Voice technology is no longer the stuff of science fiction. The fast pace of consumer adoption means it’s already become well-established in our lives. In the US, smart speaker ownership has reached 27% of consumers, almost doubling in a year. The UK is a little further behind with smart speakers owned by 13% of households but we’re catching up fast.
Voice related applications are now becoming as prevalent as mobile apps, creating a whole new marketing ecosystem and providing a powerful new channel for brands to connect with consumers. The opportunities this is creating around shopping and ecommerce are particularly exciting. A recent study found 35% of consumers have already used a voice assistant to purchase groceries, home-care products and clothing.
But, as with all technology, deciding whether or not to invest can be daunting for businesses. The history of digital is littered with examples of companies that got it wrong. Twitter’s #Music, which was pulled from the app store a year after its release, is one. Google Wave is another costly example, lasting not much longer before being pulled by the search giant.
So, how can companies avoid making the same mistakes with voice technology? There are three crucial considerations that I believe brands should keep front of mind – take small steps, keep a laser focus on customer needs and always make sure it’s going to be a valuable endeavour for the business. This sounds simple, but many companies forget these principles and end up offering something that’s gimmicky and which delivers very little value to the business or the customer.
Start small and skill-up
One of the benefits of the current voice tech ecosystem is that Amazon, through its market-dominant voice assistant, Alexa, has created a platform for brands to start experimenting without having to invest large sums of money or launch risky new digital apps. Building a ‘skill’ – essentially, a voice app that will be added to Alexa’s abilities – is something anyone can do now and in literally minutes.
At the current count, 50,000 Alexa skills are available and the number of companies getting involved has skyrocketed – 3,500 brands are on Alexa today compared with only 1,200 at the start of 2018. These numbers are still small though when you consider the fact that the UK alone has over 5.7 million SMEs. Before long the number of brands using Alexa might be huge. The companies that get involved now could give themselves a distinct advantage.
Put the consumer first
If voice-based initiatives and projects are to be a success, then improving the customer experience has to be a key objective. The growing number of on-demand services and the plethora of digital touchpoints available means that people are bombarded with choice on a daily basis. As a result, consumers are becoming more and more attracted to brands that can build greater convenience into the consumer journey and help make life a little bit easier to manage. And what could be easier and more convenient than voice? When integrated into the customer journey in the right way, voice commands can subtly transform the experience.
One example is Heathrow Airport’s skill that allows passengers to easily check the status of a plane with a simple voice command, saving passengers time going back and forth to check flight status on the main screens or at home. Another example is Dominos’ skill that allows its customers to order pizza based on their historical orders by simply saying ‘Alexa, ask Domino’s to feed me’.
What’s the business value?
Equally as important as ensuring it’s going to be useful to customers is demonstrating from the very start how the project is going to create value for the business. Brands have two main options for investing in voice – building the tech into their own products or real-estate, or, as mentioned earlier, developing apps on the existing voice platforms, such as Alexa or Google Home.
While Amazon has been paying developers directly for their top-performing Alexa skills, this will only benefit a small minority of companies and developers. Thinking carefully upfront about where voice is likely to add value to the business – either via additional branded shopping or engagement experiences, or perhaps via freeing up customer service staff – will help drive voice projects forward.
As Amazon’s Alexa and other voice assistants become integrated into almost any device, the opportunities around the technology will become vast. And getting involved with this revolution doesn’t have to cost the earth. There are opportunities for brands both large and small to benefit from it. So, start experimenting now and discover the value voice could bring to your business.