How to ride the voice assistant wave

by Brett Feldon
04 December 2017
ow to ride the voice-activated virtual assistant wave
A tech tsunami is on its way to Australian shores in the form of voice-activated virtual assistants and any companies that are unprepared risk being washed away. Fortunately, it’s not too difficult to future-proof your business.

Imagine a future where your customers are having dinner with friends and decide that the perfect ending to the evening would be a bowl of chocolate ice-cream, but had run out. They turn toward the kitchen and say to their in-home voice-activated virtual assistant “I need some chocolate ice-cream”.  

A few minutes later a drone drops off the vital goodies. They didn’t have to use a smartphone or stop what they were doing. They just spoke.

This future, of course, is not far away. In fact, it is almost upon us. Voice-activated virtual assistants such as Google Home are a continuation of a trend that is as old as business itself. 

Everybody who has ever been involved in customer service has been looking to reduce friction for their customers, meaning they have constantly sought to make it easier for customers to get what they want, when they want it. 

Many of the queries, processes and orders that people place online, via websites or apps, or over the phone via a call centre agent can now be taken care of by voice-activated virtual assistants. So how does your business get in on the action?

Is voice technology a good fit for you?

Could your business be improved by having the ability to answer customer's questions about your products and services at the moment they think of them? If so, in the current environment, a voice-activated virtual assistant will add value.

Let’s think about immediacy and how it affects businesses that are at opposite ends of the spectrum. If you have a taxi network, voice technology affords a great opportunity to engage with potential customers in their homes. 

It's a lot easier for a customer to say, “Okay machine, get me a taxi to Surry Hills” than it is to pick up a phone, find the app, load the app and enter the destination.

The next revolution is voice

At the opposite end of the spectrum, where immediacy isn't as important, might be a pool installation business. Using its service is a decision that a customer makes over a relatively long period of time with a high level of research. 

That's a space where in-home voice-activated virtual assistants probably have a lesser role to play in the near-term future. I say ‘near-term’ because as technological advances allow voice assistants greater functionality, all businesses will likely be drawn in.

Making your customers’ life simpler

The place where voice-activated virtual assistants will get initial traction, though, is related to immediacy of experience and engagement in the space where the technology lives – typically the kitchen. 

So the grocery example is a strong one. If an individual is making a shopping list, they no longer have to write it on a scrap of paper. They simply ask their voice-activated virtual assistant to begin a list, and add to it whenever they think of it. That list syncs with the user’s smartphone so they can use it at the supermarket. That’s one small impediment removed – the paper list. 

But what if the user no longer has to go to the supermarket? What if they make a shopping list then tell the voice assistant to make the purchase and have everything delivered? That’s an enormous impediment removed.

At the moment, much of the usage of voice-activated virtual assistants is around getting information like  “What’s the weather like?” or “Who sang Born In The USA?”. 

This, too, relates directly to certain types of businesses such as appointment-based operations (think hairdressers or doctors) and general retail. In the travel sector, Transport for NSW recently launched chatbot RITA (Real-time Intelligent Transport Assistant) which provides service updates and real-time information for train, bus, ferry and light rail.

Many organisations already have a very good reason to consider the power of voice assistants. As the technology matures even further over the next few years, businesses that don’t have a need to exploit voice technology will be in the minority.

How a business prepares for voice technology

Take a pizzeria. Behind the scenes of a typical business website is a range of infrastructure that makes it all work. This infrastructure will also underpin the operation of a mobile app. 

A voice app is similar to a mobile app – the same infrastructural innards will be behind the scenes doing the work and communicating with the business itself in terms of orders placed and so on.

A voice app instructs the machine how to respond. It tells the machine what questions to ask, when to skip or not skip questions, when to clarify questions and how to understand what the customer is saying.

All of these parts that work behind the scenes are remarkably similar to the parts that drive a website’s functionality. The difference is that the user is experiencing the app via conversation as opposed to visual presentation.

So if a pizzeria wants to get into the voice game they need have a voice app built. It might be a simple one where the customer has already entered their favourite order, via the restaurant’s website, and they simply have to say, “Okay machine, get my favourite pizza order”. The machine does the rest.

The level of complexity the machine needs to understand relates to the sophistication of the work to build the app, and is reflected in the cost. 

But there is an acceptable entry level for most businesses, and this at least will help that business familiarise itself with the technology and what it can do for you. 

It’s not too costly to future-proof your business. But it can be if you don’t.

Find out more about Salmat’s speech solutions offering here or call us on 1300 725 628. 

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About the author
Brett Feldon
GM - Speech Solutions

Brett Feldon is the General Manager at Salmat’s Speech Solutions business, which delivers tangible business benefit through the use of natural language, speech recognition and voice biometric technologies for customer service. He has a long history in understanding the challenges that underpin the delivery of customer service through contact centres, and the application of technology to improve that service delivery. In his roles across three countries he has had oversight of the delivery of customer service improvements with speech technology and related solutions across Australia, New Zealand, the UK and the US for both government and private sector users.

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