I recently spent a week in Chattanooga Tennessee for Project Voice, a key event for voice tech and AI in the US. Here are the key points I came away with in a packed week of learning, sharing and networking with the who’s-who of practitioners, technologists, executives and leaders in the space.
Big players mean everything to play for
The event focuses on the major voice ecosystems (Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant and Samsung Bixby) with each of them having a day dedicated to them. What was clear from the week is that they are all still pushing big on voice. They see it as critical for their future, are investing in it heavily with no signs of that stopping. This fact was further highlighted this week with reports that Google Assistant will take over voice searching in the Chrome browser this year, replacing the current voice search method. That signals a game changer for voice assistants through browsers and mobile and there will be many more updates in the coming months and years.
In short, what those of us in the voice community have been saying for years now is bearing out… Voice will be everywhere…. and you need to understand how best to use it.
Good for business
But it’s still a developing industry and what’s exciting to me is that there is still plenty of opportunity, particularly for brands and companies in voice. No one has won yet; the game isn’t over and everyone is still very much in play. Brands and businesses that understand their customers and are clear about their own voice have the chance to shape their future in this field and lead. One of the clear outtakes is that it’s important for brands to think from the assistant view. What can I do as a brand to help, rather than what am I trying to help with? Think outside in rather than inside out. And remember, customers want help, not to know about you and your brand so it’s important to be concise.
Following our recent release in the V Commerce space for Interflora, I was pleased to that there was lots of talk about retail. The key takeaway here was ‘less is more’ and to not try to do everything for everyone. It’s about enhancing the experience not replacing it. Spotify us a good example of this. You can play songs via voice, but you can’t create a playlist. Why would you? It would be hard with voice, so why try? You might be a retailer but that doesn’t mean you have to sell via voice if that’s not going to work well for you or the customer. Consider promotions, creating deeper engagement and supporting in-store.
You may choose to leverage voice to drive footfall to store or encourage trial or sampling. However, it’s important to let customers know what they can and can’t do with your voice experience, so you meet expectations.
The message was clear that retailers need to take a view now on where they will be in two years. They should consider their investment in voice over that time and the value they would put on being ahead of their competitors in two years’ time.
Voice for Good
What was encouraging was that some of the standout examples of use cases at Project Voice were in health and social care. I was impressed by ProjectZilver, an initiative from the Netherlands that looks to support older people in their daily lives through the use of voice assistants. There is a genuine need to help improve the quality of life for the older generation, so this was a great example of ‘thinking outside in’ through voice.
The event had a full stream on healthcare and its clear that this is an area which will see huge benefits from voice. In the UK, we have seen how the NHS have already invested in an Alexa Skill to offer Health Advice.
Creating sounder sound
A key watch out I picked up was to always consider sound when developing in voice. It’s sounds obvious but sound is everything when designing for the medium. It’s crucial on both a functional and emotional level. Currently not enough attention is being put on sound design in skills and voice applications. Sometimes it isn’t even considered. Firstly, it is has to be of good quality but we also need to think more about how we bring people into the environment and paint a picture in their imagination. Sound and Voice creates a connection. You feel that the experience is listening and that can build deeper engagement. This is where brands can win and should be number one on the ideation list for 2020.
Overall Project Voice reaffirmed my belief that voice is an ever-developing industry. One that continues to improve and grow and we are nowhere near the end of its development – not by at least 20 years. Will we see more use cases and it becoming habitual? For sure!