Voice Assistant: What’s the hype all about?

In 2019, there were an estimated 3.23 billion digital voice assistants in use. This number is forecasted to increase to 8 billion by 2023, a number that exceeds even the population of the world. 

Use of voice assistants has been gaining increased traction due to the mass availability of smart virtual assistants like Google Home and Amazon Alexa. Supplementing this, is the prevalence of smart devices with built-in voice assistants, like Apple Siri, Google Now and Ford Sync.

The huge increase in smart device ownership and voice assistant usage presents enormous opportunities for businesses to engage with consumers via new mediums. To understand why voice assistants presents such a huge opportunity, let’s understand this technology from the beginning.

What is a Voice Assistant?

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A voice assistant is a voice-operated digital assistant that performs specific functions to user commands or responds to questions with relevant information. It uses speech recognition, speech synthesis, natural language processing (NLP) to understand users, in some cases, language translation, and a mixture of machine learning and artificial intelligence to act on and improve its responses.

There are three main functions that voice assistants of today can complete: task-oriented, knowledge-oriented, and customer engagement/marketing workflows.

Task-oriented workflows include adding items to a shopping list, making payments and playing music. These actions are generally acted through an application that the voice assistant is integrated with.

Knowledge-oriented workflows include answering basic questions about the weather, general knowledge or mathematical calculations.

Customer engagement workflows seek to increase brand equity and might include things like games and fun facts, or helping customers to achieve personal goals that ties in with an organization’s value.

What is a Voice Assistant used for?

Voice assistants are used across many sectors, including financial services, retail, media, healthcare and technology. In the enterprise, current voice applications are commonly used for sales, marketing and service functions. 

American Bank, Capital One, has built a “Capital One Skill” for their customers to check their balance, pay bills and track spending in any Alexa-enabled device.

Multinational retail corporation, Walmart, is entering voice-based commerce with the creation of “Walmart Voice Order” in partnership with Google. Walmart customers can expect to order through any Google assistant-powered devices, including Google Homes, Androids, iPhones and smartwatches.

Research firm Gartner also forsees an increased use of voice assistants in the workforce – by 2023, 1 in 4 employee interactions with applications will be through voice. There is huge potential for enterprises to be offloading their most mundane tasks like room bookings, cross-functional emailing or printing to voice assistants. 

Already, enterprises are building skills in voice assistants to expedite internal processes. Capital One has built an Amazon Alexa skill to monitor the performance of their Amazon Web Services cloud infrastructure. It allows their teams to quickly check the status of systems or to request updates on high severity events. Importantly, this skill is private only to the organisation through Alexa for Business.

Related: Building an Enterprise Voice Assistant MVP: Wins, Losses and Lessons

Enterprise Voice assistants are not without their difficulties

It’s clear that voice technology presents incredible opportunities for enterprises to enhance their customer engagement, but it is not without its difficulties.

Voice works best with well-integrated multichannel and multi-system infrastructure. Most organisations are still struggling with a fractured technology landscape, and voice technology would not work nearly as effectively in this environment.

The transition for consumers is also not a simple one. While consumers are comfortable with asking voice assistants about the weather, they’re not as thrilled with voice assistants announcing  more private details like their bank balance. Just as many brick-and-mortar businesses had to guide customers to browse their website back in the days, companies delving in voice technology need to guide users to effectively and comfortably use their new medium.

Related: 6 Steps for a Winning Voice or Chatbot Channel Strategy

Staying Ahead of the Hype

At the end of the day, staying ahead of the hype is knowing what your customers want, and leveraging the available technology to give it to them.

It’s critical that companies not build a Google action or Alexa skill just to keep up with the latest technology trend, but build based on understanding the needs of their customer base, and how voice can act as a new medium of engagement with them.

In the near future, those with the most prominence in the new voice channel will take the lion’s share of business.

Thinking about starting a voice projects? Get some pointers from our Voice Conversational AI Experts with a free consultation.

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