Partnering with a third-party for your voice assistant
Sep 28, 2021
7 MIN READ

Long-Term Costs of Not Owning Your Voice Assistant

Your brand has decided that a voice AI strategy is a vital part of your company roadmap. Should you build, buy, or partner to bring that voice experience to life? If you’re like many other companies across industries, your leadership is grappling with deciding how you’ll implement a voice assistant for your product, service, or mobile app. In truth, it’s a complex choice and there are many key decisions to be made at every stage of development.

To begin with, companies wrestle with these three choices: “Do we build the voice AI technology ourselves?”—spending potentially years developing the voice user interface, “Do we buy a custom solution from a voice AI platform provider that’s scalable and allows us to own our brand, customer relationships, and valuable data?”, or  “Do we choose to partner with a known third-party’s existing voice assistant?”

It’s true that if you choose to partner with a known voice assistant (such as Alexa or Google), the up-front investment and faster implementation time will be short-term benefits. However, be aware that there are some significant losses and branding consequences that will likely turn those short-term benefits into long-term costs.

While finding a partner with customizable voice AI technology can be a significant investment now, it’s essential to consider all the long-term effects that other choices will have on your brand, ROI, customer experience, Net Promoter Scores (NPS), and market viability.

Here are a few long-term costs of partnering with a third-party provider (such as Amazon or Google) for a voice AI platform: 

  • Lack of access to customer and market data
  • Creating future competitors
  • Missing out on brand ownership
  • Loss of control over customer privacy

Access to customer and market data

When you partner with an existing voice assistant provider, you’ll have little to no access to important customer and market data. While it may seem a trivial price to pay, the data behind your voice assistant could very well be your ticket to continued competitiveness in the market. 

It’s essential to understand how your customers are using your voice assistant and to know what questions they are asking and what functions they are trying to perform. Data that is collected and anonymized can be used to inform not only the iterations necessary to improve your user experience but also your short-term and long-term product and services roadmaps.

When you don’t own your voice assistant, you don’t own your data, either. Without insight into your customer behavior, not only will you miss opportunities to improve customer satisfaction, but you might also be arming a potential competitor with market data that will help them build a product with a better voice experience and all the additional product functionality your customers have been asking for—but that you’re unaware of.

Giving away the voice technology for free, or at a very low price, is an investment for companies with existing voice assistants. While it may seem like a less expensive solution to the brands adopting the voice assistants, in the beginning, the loss of potentially expensive market research and customer relationships will likely prove more costly for companies in the long term.

The loss of potentially expensive market research and customer relationships will likely prove more costly for companies in the long term.

Like any product introduced to the market, voice assistants are never one and done. They require monitoring and iterations based on user experiences to continuously improve. If your users are constantly frustrated by false positives, lack of accurate responses, or unresponsiveness to certain questions, they will likely abandon your voice assistant and possibly your brand. 

The very nature of voice assistants allows humans to connect on a more personal level with the world around them—by talking to devices and brands as they would other people. Personalized experiences are a natural extension of these relationships. 

While people are willing to have certain data collected, if it means a better experience, they’re unlikely to want to share their usage details with a third party. A study from Smart Communications revealed that 61% of consumers will share personal data in order to receive personalized marketing communications. Trust is a key factor in customer relationships, without it brands are unlikely to create brand evangelism and loyalty.

61% of consumers will share personal data in order to receive personalized marketing communications. 

Smart Communications

Without knowledge of how customers are using your voice assistant, how the voice AI is performing, what your customers are asking for, and the ability to personalize experiences, brands miss out on opportunities to address customer expectations and desires. On the other hand, a wholly-owned voice assistant can literally be your voice of the customer—accurately reporting user experiences and informing the company and product roadmaps while building a loyal customer base and attracting new customers.

Creating future competitors

If you partner with a company that creates and sells its own products in a variety of consumer markets, you may want to think twice before partnering with them. While it may be enticing to have a voice assistant at little to no upfront cost, the risk of creating a competitor far outweighs any potential benefits. They won’t be any average competitor either. They’ll be a competitor with access to all of your data, information, and sales history. 

Since the third-party platform controls all the data and knows how the voice assistant is being used, they have all the information they need to create a superior version of your device with their own brand. They may even release it at a cheaper price point to further undercut your device.

The third party has all the information they need to create a superior version of your device with their own brand.

