Voice technology: Don't type, talk to me!
- Posted on March 12, 2018
- Estimated reading time 4 minutes
In today’s dynamic world, the mantra to survive and thrive is: to stay ahead of ever-changing trends. 2016 was a big year for chatbots, while AI and machine learning took the spotlight in most of 2017. The year 2018 promises to be the landmark year for adoption of "voice" as a major channel of commerce for organisations. Research firm Canalys cites that the global smart speaker market is poised to grow to 56.3 million shipments in 2018, up from 33 million shipped worldwide in 2017. And Gartner forecasts that 50% of all Google searches will be done with voice by 2020.
Should we expect the death of keyboards by 2025?
I see voice as a channel permeating through our lives in three distinct ways:
- As a shopper or consumer through conversational commerce
- As an employee or enterprise enhancing productivity through conversational enterprise
- As a citizen or government body through conversational governance
Talking about the conversational commerce in the retail industry, Amazon Alexa is a clear winner and followed by a big distant is Google Home. It is estimated that Alexa could become a $10 billion business by 2020, thanks to its ability to power voice-driven shopping, in addition to other platform revenues. Assuming that’s true, traditional retailers need to get its skin in the game, too.
I am sure this cartoon image brings a smile to your face. Wait, I said Amazon is a clear winner or should I say, "Unfair Winner". Aren't we giving Amazon deeper penetration into our private lives and desires as consumers? Could this be an attempt by Amazon to influence customers decisions on the choices of what they need to buy? Can the adoption of this new voice channel through Amazon Alexa, Google Home, Microsoft Cortana and others eliminate the existence of brands? This is helping Amazon sell their story of becoming "Earth's biggest store". Scott Galloway, a marketing professor at the NYU Stern School of Business and the founder of business intelligence firm L2, explains how Amazon could eliminate the existence of brands with voice technology. He thinks Amazon has effectively conspired with voice and technology and half a billion consumers to kill brands.
I see there is a tremendous opportunity for brands/FMCG and retailers to act now and diversify their go-to-market strategy and invest into search in their direct to consumer channels. We have already seen Walmart’s attempt in this by integration with Google Express and Google Home for their e-commerce channel.
Is voice ready for enterprise prime time?
These days personal lives are entwined in corporate life. Voice in enterprise is already emerging as a winner, enhancing productivity through collaborative efforts.
Voice-based chatbots are here to capture entire gamut of services, both in business and personal space. Voice chatbots, which are omnipresent in customer services and day-to-day shopping, will soon become virtual assistants for businesses. The have already ventured through the business space and will soon be internalized into daily business operations. Voice-based chats will allow us to do below without having any significant change in our applications and devices (and this just a start):
- Applying for leave, checking vacation balance via HR systems
- Writing and sending emails to colleagues
- Having voice-based conversations with colleagues with a hint of personal touch, saving time/multitasking
- Managing and scheduling meetings by taking over the role of EAs/virtual EAs
How can we bridge the gap between cities and citizens? Can voice platforms assist?
Across the globe, government bodies (States/cities) have been trying to create a cultural, attitudinal and psychological shift to facilitate the closing the growing disconnect between public sector and its citizens leading to lack of citizen engagement. Public agencies are wondering how to they connect with you as a citizen in the way you want to be engaged and on the platform, you’re most comfortable with?”
We are already seeing public agencies are embracing the voice platform as a means of making information about services more readily available to their constituents. In some of cities in US, Las Vegas and states like Mississippi, Utah, Georgia and LA where there has been some progress in this area. Citizens not only being able to ask Alexa questions, but also being able to work with Alexa on simple tasks such as renewing a driver’s license or when is my driver’s license getting expired or it could be as simple as asking information like when recycling or garbage pick-up is this week.
Who will lead this race? Amazon is taking Alexa to the office with “Alexa for business”, Cisco unveiled plans for “Cisco Spark Assistant” but I reckon Microsoft has a strong lead in this space being an uncontested leader in office productivity. The biggest benefit that Microsoft brings to the table is integration with Windows and Office, arguably the office workers' tools of choice. Microsoft’s deep roots in productivity and business create some naturally-embedded strengths in Cortana and the uniquely contextual skills it can build for professionals.
Whether it is Alexa or any other voice assistant technology, I think this is the year when enterprises will have to develop strategies for voice-assisted technologies — because the eager digital workers are coming.
So, what's next from here. Will facial expressions trump voice in coming years as the new channel? Only time will tell!