Post-Pandemic World
Dec 02, 2021
7 MIN READ

How Voice AI is Influencing the Post-Pandemic World

A lot has changed in the last few years and things that we thought were priorities have moved to the bottom of the list. Other things have risen to the top as key areas of focus for businesses of all types. Customer service and better customer-center experiences have emerged as key factors in business survival and growth in industries across the globe. Following nearly two years of a pandemic-altered reality, customers now have different expectations for brands, including increased demands for greater convenience, and hygiene.

One hallmark of brands that have remained viable during this unprecedented time, has been their ability to innovate and meet customer demands in new ways. One of those innovations has been the accelerated adoption of voice AI technology. Throughout the pandemic, voice AI has provided consumers with safer, more hygienic, and touchless ways to interact with devices of all types in retail, Quick Service Restaurants (QSR)s, hotels, and other industries.

The exponential growth of voice assistants has not been confined to high-traffic public spaces but has shown increased adoption across industries. In fact, voice AI is shaping the post-pandemic world by evolving from an exciting feature to a necessary user interface that is either replacing or supplementing touchscreens in a variety of applications.

At the beginning of the pandemic—when we thought the world would be opening up in 3 months, we interviewed experts in academia, industry, and organizations to find out what companies should be doing to come out on the other side stronger. That advice is still applicable today as we continue to ride the ever-changing fortunes of a pandemic that has ebbed and flowed through our lives. 

We’ve recapped their advice and applied it to our own journey in the voice AI space to see how innovation, communication, and customer-centricity have influenced the rapid rise of the voice assistant.

Brand innovation through voice AI during a pandemic

With changes happening faster than anticipated, many brands have wondered how to innovate and survive during a pandemic. One of the key factors to keep in mind is that the pandemic has accelerated many changes that beforehand were on a future horizon. 

For example, we’ve seen a significant drop in cash payments—igniting a shortage in change, and a reduction in the use of credit card machines that require swiping and typing. In their stead, touchless payments are rapidly growing in popularity as a more hygienic and convenient option. During the last year and a half, E-commerce saw sales increase as people prefer to avoid crowded stores or are limited by quarantine orders. Voice AI, an expanding and exciting technology, is now taking center stage as the interface for contactless interactions. 

“Above all, leaders need to be thinking about communicating more. You want to show what you’re doing so that people feel taken care of and confident that your business is making the safest choices and the right choices.”

Chloe Demrovsky
President and CEO
Disaster Recovery Institute International

It’s not a great surprise that voice assistants grew in popularity during the pandemic. The prevalence of mobile phones and other voice-enabled devices combined with an increased need for touchless interactions created an ideal environment for accelerated growth and adoption of voice AI. 

According to Juniper Research, 52% of voice assistant users said they used voice assistants several times a day or nearly every day in 2021, compared to 46% before the pandemic, showing an increase in usage and demand for voice-enabled devices. Brands looking to innovate, get ahead of customer concerns, and provide exceptional customer experiences, should consider the benefits of voice assistants for their brand. 

“People’s attitudes have changed. People’s purchasing power has changed. People’s interests have changed, their understanding of what they need has changed. Brands need to think about re-educating consumers about who they are and maybe rebrand themselves in a way that they might not have thought of before. In the future, brands need to be more empathetic with the audience they’re communicating with than they might’ve been in the past. I think a lot of us do not realize what the toll is on everyone’s psyche as a result of what we’ve all gone through. So my hope is that there’ll be a little bit more empathy for consumers.”

Paul Argenti
Professor of Corporate Communication
The Tuck School of Business, Dartmouth

By considering customers’ needs and expectations and working to meet them with emerging technological trends, including voice AI, brands can bring about positive change in a post-pandemic world. Although many companies in impacted industries struggled to survive during the height of the pandemic, allowing for innovation helped them move beyond simply maintaining a presence to showing growth through superior customer services. 

How to meet the needs of a post-pandemic world with voice AI

As many aspects of day-to-day life have changed as a part of the pandemic, consumer habits and needs have also shifted. Voice assistants are helping businesses connect with their customers with greater convenience while offering hand-free interfaces that provide wary customers with greater safety and hygiene. 

