Whether it’s Alexa activating your morning routine, Sonos playing your favourite tune, asking your microwave to defrost your meal, or a Smart Bulb to activate your lights, the commands we make are becoming increasingly voice-led.

By early-2019, there were already 3.25 billion voice assistants globally across Google assistant Siri, Amazon’s Alexa, Microsoft’s Cortana, the Samsung-developed Bixby, and Alibaba’s Tmall Genie; while nearly 50% of people were using voice for web searches.

Alexa came to Australia in 2018, and has since become a widely adopted voice assistant found in living rooms, kitchens, bedrooms and bathrooms throughout the country.

Australian smart speaker adoption reached 29% of the adult population by January 2019, and that’s tipped to rise. So it’s important for businesses to understand how to create content that’s intuitive and conversational, contextual, relevant, succinct and on-brand.

Voice is applicable to a whole range of industries, and it’s not all about specifically designed devices: voice technology can be found in cars, call centres, or even in fridges and microwaves.

Voice cuts across generations

A survey by The Works and the University of Technology Sydney surveyed 2,000 Australians and asked them what industries they would consider using human voice interfaces to interact with.

Almost six in 10 (58%) said to get the latest news, followed by entertainment inquiries (53%); events (40%); transport information (37%); restaurants (34%); health (31%); travel (30%) and retail (29%). It’s clear the audience is ready to speak — they’re just waiting for brands who know how to listen.

The new wave of digital natives — from millennials to Gen Z — are set to use voice commands first and foremost. Forget swiping and scrolling, this generation is conversant in commanding and has little tolerance for digital experiences that can’t adapt.

Businesses that can learn to listen to this generation’s voice commands will have a head start on their competition.

And baby boomers who struggle with dexterity and motor skill limitations, or people who are visually disabled, will find voice commands life-changing.

Brands are now able to hear from customers who may suffer from dyslexia, or who have never before been able to type out the questions they need to have answered.

Voice opens up a dialogue that simply isn’t possible in other forms of marketing. Instead of being shouted at by businesses, consumers are able to initiate a conversation themselves, and engage with them at their own pace.

Finding the right words

A voice experience must be crafted in a way that delivers something useful and includes a memory or an emotional hook. Customers need to be able to get what they want simply and easily, with the highest degree of accuracy.

The same is true in reverse: verbose dialogue and long-winded introductions can detract from the experience and result in low audience engagement. Voice experiences are generally devoid of visual stimulus so, as a rule, every word is fighting for its existence on the page for efficacy, context and relevance.

Even though natural language processing (NLP) models are becoming more advanced and accurate, there’s still quite a way to go before 100% accuracy is the norm.

Be mindful that small, single-syllable words have lower accuracy. A study conducted in 2018 found that the word ‘bean’ had a 0% accuracy rate and was misinterpreted in 12 different ways, including ‘been’, ‘beam’ and ‘bing’. Minimalism is key.

Learn how to listen

Alongside the obvious requirement of basic comprehension, businesses also need to understand their audience, their requirements, desires, preferred outcomes and the best ways to engage with them. In short, they need to learn how to listen.

Voice is one of the first marketing channels where the customer has complete control over the interaction. It’s there for them when they need it, and it doesn’t get in the way when they don’t.

It’s a reminder that businesses should always review how they interact with their customers particularly when there is an opportunity to make engagement easier, faster, and quicker – regardless of what channel that communication is happening on.

First published on SmartCompany in July 2020.

   alexa, voice assistant, voice
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