Lorna Crowley, Head of Marketing at Engage Hub questions how the rise of virtual, voice-activated assistants will alter the communication channel of choice for customers.
Amazon's AI-driven personal assistant, Alexa is becoming a more familiar part of many households, with more than 11 million devices sold across the US, UK and German markets before January 2017.
In fact, investment firm Mizuho recently predicted the revenue generated by Amazon’s Echo and Alexa could exceed $11bn by 2020. This is a staggering figure but, given the way we are responding to Alexa as a new technology, seems wholly achievable.
Questions beginning with the pro-noun 'Alexa' are now becoming common components in our lexicon. We are getting used to asking the questions “Alexa, what is the weather forecast for today?”, “Alexa, can you play the latest Ed Sheeran song” or “Alexa, where is my nearest dry cleaner?”
With voice assistants, consumers now have the opportunity to interact with a business without having to take hold of anything tangible whatsoever. In an age where we all feel time-poor and on the lookout for new ways to interact with a business as quickly as possible, voice assistants are appealing in their undisputable convenience. As this video from The Verge demonstrates, ordering a taxi is now merely six spoken words away.
What's your angle?
The question now for business is: how can your company prepare for the voice assistant revolution to remain competitive and attractive?
Some of the larger retail brands are already beginning to see the value. Tesco, for instance, recently looked to create a more frictionless shopping experience for its customers by trialling voice ordering through Google Home. Amazon then took this one step further. Rather than just enabling customers to buy products using voice to spur the use of Alexa for shopping on Amazon online, Jeff Bezos’s company promoted 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.
Having this type of presence is rapidly becoming the price of entry for brick-and-mortar retailers aspiring to become cross-channel retailers. Finding another way of integrating the online store with automated replenishment services, combined across the growing number of digital assistants is quickly becoming a priority. Finding the right niche early on can easily pay dividends, however, given the repeat purchase a brand can command through an active Alexa skill.
As the retail industry adjusts to facilitating shopping online with the use of voice, the financial market is also starting to adapt and is encouraging online banking using this means as well.
An example of this is Capital One, who recently teamed up with Amazon to allow customers to access their bank accounts using Alexa. The provides an insight into an AI-powered future as customers can ask Alexa what their balance is, make a payment and ask when one’s due all by using voice.
Similarly, the delivery industry is starting to implement new ordering channels through the use of voice. FedEx is building an app that lets you 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 desired location to pick up the package and ship it, instantaneously.
First point of action, if you haven’t already, is to make sure your office has a voice-activated assistant to play with. Besides the obvious advantages of letting your developers experiment, setting up a device in your office can really start paying dividends for establishing how your products and services can fit into this new channel.
Look at the bigger picture. Ensuring your website and apps account for 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 crucial, long-term.
And finally, at a time when customers are used to reading about high profile data privacy breaches on an almost daily basis, trust is a key consideration. Amazon is currently developing speaker recognition features for Alexa so we could soon see a surge in biometric security to ensure that purchases and financial information are secure and safe – critical if consumers are going to continue using tools like Capital One's.
Quite rightly, customers and business professionals around the world are both excited and perturbed about the ramifications of voice assistant technology. The associated disruption is undeniable; but so is the proliferation. The challenge is how you can ensure that your business doesn't miss the opportunity to part of the conversation.