Embracing the Disruption: Conversational AI, Voice Skills & Chatbots

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Artificial intelligence-based technologies are gaining ground and prevalence. That’s not a new proclamation, but the way they’ve developed a hold on natural language processing and natural language generation have shown us how well they can handle the voice side of the conversation.

Conversational AI, in the form of voice assistance, refers to using voice to engage with some intelligent technology, like a digital assistant, a chatbot, or potentially even a voice skill. Think Alexa, Cortana, and Siri – those are digital assistants that rely on voice commands to engagement with people. These little devices have changed the marketing landscape, disrupting the way people engage in consumer search and sales, making the whole process more like a conversation end-to-end.

But for brands, using voice assistance technology means going beyond making your keywords more conversational. You have to think about these virtual assistants in a new light, because they may very well become the face of your company. 

Let me explain.

When consumers are engaging with their voice, whether through voice search or voice-assisted engagements, it means that the digital assistant who’s fielding the question is going to represent the voice of your business.

Do you want Alexa to be the face or voice of your brand?

At Build 2018, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella was quoted as saying that in the next five to ten years, every brand will have its own digital assistant to represent them. In fact, Microsoft ran a survey last March called Consumer Adoption of Digital Assistants and Voice Technology, and one of the questions asked was – do you as a customer expect to engage with a brand one-on-one to answer your questions. Over 60 percent of responders expected brands to have their own personal assistant they could build a relationship with in the next five years. That’s huge.

So, what does this mean?  

It means you can’t ignore conversational AI. It means that while voice is part of the disruptor, just optimizing your website and your content for voice search is not going to be enough. While it can help you reach that coveted position zero, it cannot help you go from answering a question to allowing your consumers to take action. And the action is where the value is within conversational AI.

Digital assistants are now a critical component to building stronger relationships with customers, but it’s hard to decide where to start. To simplify matters, let’s dive into two ways your brand can interact with a voice assistant; I’m talking about voice skills and chatbots.

Voice Skills

A voice skill can be one of two things. It’s using your voice to engage with a digital assistant through the Internet of Things, or engaging with brands that have set voice skills programmed on the back end.

Voice skills are typically action based. Here’s a quick example: If you’re having your morning coffee at home, you might say, “Hey Alexa or Hey Cortana, play KOUW on NPR.” And the digital assistant knows to go to a specific radio station and give you access to it.

“So, do I need a voice skill?”

I don’t know, do you?

Do you have something of value that you can offer to your customers in a voice format? Something that they could engage with on a smart home speaker or through a mobile device?

I bring this up because if you don’t have a need and you’re creating a voice skill because everyone’s doing it, it might not be the right thing for you. You want to understand how your customers will use it and affirm its necessity based on a framework I call U-I-D.

Utility: What is the need a person might have for that skill?

Interface: How are customers going to expect to interface with that skill?  Is it voice only?  Is it text only?  Or do they need to have a screen-based engagement? Interface is understanding how people are engaging with your skill; it’s making sure you create the right type of experience for a voice engagement.

Discoverability: How will people find it? As of January 2019 the total number of Alexa skills in the UK is almost at 30,000 yet the top uses for smart speakers involve playing music, listening to the weather, checking the news and setting reminders. Only a small percentage of the overall skills are used on a regular basis. So, while brands are building voice skills, they aren’t educating their users on its availability or showing them how to use it.

Before you get to building, make sure that there is a need for the skill, the engagement makes sense, and have a plan to boost discoverability right away.


The point of a chatbot is to move from a question and answer to question and action. They can engage directly with a digital assistant and serve as a tool to answer the questions your customers are having, but then can it that next level.

For example, if I’m asking Cortana to order me a pizza through Domino’s, Cortana can call in the Domino’s chatbot. If I have logged in and have given it access to my information, that chatbot can pull in my favorite orders, my billing information, and everything it knows about me. I can order that pizza while I’m washing the dishes. That’s the beauty of a chatbot.

Brands need to be thinking about chatbots from two standpoints:

  • Chatbots need to be able to answer initial consumer questions.
  • They also need to understand what the subsequent actions are that the consumer might want to take, helping them go down that path to an action and accomplishment – aka purchase.

Here’s one more example to provide some clarity.

Let’s say I call a carpet cleaning service (yes, people still make phone calls, believe or not) to find out how much it costs to clean 500 square feet of carpet. The next natural question would be, “Do you want to book a carpet cleaning service?” Yes, I definitely do, what time slots are available? That phone conversation can be transferred to a smart speaker with a chatbot. The key is being able to connect those dots, helping the customer take the next step or the next action.

That awesome U-I-D framework comes into play here as well. Make sure a chatbot makes sense for your brand and your product or service. While harnessing the power behind conversational AI, voice skills and chatbots is going to be very important in the coming era of voice assistant technology, don’t do it just to be trendy. Do it because it will bring real value to your customers and your brand, then build something truly useful and discoverable.

More about the author:

Recently Jason moved to a new role leading brand marketing at Microsoft in EMEA. Before that he spent six years building the content and demand generation engine that would globally scale LinkedIn Marketing Solutions to become a $700MM+ business. He’s the architect behind LinkedIn’s ‘Sophisticated Marketer’ franchise – the most successful campaign in LinkedIn Marketing Solutions’ history which also took home the award for the best multi-year content campaign at this year’s Content Marketing Awards. Jason believes the secret to his success is simple. Creating data-driven, demand (and revenue!) generating campaigns that deliver memorable user experiences’. And he’s passionate about helping others do the same.

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