Here are a few industries where voice assistants are delivering safer interfaces: 

“As all these things change, the companies that actually think about how to service this new set of needs and this new set of values, they’re the companies that are going to be the winners.”

Dr. Kumar Mehta
Innovation Expert
Founder of Bridges Insight
Author of The Innovation Biome

In QSRs, voice-enabled kiosks and drive-thrus are providing hands-free ordering and eliminating the need to touch devices in highly-trafficked areas. Touchscreens are often the source of dangerous bacteria, which is even more troubling when many customers handle food after coming into contact with them. Contactless voice AI interfaces provide an opportunity to increase hygiene and safety in QSRs while creating a frictionless experience for customers.

The hospitality industry also uses voice-enabled kiosks for checking in and out customers as well as voice-enabled smart TVs in hotel rooms that control in-room amenities so guests can avoid touching high-contact surfaces, such as light switches, TV remotes, and air conditioners. The voice-enabled kiosks create a faster, more seamless experience, while the voice-enabled smart TVs can even personalize preferred settings for future stays.

“In terms of things that are probably not going to change in a post coronavirus world—adoption and desire for more fluid, better-designed experiences—that’s always going to stay the same. What will change is that in some areas the virus has exposed some real challenges that voice can provide solutions for.” 

Claire Mitchell
Design Strategy Lead
Amazon Web Services

While the IoT industry has already seen widespread success with its in-home smart devices, these devices are expected to expand even more to include public areas, such as elevators and doors.

Touchless payments and voice commerce

Voice commerce and touchless payments saw a rise during the pandemic as opportunities for interactions without contact, bacteria-laden cash, or interacting with another person grew in demand. Even before the pandemic, cash usage has been dropping significantly with a preference toward other digital payment methods. According to the Financial Times, cash use has been declining 15% per year since 2017, and cash payments plunged 35% during the first year of the pandemic in 2020. 

Voice shopping and voice payments offer a contactless alternative while also adding a multitude of other benefits, including diverse shopping locations, advanced filtering capabilities, and personalization. The demand for these advantages is clear, with Statista predicting that voice shopping will reach $40 billion by 2022. Touchless payments and voice commerce have seen immense growth in many industries, including retail, QSRs, hotels, and grocery stores. 

“And if your organization, your brand is not investing in voice technology, you haven’t experimented with it to some degree, you’re not even playing in that sandbox, then one could draw the conclusion that you’re not thinking about those things. As opposed to before where you’re not with it, now it may be you’re not that trustworthy. So, I think it will shift and I think it’s important for anyone watching this to be mindful of what the consumer might derive one way or the other.”

Bradley Metrock
CEO
Score Publishing

With voice shopping, shoppers can browse and purchase items through voice-enabled mobile apps, smart devices, or in-car voice assistants, where shopping was previously thought to be an impossible multi-task with the need to keep hands on the wheel and eyes on the road. Voice-enabled kiosks in-store can also help shoppers find out product information and locations. 

Voice shopping also has the benefit of advanced filtering capabilities where shoppers can ask naturally and conversationally for what they’re searching for instead of interacting with long and complicated menus requiring a series of types and swipes. For brands building customer loyalty, personalization can help consumers save time and reduce frustration by storing preset filters and preferences or recommending products based on previous search and purchase history. 

With the pandemic came a shift in the mindset, needs, and expectations of consumers. To keep up with the new demands, brands will want to make sure they are continuously innovating with new technologies to ensure they cultivate loyal and returning customers. Voice AI offers many benefits to combat the challenges and needs of a post-pandemic world, including touchless, hygienic, quick, and efficient interactions. Brands should consider the advantages of voice-enabled devices so they can progress beyond just surviving the pandemic but also thriving.

If you want to hear more about what the experts say, check out the webinar, Innovating Your Way to Greater Resilience and Recovery.

At SoundHound Inc., we have all the tools and expertise needed to create custom voice assistants and a consistent brand voice. 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 bring your voice strategy to life.

Kristen is a content writer with a passion for storytelling and marketing. When she’s not writing, she’s hiking, reading, and spending time with her nieces and nephew.

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