Are you ready for the voice revolution? Gartner predicts that by 2020, 30 percent of web browsing will be done without a screen. Voice assistants accounted for twice as many sales in the fourth quarter of 2017 than in the fourth quarter of 2016. And speaking of voice-first devices like Amazon Echo and Google Home, voice-driven technology is being adopted at a faster rate than any technology in human history; by 2022, voice assistants will reach 55 percent of US households.
These statistics make it clear that voice-tech won’t merely be a nice-to-have capability in the coming years — it’s already becoming a must-have skill, and companies that don’t develop voice capabilities will be at a competitive disadvantage. Just as Marketing and Sales organizations invested in web development a generation ago and then created branded apps a decade ago to move the conversation to where their customers were, your brand will need to find its voice on the latest platform to stay relevant.
That said, making a move into this brave new voice-driven world can be a little intimating for some marketing and sales professionals. For one thing, the industry is fragmented. Amazon was the innovator in the space and still has the largest number of users, but Google is gaining market share, and other players are entering the space, including Apple. Brands that want to reach customers on voice platforms have legitimate concerns about getting locked into a single ecosystem, and they wonder about the investment required to develop skills for several platforms.
A related concern is the lengthy development cycle people associate with building a voice-tech skill. Company leaders worry that it will take forever to develop the capability, and marketers are concerned that they’ll have no opportunity to test voice assets until the development work is done. They’re also worried that the final product will be so complex that they’ll miss opportunities to apply real-time data in customer communication, and they wonder if a robotic voice will alienate people instead of improving the customer experience.
These are all reasonable concerns — making the leap to a new technology entails risk. But fortunately, voice-tech is evolving quickly to meet rising demand. It’s now possible for companies to affordably create an on-brand, voice-first presence without enduring a lengthy development cycle. With the right vendor, brands can access an integrated system for modeling and deploying high-quality, human voice-based audio capabilities across multiple channels and devices.
Today, a single system can allow development of skills on a one-and-done basis, creating a voice-first solution that works across popular home assistant devices like Amazon Echo and Google Home as well as inbound and outbound PBX, chatbots and virtual agents, SMS and email. Using this integrated approach, brands can create, store and manage voice audio segments, and marketers can model responses and test them internally to achieve a comfort level before a general release.
Since voice assistants like Echo are built with Artificial Intelligence, some marketers assume developing skills requires in-house expertise on AI or voice-recognition technology, but that’s no longer the case. There are solutions on the market now that make Human Voice on Demand (HVoD) simple to deploy. Users can access a cloud-based library management system to build templates, test synthesized voice audio and measure interactions tagged for all possible content. A well-designed HVoD system works similarly to the image management systems companies use to handle branded visual content.
With HVoD delivered via a Software as a Service (SaaS) system, brand leaders who recognize the potential of voice platforms can easily integrate voice into their marketing strategy. But more than that, they can truly give their company a voice. Instead of allowing a third party’s text-to-speech engine to converse with customers in a robotic voice, they can choose a SaaS system that allows the company to create contextually aware content in a voice the brand chooses.
Some of the HVoD software available today gives companies wide latitude in shaping the brand voice, which is critical for building a successful voice-first platform presence. With these solutions, the brand voice can be the voice of an established spokesperson — extending the value of that investment. Or the voice can reflect speech patterns that are common in a particular region and dialect, which provides a level of personalization and authenticity unavailable from skills voiced by a third-party platform.
Even without AI, voice-recognition or Natural Language processing skills in-house, companies can tap into vendor expertise for a voice solution that lets them apply real-time data and adjust tone, emotion, language and phrasing to enhance the customer experience. The tools to create a voice that is specific to the brand and emotionally and contextually relevant to the customer are available right now.
So, if you’ve been reluctant to join the voice revolution because you thought it would take too long, cost too much or require in-house expertise you don’t have, it’s time to think about the possibilities instead. Voice-tech is already disrupting the marketing and advertising space. Your customers are already using their voices to find the goods and services they need. Now is the time to find your company’s voice so you’ll be ready to answer them.