Voice Assistants in a Post-Pandemic World
May 14, 2020

The Growing Importance of Voice Assistants in a Post-Pandemic World

by Karen Scates

Before the recent outbreak of COVID-19 around the world, people were already adopting voice technology at an accelerated rate. Now, concerns over touching surfaces in stores and public spaces has heightened the demand for contactless payments and interactions, particularly in high-risk settings such as restaurants, grocery stores, retail establishments, work places, and healthcare facilities where large numbers of people pass through every day.

To address the role of voice technology in a post-pandemic world, we gathered three thought leaders to discuss the current state of voice technology, the challenges for organizations implementing a voice-first strategy, and the future opportunities for healthier, safer, and more convenient user experiences through voice. 

Watch the webinar in its entirety here.

Our expert panelists were:

  • Bradley Metrock, CEO of Score Publishing, producer of VoiceFirst events, founder of the VoiceFirstFM podcast, and host of This Week in Voice
  • Claire Mitchell, is an innovation and voice design consultant. She’s an expert on how to use effective sound design to improve VUX
  • Arte Merritt is co-founder and CEO of Dashbot, an analytics platform for conversational interfaces

Here are some highlights from the panel discussion and answers to a few audience questions:

Q: How will the current crisis affect the adoption of voice user interfaces?

Claire: 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. So for healthcare, not having touchscreens as our only way of interacting with public interfaces and for point of sale, ATMs, other places where we need to keep things a little bit more sanitary. Also, companionship for older folks or those in isolation or lonely, voice interfaces can provide a break from that isolation. 

Q: How do organizations respond to the need for touchless environments?

Bradley: The question is, when will we be post-pandemic? I don’t know. This is going to be around for a while. So I think that with voice as opposed to before—where your organization’s utilization of voice was some sort of insight into how innovative you are—now, it may be viewed as how mindful of our customer’s health and safety you are. 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.

Q: What are the top things to keep in mind when implementing a voice solution?

Arte: In general, I think if you’re going to build a voice experience, you’d probably want to start with some questions. Like, why are you doing this? What are the goals? How does it help you with user acquisition, engagement, monetization? How do you do those things as well? There’s sort of an increase in the rate, partly because of the physical distancing of folks and unfortunately partly because of layoffs, like letting folks go that usually man those live agent chats.

Claire: I think the experimentation and sandbox point is really important. Innovation is sometimes misperceived as being the application of technology for technology’s sake. And innovation is really just looking at existing challenges through a new perspective. The technologies are just tools that we have in our toolkit that can be applied when the time arises. So it’s really important that we have an understanding, and brands have an understanding. And that’s the real value of experimenting early on with voice technology so that in a time like this, in a time of crisis where voice really can provide value, you have that tool in your toolkit and you can apply it where it’s necessary.

During the webinar, our industry experts addressed a variety of other topics including future use cases, predictions for the rate of investment in voice technology, and the top challenges of adopting a voice-first strategy as we emerge from the first phase of the pandemic into establishing the “new normal.” View the webinar in its entirety here.

Audience Q&A

During the webinar, our audience provided us with a number of interesting questions, most of which we were not able to answer within the confinements of the webinar. We’ve gathered all the questions and our responses here:

Q: What are the industries with the biggest potential for voice tech right now?

A: Claire mentioned a few of the industries that will benefit most from providing a touchless environment including, healthcare, education, banking ATMs, quick service restaurants, and public buildings. 

Arte mentioned the impact on call centers and we see a great opportunity for voice assistants to reduce the stress and strain on call centers caused by sudden, increased call volume in response to a crisis. 

We agree that these are some of the industries that are being most impacted most by the current pandemic. 

Q: Besides auto, what are some industries SoundHound Inc. is actively working with now to voice-enable products?

A: We’re excited about our many partnerships in a variety of industries, including auto, telecom, retail, smart home devices, mobile apps, hospitality, quick service restaurants, and consumer electronics. Read more about our many partnerships here.

Q: What are some best practices for making your voice assistant discoverable and grow adoption?

A: Making your voice assistant discoverable is still one of the greatest challenges of voice adoption. Simply having a voice assistant embedded in your product will not be enough to ensure its success. The first steps in this process will require marketing to lead the way and get the word out that a voice interface is available to improve your product experience. If you’ve engaged your marketing teams early on, they will be helping champion the voice initiatives internally as well as devising launch plans for once the interface is ready to be pushed live. Although some users will embrace the new interface and know instinctively how to use it, others may need more prompting and information before they are comfortable talking to a voice assistant.

We’ve shared some best practices for making your voice assistant discoverable, and monetizing your investment in voice in this in-depth guide.

Q: Can an independent voice AI platform be measured in the same way as Alexa or Google?

A: The biggest barrier to measuring engagement with your voice-enabled product is not having access to all the user data. This is harder when you’re implementing a skill with a third-party voice assistant as you don’t own a lot of the user data. In fact, implementing an independent voice AI platform for your voice user interface allows brands to control their data, and accurately measure usage, as well as discover the gaps in service and areas where additional iterations can improve the user experience.

Q: When people are busy and socializing again, will they have the same interest in voice assistants as they do as a result of being isolated now?

A: While we expect that some of the loneliness caused by shelter-in-place orders will be lessened once we are able to gather again, we don’t see a future without the need for continued vigilance for health and safety. In many ways, voice AI can help move our world to a better, safer, and healthier place, while providing greater convenience for users of all types of products and services. At SoundHound, our mission remains to voice-enable everything.

Q: What are some examples of voice being used in education, as Claire mentioned?

A: According to Claire, “Voice can be leveraged in educational applications in a variety of ways, but a few that come to mind are voice-enabled flashcards, gamified quizzes, or interactive homework assignments that make learning engaging and interactive. Google has just launched “Read Along” which aids literacy by progressing a story based on the successful reading of a passage. Novel Effect has a product that also helps kids learn to read—filling the room with sound effects as a story is read out loud. Alexa’s Blueprints make it easy for anyone to create their own voice-first quiz, flashcards, or other voice-enabled educational applications.”

In addition, now that a lot of the teaching and learning has moved to online video platforms like Zoom and Microsoft Teams, there are some great opportunities to voice-enable those platforms to make them more user-friendly.

Q: Can you share the NY Times article Bradley referenced?

A: Surprising Poll Results: People Are Now Happy to Pick Up the Phone

Pollsters are used to having their calls screened. But when everyone is stuck at home, a stranger with some survey questions can be a lifeline. 

Q: You mentioned some survey published every year. What survey is it? Where can we find it?

A: Every year, Dashbot surveys owners of Alexa and Google Home devices to better understand usage behaviors. Here are the results from the last three years:

In times of crisis and pandemic, the world is looking for safer, healthier ways to interact with shared devices and especially in those in highly-vulnerable environments, such as healthcare. We believe that voice technology can provide timely solutions to help brands do just that.

If you didn’t have a chance to watch the webinar live, you can watch it on demand here. 

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