conduct their business outside of their banking apps by creating greater levels of comfort for these types of transactions. Voice payments are the natural next step in the evolution to greater simplicity, convenience, and frictionless commerce experiences.  

3. Hands-free ordering at quick-service restaurants

The biggest concern regarding touch screens at quick-service restaurants (QSRs) is that people are receiving their food just after interacting with them, without an opportunity to wash their hands. While touchscreens at QSRs were originally installed to create a frictionless experience for customers, the sanitation concerns may make restaurants that use them less desirable for customers in the long run. 

Contactless interfaces through advanced voice AI—like the solutions being developed by Mastercard and SoundHound—provide restaurants a way to keep costs down, provide a convenient way for customers to submit complex orders with a wide range of modifications, and meet the need for exceptional cleanliness and food safety.

Contactless interfaces through advanced voice AI will provide restaurants a way to keep costs down, provide a convenient way for customers to submit complex orders with a wide range of modifications, and meet the need for exceptional cleanliness and food safety.

Mercator Advisory Group

In this environment, a voice user interface that can quickly process a series of directions and choices, understand modifications, and provide sufficient follow-up to confirm the order affords customers the ideal ordering and payment system. In addition to providing a cleaner, safer method of interaction, voice user interfaces improve the customer experience by lowering wait times and adding a layer of personalization by providing interactions that resemble human conversations.

4. Voice shopping is here to stay

Elements of voice shopping are already in place for smart speaker users as many of them start the buyer journey by conducting product research, comparing prices, and searching for the availability of products through their in-home voice assistants. According to Voicebot.ai’s Voice Shopping Consumer Adoption Report, voice shopping amongst consumers in the U.S. rose from $20.5 million in 2018 to $42.5 million in 2021. Car manufacturers have already caught on to this trend and are beginning to offer the ability to order food through in-car voice interfaces

Voice shopping amongst consumers in the U.S. rose from $20.5 million in 2018 to $42.5 million in 2021.

Voicebot.ai

For retailers, the addition of a voice assistant has the potential of delivering the most helpful customer service employee directly to shoppers. Whether in an app or stationed inside the store, a voice assistant that can help customers navigate product offerings, filter for color, price, size, availability, and a number of other preferences will create frictionless buying experiences and cost-savings for merchants.

Online shopping has exacted a toll on many retail outlets, forcing them to shutter brick and mortar locations and, in some cases, lose business to larger, established online shopping entities. For many merchants, offering a voice user interface may help to recover market share and widen their customer base by providing greater accessibility to their inventories. 

For the 13.2% of people, or over 44 million, in the U.S. with a disability, voice interfaces provide access to products through online shopping, previously unavailable. Retailers who recognize the opportunity may become the merchants of choice for millions more customers who are now able to easily order their products.

5. Voice-enabled hotels and cruise ships

For leaders in hospitality, providing exceptional customer experiences, finding ways to personalize stays, and streamlining operations continue to be top challenges. Add to these an ever-changing economic environment, the evolving whims of travelers, and the need to deliver home-away-from-home experiences, and it’s no wonder hoteliers and cruise line owners feel a constant pressure to innovate.

The growth in smart homes, personal voice assistants, and in-car voice interfaces have been the catalysts for the development of smart hotels and smart cruise ships. According to Statista, there are currently 4.2 billion digital voice assistants in use around the world, and forecasts suggest that by 2024 the number of voice assistants will reach close to 8.4 billion units—a number higher than the world’s population. These forecasts indicate that each person will be using more than one voice assistant and that voice assistants will be in use in multiple areas of every person’s life.

4.2 billion digital voice assistants in use around the world, and forecasts suggest that by 2024 the number of voice assistants will reach close to 8.4 billion units—a number higher than the world’s population.

Statista

The statistics on voice assistant adoption are staggering and indicate a need for brands to offer voice-enabled solutions in order to stay relevant. For hotels and cruise lines, adopting voice-activated interfaces may deliver more than just greater conveniences for guests. 

Providing each guest with an in-room voice assistant can lessen the burden on hotel staff while delivering faster responses to requests and instant answers to common questions. In addition to improving communications between guests, housekeeping, room service, and the front desk, voice-enabled systems can keep internal operations moving smoothly while freeing employees to spend valuable face-to-face time with guests who require it. 

For hotels and cruise lines, adopting voice-activated interfaces may deliver more than just greater conveniences for guests. 

Providing voice interfaces for in-room controls such as lights, thermostats, and entertainment systems has the added benefit of lessening the physical contact guests have with these devices, increasing hygiene and customer convenience.

As consumers come to expect more hands-free interactions afforded by voice interfaces in every aspect of their lives, manufacturers, service providers, and merchants of all types will need to respond with a voice assistant all their own. 

Want to learn more about how voice is influencing the post-pandemic world? Check out our webinar, “Role of Voice Technology in a Post-Pandemic World,” featuring voice AI experts Bradley Metrock, Claire Mitchell, and Arte Merritt. See what they had to say about the importance of touchless experiences and how voice AI can help brands provide greater convenience while safeguarding their customers.

Providing hands-free conveniences to customers and guests shouldn’t mean giving up your brand sovereignty or relinquishing valuable customer connections. It also doesn’t mean choosing between a custom, branded solution and providing users with access to the familiarity of the voice assistant they’re already using at home.

Choosing the right partner and an independent voice AI platform with a range of connectivity options and the ability to live beside multiple assistants is the first step in bringing your brand into the voice-first world.

At SoundHound Inc., we have all the tools and expertise needed to create custom voice assistants and a consistent brand voice. Explore SoundHound’s independent voice AI platform at SoundHound.com and register for a free account here. Want to learn more? Talk to us about how we can help 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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