With access to your data, your partner will be able to see and analyze an immense amount of information, including: 

  • Trends and popular use cases
  • Requests that users are asking that aren’t being fulfilled
  • Functions not available on your device
  • How users like to use your product
  • Who is using it (age, gender, ethnicity, location)
  • Predictions based on usage of what types of functions users might want to see

Essentially, your voice assistant becomes their focus group to study product usage and trends. By studying your data, they’ll compose a very clear picture of who your users are, how they’re using the device, and what they want. Then, they’ll have everything they need to create their own version of your product with all the functionality that yours is missing, and with new, popular use cases and domains—possibly at a lower price point. 

By partnering with such a company, you’re essentially giving a potential competitor all the ingredients of your secret recipe to make their own, superior version. During the partnership, you won’t have access to the user data that could inform your own product improvements. 

Once your voice partner releases their version of your product at a lower price point, you’ll lose users and see a decrease in future sales. What began as a piece of advanced, cutting-edge technology will lose competitiveness and relevance. Before choosing to partner with a third-party platform, you need to consider if the risk of creating a future competitor is really worth it. 

The importance of brand ownership

According to Forbes, presenting a brand consistently across all platforms can increase revenue by up to 23%, making branding a vital part of proving ROI on your voice AI investment. Even if the third-party platform is free or low-cost to partner with, it will pay off in the long run to have your own branding. 

Most companies commit considerable resources to branding efforts that effectively communicate their values, personality, and market position to customers and prospects. Over time, people begin to recognize the company by the look of its logo and colors and a variety of sounds associated with sonic branding—including jingles, product sounds, and the voice of its assistant.

Presenting a brand consistently across all platforms can increase revenue by up to 23%.

Forbes

However, when you partner with a third-party provider, customers do not interact with your brand. Instead, they repeatedly say the name of the third-party voice assistant. Even if the product is yours, such as a car or TV, your customers will be making connections with the third party—instead of your brand. A great example of this is a recent Buick commercial, where the Buick brand becomes subordinate to the name of the third-party voice assistant, encouraging potential customers to forget they are driving a Buick.

According to Pam Moore Marketing, on average it takes 5 to 7 impressions for people to remember your brand, showing that having repeated connections across many channels will give the best results. When your customers are repeating the name of another company over and over, those connections are no longer yours.

It takes on average 5 to 7 impressions for people to remember your brand.

Pam Moore Marketing

While the product or engineering teams may be making the decisions about whether to build, buy, or partner for voice assistant solutions, their considerations must stretch beyond the ease, immediacy, and low cost of third-party voice solutions. When long-term product viability and customer relationships are at risk, it’s essential to consider the branding implications as an integral part of the voice AI decision-making process. 

Trust and customer privacy

Trust and fears over data privacy are key factors for consumers who have not yet adopted voice assistants or use them only for playing music and setting timers. According to a study by Microsoft, 41% of users report concerns around trust, privacy, and passive listening. Practices of early days of voice assistants have created fear amongst consumers. The only way to alleviate those fears is to create trust and give users the option to opt-in or out of personalization features. 

41% of users report concerns around trust, privacy, and passive listening.

Microsoft

When partnering with a third-party platform, you have to accept whatever privacy controls and options they’ve adopted, which may not always be what is best for your users. It’s important to give your users a choice on whether they wish to opt-in or out of data collection, and the third party may or may not give them this decision. If the third party that you partner with has privacy issues, your users will begin to link your brand to privacy issues as well, creating a lack of trust and loyalty. 

According to Salesforce, 3 in 5 customers feel they’ve lost control over how their personal information is used, which is why giving users the option to opt-in or out is so important. Users are also more likely to opt-in to data collection if the company is well trusted and transparent about how they’re using the data.

3 in 5 customers feel they’ve lost control over how their personal information is used.

Salesforce

If you own your own voice assistant either through building it yourself or buying it from a third-party platform, you can set your own privacy policies and communicate them to your customers. You can also give your users the option to opt-in or out for services such as personalization or purchasing opportunities. Once you build customer trust and loyalty, it opens many doors. 

Before deciding to partner with a third party, it’s essential that you review their privacy options. Even so, you may not have control if they decide to change their privacy options at some point during your partnership. If your users don’t feel comfortable with or trusting of the third party’s privacy practices, you could lose users, maybe forever. 

When deciding whether to build, buy, or partner, companies need to rethink how they evaluate cost. Partnering with a third-party platform may be enticing with its low to no upfront price point, but many other aspects will cost your company later down the road. Losing customer and market data, brand ownership, customization, market differentiation, and customer privacy will create a complex set of problems that will not only cost you monetarily but have long-term effects on user experiences and customer satisfaction. 

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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