By the year 2021, the number of internet-connected devices is expected to reach 46 billion. As users increasingly rely on these devices to find information and get things done, voice artificial intelligence (voice AI) will be an important part of the user’s search journey. Amazon’s Alexa, Google Assistant, Apple’s Siri, and Microsoft’s Cortana have already become an important part of how users navigate their lives, and the competition is becoming fierce in terms of rolling out these new technologies before users become habituated to one voice AI assistant and are reluctant to change to something new.
Voice AI Trends
As mobile search has continued to expand, another trend has emerged: voice search. It is expected that, by 2020, 50% of all searches will be voice searches. With the emerging popularity of devices such as Amazon’s Echo, powered by Alexa, the effects on a retailer’s bottom line could be dramatic. Amazon has reported that in the six months following a consumer’s purchase of the Amazon Echo, those consumers spent 10% more on Amazon purchases than before they purchased Echo. Even more dramatic numbers were reported by NPD Group’s Checkout Tracking monitor, which found that half of the spending by Echo owners was for purchases on Amazon after they purchased the device.
In addition, voice AI such as Alexa is having an impact on how consumers purchase. A consumer can simply state the type of product they want to purchase — such as a household cleaning product, for example. If the consumer has previously ordered that product, Alexa will automatically place the same brand in the customer’s shopping cart. If the customer has not purchased that item before, and does not specify a particular brand, Alexa will choose from a list called Amazon Choice. The implications for manufacturers are significant in terms of ensuring their product is on the Choice list.
Alexa has competition, however. In addition to Apple’s Siri and Microsoft’s Cortana, Google recently rolled out Google Assistant, with plans to make it available on all devices running Android 6.0 or newer. As a result, Google Assistant has the potential to be in the hands of 9 out of 10 smartphone users, providing a huge advantage.
Voice AI has implications that go beyond retail. Last fall, Bank of America introduced Erica, a technology that is not only interactive but proactive, providing customers with suggestions on optimizing and consolidating banking functions. Now all banking customers can use Erica to access tools and advice for money management; it was previously available only to high net worth customers.
Why Voice AI Works
Amongst the reasons for its popularity are trust and efficiency. 68% of consumers surveyed said AI is less biased than humans and provides a faster response. 64% believe voice AI assistants are more polite than humans. In addition, voice AI is available anytime, whereas a human customer service representative may not be. This data helps explain why voice AI has been so quick to catch on, and it may also provide companies with a level of comfort in rolling out services on voice AI platforms.
The critical factor with voice AI technology is that it has to work. If a consumer reaches a customer service line and has to repeat their request multiple times, that’s unacceptable and consumers will not tolerate it. For voice AI technology to be effective in customer service, companies must ensure that their AI assistants speak and respond in a conversational manner and provide accurate content in the proper context. The companies that are the most successful at deploying voice AI for customer service will engage more customers and potentially sell more products.
What are the biggest objections?
One of the objections to the rise of voice AI technology is the concern that it will displace humans in customer service jobs. In a Pew Research Center poll, 48% of those responding said that AI and robotics would result in more jobs lost than created. However, Erica, for instance, is not intended to replace human contact and interaction with tellers. Rather, it is intended to create new, more personal relationships in banking. But in addition to concerns about job displacement, consumers worry about security and privacy, as more and more incidents of cyber-hacking are reported.
Indeed, voice AI is a game-changer for both consumers and businesses. It’s transforming the way consumers shop and the way companies target customers to increase sales. While there are concerns about negative impacts that need to be addressed, consumers have largely embraced voice AI and are expected to continue to do so over the next few years.
For businesses, the implications of voice AI are enormous in terms of improving efficiency, reducing costs, and boosting both revenues and customer satisfaction. The data capabilities voice AI offers can provide insights to help improve the customer experience and improve supply chain processes. In addition, implementing voice AI to connect customer service and retail personnel with inventory management and point-of-sale systems enables your business to provide more efficient customer service and deliver a more positive in-store customer experience.