Voice Technology Will Change Customer Expectations


If it seems like everywhere you turn, you’re being hit with yet another statistic or story about how voice tech is the future. Consider this your wakeup call: it’s time to start paying attention.

We’re on the cusp of a voice tech revolution. Gartner predicts that in 2020, 30% of web browsing will be done without a screen, and voice devices like Amazon Echo and Google Home are already being adopted at a faster rate than any technology in human history.

That means if you’re ignoring the opportunity to deliver voice-based customer interaction, you’re about to get left behind. And, failure to adopt this game-changing technology could very well spell the end of your company. 

Voice technology is the future of Amazon

Make no mistake, that’s not hyperbole or an empty threat. Already one-third of smart speaker owners say they want voice-based customer service options, while another 30% are unsure — which makes for a rich opportunity to capture that audience share. And, with as many as 75% of households expected to own a smart speaker by 2025, implementing a voice program now is a huge opportunity to gain early adoption and edge out your competition. 

In fact, we’ve seen these kinds of seismic shifts before when it comes to being first out of the gate to adopt new technology. When the modern internet first emerged as a marketing channel, it was perceived by many as simply an online brochure. Very few companies saw the potential for e-commerce and most assumed that no one was going to actually buy stuff online. Then, along came Amazon, which literally defined e-commerce as we now know it. Then, it was just a bookstore, but it quickly buried the competition, driving Borders Books out of business thanks to their slow-to-market approach. 

We saw a similar transformation in the late 2000s as the app-based economy took off. Many companies ignored the opportunity to build and launch an app, which made their target audiences ripe for the picking by competitors who were first to market.

It happened again with the emergence of social media and Web 2.0 around 2014. Back then, no one thought advertising on Facebook and Twitter was more than a fad. Just four years later, Facebook generated some $54 billion in ad revenue and is largely responsible for forcing many newspapers to drastically change their business models or simply fold because they can’t compete.

As history shows us, we’re likely very quickly coming to a point where, if you’re not prepared to deliver voice, you’re already behind the curve. And, as sales, marketing and investing guru Grant Cardone says, “If you’re not first, you’re last.”

Why voice tech matters

You may be wondering what’s making voice such an attractive channel. After all, the automated voice phone systems of a few years ago were clunky and made customers want to throw their phones through a window. So, what’s changed?

First, voice recognition technology and natural language processing (NLP) have evolved by leaps and bounds. The process of accepting voice input and responding using AI-driven, pre-scripted prompts now feels as natural as having a conversation with a friend. “Alexa, what’s the weather forecast for today?” or “Siri, play Twenty-one Pilots” is fast, hands-free and it works.

We’ve all had a situation where we’re in the middle of cooking or driving or in the shower — a moment where you can’t reach for the phone or tablet — and suddenly remember you forgot to make an appointment or to check the status on a loan application. Voice makes it possible with superior convenience and ease, giving users the information they need when they need it in a very natural way. 

This will soon become the expectation. And, it’s a powerful way for companies to build stronger, more loyal relationships with their customers by creating a human connection over a channel that makes it incredibly easy. 

Furthermore, voice literally allows a brand to create their own voice and identity for interacting with customers. How many of us recognize John Corbett as the voice of Applebee’s or John Krasinksi as the voice of Esurance? Or Ving Rhames booming “We have the meats!” for Arby’s? Creating that human connection, that familiarity, can be a critical factor in driving customer loyalty. 

For both customers and companies, voice is the best of both worlds. Technology that feels human, which allows companies to:

  1. Create deeper connection and familiarity
  2. Enable 1:1 interaction that makes the customer feel like they’re your only customer
  3. Provide a rich, interactive experience customers expect
  4. Deliver real-time response at scale so customers can get the answers they need without having to wait for a representative, no matter how many other customers are asking questions.
  5. Enhance trust and engagement.

Why now is the time for voice tech?

I get it. It’s easy to think “we’re not quite there yet, so why rush to voice?” And, that’s partly true. 

While adoption of voice is growing, we’ve not quite reached critical mass — that tipping point where everyone is doing it, so it feels safe. The problem is, if you wait that long, it could be too late. The Apple Appstore is a great example: the iPhone wasn’t the only mobile phone to use apps, but Apple was the only one that created its own ecosystem for them. The rest were scattered across phone brands and carriers in a fragmented system. Apple took the reins, opened its ecosystem to developers and, once key apps started monetizing, the race was on. Everyone else was too late, and they lost. If it’s not immediately obvious, let me be clear: you need to be Apple when it comes to voice.

At the same time, the applications for voice are use-case specific, so don’t feel like it’s all or nothing. You don’t have to voice-enable your entire customer service ecosystem because it just doesn’t make sense in all situations. For example, a bank probably won’t want to voice-enable its mortgage or auto loan application because that would just be far too clunky. But, the ability to check your account balance or the status of your loan application? That’s ideal for voice.

How to embrace the voice technology revolution

Hopefully, you’re on board with the fact that voice is the future and you’re ready to get with the program. 

The good news is you may be farther along than you think. If you’ve already built a chatbot for your website, you’re already 80% of the way to building a voice skill, according to SPLICE Software CEO Tara Kelly. 

“You’ve figured out what questions will likely be asked, and how to answer them,” she says. “So, you’ve already got a large part of the infrastructure in place, which means that last mile to voice isn’t quite so overwhelming.”

Besides nailing the Q&A, you’ll want to lock in your name on the voice ecosystem. It works much like claiming a URL or an app name — if you don’t secure it now, you could be forced to use something less-optimal. You may remember that it took Discover (the credit card company) years to get discover.com away from The Discovery Channel, and American Express learned the hard way that the NY Stock Exchange wasn’t going to give up AmEx.com easily (which still hasn’t happened). Nail down your identity now, even if you’re not ready to launch a voice program quite yet.

Finally, make sure your data is correct in all the voice assistant information directories. And, if you think it already is, you might want to double-check. According to a recent study covering Boston metro, a paltry 3.8% of businesses had correct information listed, and over 1 million errors in opening hours alone were found across Google, Yelp and Bing. If the error rate is that high in Boston, one can only imagine what it must be on a national scale. This is low-hanging fruit — go check your listings right now and update where necessary.

The bottom line is that voice isn’t coming. It’s already here. And, if you’re not ready, by the time you realize how important voice is, it may be too late to own market share in your space. Trust me, you don’t want to play catch-up. It’s more costly than you think. Just ask the folks from Borders.

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