The way consumers interact with brands through their devices is changing in “the age of voice”.

The latest phase affecting the customer experience is voice interaction. Consumers now have the option to interact with a business without even picking up the phone or talking to a real person. In this age, when time is a luxury for consumers, being able to interact with a business as quickly as possible is the most appealing thing for a customer.

Historically, telephony has been the popular choice for customer service queries. That was until social media channels like Twitter, and messaging platforms like Facebook Messenger and WeChat utilized the messaging for their business needs. With this, the emergence of interactive SMS then became the channel through which customers changed their account details and left customer feedback. As well as SMS messaging promoting ease of use, it also lowered costs for the company. Call centres had previously been deemed expensive, due to call centre agents only attempting to resolve one customer query at a time, whereas with SMS, individuals could respond to multiple queries across the social media platforms at a time.

Now it is Amazon’s Alexa, a popular AI driven personal assistant (currently available in the UK, US and German markets) that is becoming an integral part of many households and the tool through which consumers can interact with business.

The ultimate 2016 Christmas present – Amazon has seen more than 11 million Alexa products sold globally by January 2017. In fact, investment firm Mizuho recently predicted the revenue generated by Amazon’s Echo and Alexa could exceed $11bn by 2020. This may appear to be a staggering figure but, given the way consumers are responding to Alexa as a new technology, the figure seems more than achievable.

If Mizuho’s forecast is anything to go by, the rise in popularity of ‘voice activated’ assistants such as Alexa (Amazon), Cortana (Microsoft) and Google Now (Google) will shift the way we search for goods and services for good.

Questions beginning with the pronoun “Alexa” are becoming common place and commands to virtual assistants are entering into our daily diction. We are getting used to asking the questions “Alexa, what does my diary look like today?”, “Alexa, can you play the chart show playlist” or “Alexa, what time does my local shop open?” While these questions are vital to the user, the main question on market analysts’ lips is now “Alexa, how are you going to change the way businesses and consumers communicate with each other?

The question now for business is: how can your company prepare for the voice evolution to remain competitive and attractive?

Alexa – what can’t you do?

Multiple industries are adapting to encompass the use of voice, and the financial market is one of these industries - encouraging online banking through voice.

Capital One has recently teamed up with Amazon to allow its customers to access their bank accounts using voice via Alexa. This provides an insight into an AI powered future. Customers can ask Alexa what their balance is, make a payment and ask when one’s due all by using voice.

The use of voice to command action is not restricted to the retail or banking sector. Similarly, the delivery industry is starting to implement new ordering channels through the use of voice. FedEx is building an app that enables you to ship packages by saying, “Alexa, I want to ship a package,” Once customers have completed the package details, a FedEx truck arrives at the customer's location to pick up the package and ship it to the desired location.

How quickly are retailers reacting?

Large retail brands are also starting to see the fundamental value of voice and voice activated assistants.

Tesco is attempting to lead the way in a more user-friendly shopping experience for their customers by trailing voice ordering through Google Home.

To avoid being outdone, Amazon then took this to another level. Instead of merely enabling customers to buy products using their voice, Amazon implemented Alexa-only deals, whereby users simply have to say “Alexa, what are your deals today?” and Amazon provides key products at discounts based on its knowledge of the consumer.

For retailers, emitting a strong online presence is vital for them to become cross-channel suppliers. Finding another way of integrating the online store with automated replenishment services, combined with the growing number of digital assistants, is poised to quickly become a necessity. Once retailers have achieved this, customers can expect to be doing their shopping by using just their voice in the not so distant future. 

A new age: Is your company ready for voice activation?

There are a number of things to consider as a business when preparing for the age of voice as a main route of communication.

Firstly you need to make sure your office has a voice-activated assistant – there’s plenty to choose from depending on your requirements. Besides the obvious advantages of letting your developers experiment, setting up a device in your office can really help productivity for everything from scheduling a meeting to ordering stationery.

Trust is a key consideration at a time when customers are used to reading about high profile data privacy breaches on an almost daily basis. Amazon is currently developing speaker recognition features for Alexa so we may see a surge in biometric security to ensure that purchases and financial information are kept safe and secure – critical if consumers are going to adopt the technology and keep coming back. Keep a lookout for announcements to make sure you and your business stays ahead of the curve.

Ensuring your website and apps recognize voice-enabled searches is a very small piece of the puzzle. Implementing natural language understanding to deliver a seamless customer experience across multiple devices, that all talk to each other, will be the difficult part.

And finally, begin to think about integrating data from Amazon’s Alexa to deliver relevant messages via SMS, email or push notifications to customers on the move. For the time-being, Alexa is restricted to just the home, so consider how you can also combine geolocation technology with spending habit information from Alexa to create the ultimate digital experience for the ‘on-the-go’ consumer.

Quite rightly, customers and business professionals around the world are getting excited about natural language technology. The challenge now is creating a seamless customer experience that will keep them coming back for more.


By Lorna Crowley, head of marketing at Engage Hub

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