Building a voice assitant
Jul 06, 2021
7 MIN READ

Why a Voice User Interface is a Program, Not a Project

When adding a voice-first strategy to your company roadmap, perspective is everything. Approaching a voice user interface as a long-term investment in the future of your company, rather than a short-term, one-and-done project will set your company up for greater success. And it’s never too late to revisit your goals and projected outcomes with a more holistic view of the program, even if you’ve already embarked on an innovation initiative with a voice assistant strategy.

Adding third-party skills or actions to voice platforms is a good first step before fully committing to a comprehensive voice AI strategy. A next step might include voice-enabling a mobile app or adding a chatbot to a customer service website. These are good initial tests before launching a larger program because they provide valuable data about user behavior and the efficacy of your voice user interface.

However, companies that initially approached voice AI as a siloed project are realizing the benefits of taking a more holistic approach, looking beyond single applications to build omnichannel, multimodal, multilingual experiences that can truly move the needle while providing opportunities for increased customer satisfaction and monetization.

Regardless of where you are on your voice AI journey, adding voice to your long-term roadmap as an integrated program will benefit your brand, while avoiding the pitfalls of rudimentary voice assistant projects. 

Wondering how to transform your voice project into a voice program

Here are five key elements to creating a sustainable voice AI program:

  1. Set short-term and long-term goals and KPIs
  2. Design a user-first experience 
  3. Get stakeholder buy-in
  4. Use data to inform your next steps and iterate
  5. Dedicate resources to your voice AI program

Setting your voice AI goals

Designing a truly comprehensive voice program as part of your company roadmap should always start with clear long-term goals and KPIs. If you’re like the majority of organizations considering or embarking on a voice user interface strategy, you want your customers to engage with your brand consistently across all channels. An omnichannel voice experience is an integral part of achieving that goal.

Designing a truly comprehensive voice program as part of your company roadmap should always start with clear long-term goals and KPIs.

Your goals should encompass all elements of your voice experience, including how traffic is driven to the experience, which KPIs are associated with each of your voice-enabled channels, and what actions you want your users to take once they’ve initiated a conversation—whether it’s giving a phone number, buying a product, or returning for further engagement with your brand.

Base your goals on a long-term roadmap that takes the users’ journey into consideration. Onboarding and ongoing education initiatives should carry their own KPIs, including increased engagement through an expanding number of use cases and increasing the length of time people spend interacting with your voice assistant.

As voice AI reaches maturity, many businesses have added monetization and e-commerce goals to their voice programs. These goals supplement current efforts to measure customer satisfaction and Net Promoter Scores before and after a voice user interface has been activated. 

Designing an enjoyable user experience

Regardless of what you want out of voice, your focus should remain on the user. The design and development of a voice user interface should begin with consumer research. Collecting and distilling user data to create key insights is often best performed in partnership with an agency experienced in designing and implementing voice strategy.

Gathering user data that truly represents your brand takes time, and requires investment in a program that extends beyond a single Alexa Skill or Google Action. The data you collect will inform your primary use cases and the user journey you design.

Gathering the right information will also help you determine the personality and tone of your voice experience, whether you use pre-recorded audio or the voice assistant. You’ll also be able to better plan what data to gather to ensure your voice user interface can understand and respond to your actual customers.

Knowing your users’ preferences, desires for specific use cases, languages, and geographic locations will help you build voice experiences that encourage both initial engagement and re-engagement. You wouldn’t bring a product to market without thorough research, so why would you build a voice experience without the same foundational knowledge?

Knowing your users’ preferences, desires for specific use cases, languages, and geographic locations will help you build voice experiences that encourage both initial engagement and re-engagement. 

As customers become more familiar with voice and various voice products and services proliferate, the demand for accurate and responsive experiences will increase. Understanding your users is the first step to meeting customer demands and growing an omnichannel voice program. The next step is launching your company into the voice-first era with staying power for the future.

The importance of stakeholder buy-in

Determining your goals for a voice experience or program isn’t the purview of a single department. Voice teams should collaborate with stakeholders from around the organization when setting both short- and long-term goals.

Design teams and upper management within the same organization may not have the same vision for an investmentment in voice. While this disconnect may not present an immediate problem, it can impede your progress toward meeting larger goals—from monetization to building omnichannel programs.

As your voice strategy grows from a single to omnichannel solution, budget allocation from a variety of departments may be required, including marketing, innovation, customer service, product, and others. 

For instance, if a custom voice experience is on the roadmap and under the direction of the IT team, you will want to involve marketing teams to ensure the personality, tone, and voice of the experience is in sync with overall corporate branding guidelines. Meanwhile, if the marketing department has owned the voice strategy in the past, but your team is considering a custom, branded voice experience all its own, the engineering and innovation departments should automatically get a seat at the table.

Understanding the needs of your users and syncing their desires with overall business and departmental goals will give you the foundation to build a voice assistant strategy that can grow over time. As with any initiative, don’t try to do everything at once. Establish a cadence for your voice assistant implementation and iterate your way to success.

Understanding the needs of your users and syncing their desires with overall business and departmental goals will give you the foundation to build a voice assistant strategy that can grow over time.

Use data to inform next steps and iterate, iterate, iterate

Supercharge your voice experiences by iterating based on real-world data and user behaviors. The one thing that’s true about every voice experience is that it’s never, ever one-and-done. Treating a voice experience as a project with a beginning, development cycle, and completion date won’t set you up for success into the future.

Treating a voice experience as a project with a beginning, development cycle, and completion date won’t set you up for success into the future.

Instead, plan to launch a voice experience the way you would any new product. Start with your best version and ensure users are finding and engaging with it. The data you collect will allow you to identify areas of improvement. Use that data to iterate the experience and once you do, continue to observe, analyze, and revise.

The best version of a voice experience will be built on considerable voice user data and various testing methods, including:

  • Testing by developers and QA testers
  • VUI review testing by designers and speech specialists
  • Wizard of Oz testing with prospective users

If you have a strong baseline of knowledge, you’ll have the freedom to be more creative in your voice design and development phase. Armed with the necessary knowledge, engineers can be empowered to build something really great. When they understand the challenges and desires of the customer, voice teams can solve users’ problems in creative ways and deliver experiences tailored to the most common use cases. Once the first version of the voice experience is launched, new challenges will surface through data collection, giving teams opportunities for more creative thinking.

Dedicate resources to your voice AI program

Don’t assign resources for your voice AI program for just this quarter or this fiscal year. Dedicate resources to your voice program that will remain in place for your entire roadmap. Besides the capital resources required, dedicated human resources, access to stakeholders, and production resources, must be in place for the long term.

Dedicate resources to your voice program that will remain in place for your entire roadmap.

A voice team will need support from many other entities within the organization. But without a core team dedicated to designing, developing, building, and iterating your voice experience, you’ll encounter bottlenecks, which will diminish its quality for users

The capital outlay and initial resources required to build and deploy a successful voice experience are too significant to leave to the whims of yearly budgets and fluctuations in personnel. Once you accept that a voice strategy is a program, not a project, you’ll be empowered to set internal expectations and dedicate the resources needed to see it through.

Brandon Kaplan is the Founder of Skilled Creative, an emerging technology creative agency that develops best-in-class VOICE experiences for Fortune 500 brands. Skilled Creative treats conversational interfaces as a true omnichannel platform, ready to be leveraged by brands in order to drive engagement, conversion, and transactions.

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