Financial Marketers Can’t Ignore The Boom In Voice-Powered Channels

Between digital voice assistants like Alexa and a surge in calls from consumers triggered by digital activities — search, social, and online/mobile ads — voice-powered channels are booming. Bank and credit union marketers must devise strategies for this fast-moving space. That means ensuring all voice-based interactions — including phone calls — are pain free, and that systems are in place to capture the valuable data these interactions generate.

Voice-powered communications are enjoying the biggest tear since Alexander Graham Bell first got the ball rolling back in 1875. After taking a back seat to PCs and smartphones, voice telephony no longer seems quaint. New digital technologies are now propelling it to the front of the retail delivery mix, and financial marketers are racing to take advantage of the opportunities.

In the world of business, voice-driven interactions currently falls into one of three main camps:

1. Voice assistants. Banks and credit unions are wrestling with how to leverage Amazon’s Alexa, Google Assistant and other similar digital assistants that operate primarily using smart speakers like Amazon’s Echo. Forrester estimates that in about four years half of all U.S. households will have a smart speaker.

2. Voice search. Roughly three out of every five consumers (58%) have utilized a voice search agent like Siri or Cortana to find information, according to BrightLocal. More than one in four of them (28%) will call a local business after making a voice search.

3. Good old fashioned phone calls. According to DialogTech, these inbound calls — whether to contact centers, head offices, or branches — are especially important in marketing campaigns for “industries with complex, expensive, infrequent or urgent purchases, such as financial services.”

Data from BIA/Kelsey reveals that the volume of phone calls has surged from 93 billion calls annually worldwide to approximately 162 billion, fueled largely by online/mobile search, digital advertising, social media, and website pages. Now it may seem a little counter-intuitive that people are making more telephone calls, but Viji Davis, SVP Marketing for DialogTech, says digital ads and mobile search results all include a click-to-call feature, making it very easy for people to call their financial institution with questions.

According to Dipanjan Chatterjee, Principal Analyst with Forrester, CMOs believe that brands implementing some form of voice-assisted help will see a 25 percentage point improvement in Net Promoter Scores.

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While all three flavors of voice interactions are growing, voice assistants get the most attention. It’s new, it’s cool. But Chatterjee says that people mostly use smart speakers for trivial tasks right now — e.g., checking the weather, or streaming music. It’s frustrating when the assistant says (as she or he often does), “Sorry, I can’t help you with that.” Nevertheless Chatterjee predicts that such voice technologies will mature and enjoy widespread consumer adoption “before you know it.” After all, nearly a third of the world’s population has a smartphone today.

“We will be at a point where voice will be the natural medium across an entire spectrum of devices,” Chatterjee says. Indeed, voice is already in cars and in some home appliances. “It’s a natural, device-agnostic way to interface with everything around you.”

He outlines the following three reasons why voice is going to cause one of the biggest paradigm shifts in the way consumers interact with brands:

  1. It’s natural. Voice is what people are accustomed to. It’s how they primarily communicated prior to the time where everyone carried pocket computers requiring keystrokes.
  2. It’s liberating and easy. People lead busy lives and using voice commands is one less thing they have to do with their hands.
  3. Voice is emotional. Most people aren’t very good writers, and struggle conveying subtleties like tone and context in written form. Humans are also hugely emotional beings (more on that next).
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‘Machines vs. Humans’: That’s the Wrong Perspective

Marketers have been trained to think of consumer choices in classic business-school terms like “The Four Ps” (price, product, place, and promotion). But Chatterjee says human beings are “predictably irrational.”

Nobel Prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman would agree. He says over 90% of the decisions people make are emotional. Forrester put this theory to the test, and found that approximately half of a brand’s energy derives from its ability to “emotionally activate” consumers. The other half derives from left-brained and logical deductions — such as having the right products and services.

And this is where it gets interesting. Engineers are using artificial intelligence and machine learning to blur the lines between humans and machines, making voice-powered agents like Amazon’s Alexa and BofA’s Erica more and more emotionally authentic.

For now, Erica’s top requests include paying bills and managing credit and debit cards. Consumers understandably aren’t interesting in talking to a digital assistant — basically a robot — about important banking matters beyond ATM locations and past transactions. But when voice-enabled agents are able to express empathy, Chatterjee says adoption rates for such technologies can really accelerate. Imagine being able to talk to a voice-powered assistant able to detect the difference between sarcasm and rhetorical questions, and respond accordingly (or not, in the case of a rhetorical question).

“Certain things — context, empathy and recognizing high-value — humans do best.”
— Dipanjan Chatterjee, Forrester Research

“If you put machine and human together, it is a better brand experience,” Chatterjee says. At this point in the technology’s evolution, there are just certain things humans do better — things relating to context, empathy, and a focus on the highest-value use cases. If banks and credit unions let machines handle the more mundane tasks for which they are better suited, then humans can have the time to focus on what they do best.

However Chatterjee cautions that the potential of voice can only be realized when you acknowledge that the technology does not stand by itself. “It is inextricably intertwined with your customer experience,” he says. “It works best when you interject it over parts of the customer journey where it will add the most value.”

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Optimizing the Inbound Call Channel

When someone calls a business, the conversation reveals a wealth of marketing insights on consumer’s expectations, needs, preferences, aversions and sentiment, said DialogTech’s Viji Davis.

“Calls provide marketers with access to the questions consumers have — in their own words — for each of your products and services at every stage of the consumer journey. They reveal the answers your business gave to those questions and whether they helped win or lose the consumer.”

Furthermore, inbound consumer calls convert at a 10x to 15x higher rate than the next closest media channel, according to DialogTech. Forrester found that on average callers convert to revenue 30% faster, spend 28% more, and churn 28% less than consumers who contact businesses online. Conversely, research shows that 84% of consumers would cease doing business with a company after a negative call.

With that kind of potential, it’s critical that banks and credit unions get the voice channel right, especially if they raise consumer expectations through personalized digital advertising and website content but fail to deliver when the person calls.

Davis offered these suggestions:

  • A basic: Make sure your institution is easy to reach, whether that’s in paid search or optimizing your contact number in Google My Business.
  • Another basic: Eliminate caller pain points. For example, one in five calls from paid search go to voicemail — wasted opportunities for conversion. Long wait times are another. So is being routed to someone who can’t help you.
  • Be sure your digital advertising can track where a person is calling from and who that person is, using call attribution software.
  • Use voice analytics solutions to turn that unstructured conversation data into actionable data that you can follow up on, including retargeting them with a relevant digital ad campaigns if there was no conversion, or upselling/cross-selling if a consumer did convert.

Davis, who previously worked at a bank, gave this for-instance: A bank or credit union can examine paid search to see what queries are being searched on where the calls are coming from. Are there certain locations that have a spike in requests for HELOC information, for example? Using that data, the financial institution can optimize its paid search, organic listings and other digital ad buying.

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