For generations now, humans have grown accustomed to devices talking to us. We gathered around the wireless to get the news and sat around the lounge to watch sitcoms and game shows. People on the go listened to their favourite tunes on walkmans, and now there’s all manner of audio streaming our way on smartphones.
So far, the conversation has been largely one-way — but that’s beginning to change.Voice enabled technology is making rapid advances into the lives of consumers — and the potential to change the way we interact with our devices, each other, and brands is huge.
The current voice technology ecosystem is dominated by digital voice assistants (DVAs) like Apple’s Siri, Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa and Microsoft Cortana.
Based on a recent survey of 1,000 Australian consumers conducted by GrowthOps, 42% have used a DVA at least once. The most popular activities are searching online, followed by getting directions and composing texts or emails.The research also revealed that smartphones are the most popular device to access voice technology, well ahead of tablets, laptops and smart speakers.
Only 8% of Australians have used a smart speaker like Google Home, Amazon Alexa or Apple HomePod. In the US, the proportion of homes which own a smart speaker is double this at 16% based on NPR’s 2018 Smart Audio report.
In the US, Amazon’s Alexa dominates the market as the most popular smart speaker by far, while only having a marginal presence in Australia. Given the recent launch of Amazon into the Australian market and the popularity of the brand in the smart speaker space, we may expect to see the Australian market influenced strongly by Alexa as Amazon consolidates its presence here.
One of the clearest findings in our research was the generational divide in DVA usage. Most Australians aged under 34 have used DVAs in the past. This contrasts with less than half of people aged over 35 and only 17% of those aged over 65.
There is a massive opportunity for DVA providers to target older demographics. Part of this is also linked to smart speakers, which are more popular with older consumers in the USA, so we may see increased use of DVAs as smart speakers grow in popularity here.
Despite their revolutionary potential, DVAs are not changing our lives quite yet. One of the main factors preventing more widespread use is the ability of DVAs to translate the user’s voice to text. As with 3-year old Hannah’s frustration that Siri can’t show her a lion, 50% of Australian DVA users in our recent reported being frustrated by their device not understanding what they say.
And while an Australian accent can be difficult for some people around the world to understand, you have to feel some pity for poor Scottish or Irish DVA users!
Part of the problem for DVAs is that while they speak like us, they don’t listen like us.
In the vast majority of our interactions, the person we are speaking to can pick up on what we are trying to say with subtle cues, like body language and tone of voice.
If a family member asks you to ‘go and get some milk’, you wouldn’t need to ask what kind, you’d just know. There is a range of shared language and knowledge in the form of inferences, in-jokes and codes that we have with close friends and family.
At this stage DVAs have none of this. However, their ability to understand language is improving rapidly.With access to billions of points of data every day and cutting-edge Artificial Intelligence, the big players like Google, Amazon and Apple are improving their voice interfaces. There are already some categories, like transcription, where DVAs have begun to surpass human accuracy. In the future DVAs will be able to rapidly process contextual data, along with their historical relationship with users, to more accurately interpret instructions.
Despite these shortcomings and frustrations with DVAs, several brands outside Big Tech are already using voice to improve interactions with customers.
Domino’s has been a leader in the QSR space in adopting technology to improve customer experience. Its ‘DRU assist app’ combines voice recognition software with artificial intelligence to allow customers to talk, text and interact with the brand.
UK online supermarket Ocado is another brand using voice technology to improve the customer experience. It has created an app for Amazon Alexa that allows consumers to add products to their shopping basket, find out which products are in season, and keep track of orders.
Other promising examples include Whirlpool’s voice activated Alexa home appliances, which allow users to perform all the usual functions hands-free.
One of the first areas that brands need to pay attention to is optimising for Google voice search. Online searches are the most popular use of DVAs, and it’s something of a ‘winner takes all’ situation. In terms of voice search, Google rewards sites that have good load speed, featured snippets, and higher levels of security. If a brand’s site isn’t optimised for voice, then it is likely to lose out to competitors.
To summarise, here are four points for every Australian brand to bear in mind:
Undeniable trajectory — the rising adoption by customers, considerable innovation and investment by brands, and the rapid advances in technology all point to an inevitable growth curve for voice enabled technology.
Cater to current expectations — while there is a looming opportunity to innovate in this space, hygiene factors (e.g. search discoverability) should be front of mind for brands looking to optimise and meet current customer expectations.
Context is king — the how, where, when and why of individuals interacting with your brand, and the experience you deliver, will make or break your efforts to connect and add value through voice technology.
Experiment and hedge — despite its potential, the technology is still nascent, and with so many large players jockeying for dominance in the space, at this stage it pays for brands to experiment across various platforms.