Voice devices have become a mainstream utility in most homes, with voice-first engagement becoming more commonplace across technologies. According to the Smart Audio Report from NPR and Edison Research, the number of devices in homes have increased by 78% year-over-year, with Adobe’s latest State of Voice Assistants report stating that 32% of consumers now own a smart speaker, up from 14% in January 2018.
According to the NPR and Edison Research study, the average smart speaker household has 2.3 devices, with 52% using their device daily. These households use the devices for a variety of tasks, including doing research, tracking deliveries, managing personal calendars, buying products or just playing music. Beyond the use of smart speakers, even more people use the voice functionality on their phones or other Internet of Things (IOT) devices.
Analyst firm Juniper Research is predicting nearly 8 billion digital voice assistants to be in use globally by 2023, representing an annual compound growth of more than 25%. The Juniper report also predicts that voice-based commerce will reach $80 billion during by 2023.
With Google, Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft and Apple all being aggressive players in the voice space, it is a safe bet that voice will become the next big engagement platform for consumers and businesses. Even with this amazing growth, voice is still at the nascent stage of total potential. Many believe that Google and Apple have a competitive advantage, because of their ability to collect data from how voice interaction is being done on their mobile devices, and because they can facilitate seamless integration between smart speakers, mobile devices and various IOT devices.
“The growth in ownership, particularly the increase in devices per household, really speaks to the tremendous utility of voice assistant technology,” said Tom Webster, Senior VP at Edison Research. “While these devices initially served as audio appliances, they are now becoming integrated into the fabric of everyday life for tens of millions of Americans.”
Voice Engagement Is Part of Everyday Life
Voice engagement is quickly evolving from simple inquiries to dialogue where devices can understand user intent and behaviors using data stored either at the device provider level or at the consumer’s end location level (retailer, airline, financial institution, etc.). Voice engagement has become second nature for most consumers since voice has become integrated into products used daily, including cars, TVs, etc.
The way consumers have learned to do simple word searches on their computer set the stage for succinct voice engagement. While voice-based search inquiries are normally longer than text versions, the contextuality is usually clearer.
Using functionality like geolocation, time of day, previous habits and engagements, every interaction grows smarter over time. The contextuality of engagement makes every interaction more personal. And with almost everyone multi-tasking, voice allows consumers the ability to engage at any time while doing other activities.
Ultimately, voice devices will have the stored knowledge to proactively engage based on habits to make daily life easier. For instance, Google already provides traffic and time of arrival information without being asked based on time of day and habitual travel patterns.
Adapting to Voice Engagement
The growth in penetration and use of smart speakers and voice search means that financial institutions must understand how search engines are providing answers to consumer questions. Remember, as opposed to a typical computer-based test search, a voice search is most likely being done “on the move.” Therefore, it’s necessary to create strategies to be front and center not only when a consumer performs a text search, but also when using their voice.
The goal is to find ways to take over the conversation with your organization’s AI functionality as opposed to leaving the engagement in the hands of Google, Apple or Amazon. Remember, as soon as the consumer connects with your organization by voice, they expect the conversation to build naturally from where it began and to be able to leverage insights from all previous engagements, much like a relationship with a friend builds over time.
There are a rather limited number of standard inquiries that a prospect or current customer may have in the early stages of voice engagement. You need to understand the intent behind these most-used queries and be able to deliver accurate results based on the context of the conversation.
As your financial institution becomes more familiar with the voice-first customer journey, you should expand your paid search keyword lists to include more complex (but common) keyword phrases so you can connect with prospects or customers at each stage of their journey. Integrating unstructured information into your database can help in predicting where a conversation may be headed.
Finally, it is safe to assume the consumer will use multiple devices as part of their engagement. It is imperative to be able to connect conversations across devices over time. Your organization must allow for seamless hand-offs to other communication options (live agent, text, etc.) when appropriate.
Privacy and Security Remain Concerns
While the growth in voice devices and voice engagement is unprecedented, the privacy and security of voice technology continue to worry people. The most highly publicized concern for both users and non-users of voice devices is around the potential invasion of privacy caused by the “always listening” state of most devices.
For a device to always be waiting for a key “wake” word, it is always listening to a consumer’s conversation. At a time when the tech giants are being challenged about the information that is collected and potentially stored for targeting and engagement purposes, many consumers hesitate to engage or even purchase a voice device. This has ramifications for any financial institution that wants to leverage this technology.
Device security is also an area of concern, since most voice devices are connected to the internet as well as to IOT devices that control everything from lights to home security. The greater the connectivity, the greater the potential target for hackers.
Voice: An Engagement Game Changer
According to some, voice-first technology could replace keyboards entirely within five years. While some who follow the technology space believe voice is just a simple supplemental technology to what already exists, Mark Tluszcz, co-founder and CEO of Mangrove Capital Partners, believes voice could represent a “cataclysmic change to the user experience.”
“What’s clear to me is that the keyboard in five years will be gone as an input device,” said Tluszcz. He also believes that many companies will be build specifically to leverage voice engagement.
Voice-first engagement should become an important component of every financial institution’s marketing plan. The reason is simple – a prospect market with 100’s of millions of existing users can’t be ignored. And while most voice-first experiments by banking organizations are still rudimentary, Google and Amazon are not sitting still and are looking for ways to monetize the technology.
The battle for dominance in the voice-first marketplace is in the early stages, but financial institutions that move first to build a voice engagement strategy will be best positioned to capture the business of consumers who no longer want to sit at a computer to engage with banks or credit unions.