Have you lost your voice?

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Oli Taylor


July 20, 2020

After lots of talk around Voice Apps in the past few years, it’s gone a little bit quiet around voice. But now is not the time to lose your voice – and momentum around incorporating voice into a digital strategy to drive greater engagement with your brand or service.

It wasn’t so long ago that you couldn’t escape a marketing news article about the ascendancy of voice apps. Understandably now, with the world being rocked by the biggest pandemic in global history, businesses are having to pivot and many digital strategies have had to be re-written. Priorities have changed. So where does this leave voice?

Voice is still relevant, perhaps more so now

Millions of virtual assistants such as Amazon Echo and Google Home are being used everyday; more so now as people work and spend more time at home during the coronavirus pandemic, according to recent stats. An increasing number of mobile users find speaking to Siri much quicker and convenient than writing keywords into a tiny keyboard. And voice can also allow the elderly, children and disabled to access valuable information in a much more accessible way, driving both innovation and adoption in voice services supporting these audience’s needs.

As a starting point, ensuring your brand isn’t missing out on this valuable communication avenue by making sites optimised for voice is vital, particularly for businesses offering a service.

Not only is the number of voice device users on the rise, but the volume of voice searches also continues to grow. Within the past year alone 58% of consumers have found local businesses using voice search and 46% of those users will repeatedly use voice search to find a local business on a daily basis.

But voice skills can also deliver the potential for shouting louder than other ways of delivering a message and key information.

This was the case for one of our recent pieces of work with UK consumer protection charity Electrical Safety First, which works with all sectors of the electrical industry as well as local and central government to reduce deaths and injuries caused by electrical accidents.

Research showed that, despite ongoing communication, product recalls achieve a success rate of just 10-20%, leaving a host of potentially unsafe electrical items still in use throughout the UK, presenting a significant risk of fire. As only those consumers who register an item can be easily contacted in the case of a product recall, a significant proportion of the population won’t know if one of their appliances is a safety risk.

We identified that making recall information easily accessible through voice – as consumers go about their everyday life around their homes – could help to drive better results. And it has - with overall searches for product recall now up by 60% year on year.

Electrical Safety First’s new Alexa app introduces a really easy way for consumers to to make ad-hoc checks, accessing information on product recalls, while doing chores around the house and without having to open a website. They can effortlessly discover if they have a recalled electrical item by giving Alexa the item’s brand name and model. This initiative has also been a great ‘test’ to see whether more information sources like this should be accessed via voice.

So how do you decide how much to invest in voice and whether it’s the best use of digital spend?

Taking a customer-centric approach with our service design methodology means you will be choosing the right solutions and technology based on user's needs and behaviours, not putting the technology first. If providing voice has a logical place within the customer ecosystem then it will present itself as an opportunity to extend your reach through this continually emerging technology.

If research or an MVP shows that your voice application will not provide additional value – or lend itself to your product or service – then there may be little reward in progressing down this route. Just because you build something does not mean your audience will automatically seek it out or use it. In order to be successful, your voice application must deliver value and be useful to your audience.

What else needs to be considered?

Creating a voice skill does bring its own set of considerations and requirements to ensure a successful experience. As it’s relatively new technology, it is important to track and learn throughout the design process. Using data driven design we can see how people are interacting with the Skill, so we can take these insights and continue to improve the service.

Designing for voice also requires a different approach to the user journey than screens.

With a voice user interface, a person can ask anything and they can ask it a hundred different ways; it’s rarely a straight forward linear path.

Like launching a mobile app, you need to promote your skill to encourage people to use it. It’s not a ‘create it and people will come’. One of the barriers to greater uptake of a Skill or service through voice is that many users may not actually know how to use it or even how to install a Skill. While a Skill can be installed directly through the device, for example the command for Alexa is “Alexa enable (skill name)”, it’s our experience that this isn’t widely known. In the main, users are still using it for web searches, news and weather and to play music.

Voice is an important part of any digital strategy moving forward and a service design approach will enable you to identify the opportunities this platform can bring.

So if you're thinking about voice, here’s five starter questions to help decide whether Voice is for you

What research do you have that indicates a voice skill is a viable solution - and is more initial investigation needed into customer needs and behaviours to initiate the design development?

What problem(s) will it solve? Will it make things easier for your customers? – any voice technology or solution should provide a value to your audiences (this can be easily tested with an MVP).

Can your voice response provide enough information to not make the customer journey more complicated than before? While you can use Alexa’s Presentation Language, which allows you to build interactive voice and visual experiences across the device landscape, it should not rely on this to make sense.

What information does the customer need to provide? Is this too sensitive or complicated for voice? Many people will not want to be overheard asking for certain information or to provide personal data via voice.

What does success look like? Can you measure against your expectations of what an investment in a voice Skill will deliver to give a ROI?

And the next steps? If the answer to “yes” to these five questions then a great starting point is to find the minimal solution that provides value and roll this out before making any further investment, to further prove your case for voice. If, like in the case with ESF, you find that it does solve the problem and add value to a key success measure you can continue to iterate and build on the technology with confidence.

10 Essential Statistics on Voice

  • According to Amazon, there are now more than 100,000 Alexa skills and ‘hundreds of millions’ of Alexa users. Skills for UK audiences are estimated at around 35,000.
  • At the 2020 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas it’s reported that “it was hard to find a device that didn’t have Amazon’s voice assistant built-in’.
  • Around 1 in 5 (21%) of UK homes have smart speakers (5.8 million households; 10 million + people, 12 million devices).
  • Between 65-70% of owners speak to a smart device daily.
  • 50% of all smartphone users are engaging with voice search technology in 2020.
  • A leading research company predicts that 30% of all browsing sessions will include voice search by 2020.
  • Covid-19 lockdown has increased smart speaker usage, with 50% reporting an increase in news and information consumption.
  • Almost two-thirds (61%) of families using voice assistants in the living or family room, while 43% use them in the kitchen.
  • Even a couple of years ago 58% of consumers used voice search to find a local business, and 46% of people using voice search daily are searching for local business.
  • The most common voice searches on smart speakers are music (around 80%) and news and weather (around 60%), asking questions and finding facts (around 57%), local search.

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