Voice Based Technology, The New Normal?

Businesses are using tech to converse, not just broadcast to potential consumers

If businesses think the consumer market of today is a hard nut to crack, they’ve got another think coming. Tomorrow’s customers will be even more tech savvy and wary, having grown up alongside innovative technology. According to Amazon’s senior vice president David Limp, “Kids today will grow up never knowing a day where they couldn’t talk to their house.” Unsurprisingly, the retail leaders are already setting themselves up for this eventuality. A new Echo Plus device will work instantly with a number of smart home applications, accelerating smart home set up and adoption (with Amazon’s emblem, of course). Next year, Alexa will also be built into certain BMW and Mini models. Sat navs, smart home devices, and digital personal assistants all chatter away to us, but the next step is encouraging a two way conversation. With the advancement of Natural Language Processing, this will become much easier.

Talking to tech

Although not everyone would choose to go straight to Siri to locate the nearest Italian restaurant, most would arguably be able to. Apple is one of many businesses that are attempting to capitalise on speech communication, creating a seamless relationship between brand and customer. Amazon, of course, is another prime example. As the ability of these products to understand colloquialisms and everyday language evolves, the companies behind them will be able to get closer to serving consumer needs.

To return to the Siri example, it’s likely that at some point your phone’s personal assistant has misheard you. Speech recognition has been limited by technological teething problems, but this won’t be the case for long. DeepMind’s latest Text to Speech (TTS) platform, for instance, can now produce natural intonation at a resolution of 16 bits – twice that of its predecessor. The system is already generating US English and Japanese voices in Google Assistant, Alphabet’s answer to Amazon’s Alexa. The logical progression is to integrate this technology into wearables, and, if Elon Musk gets his way, eventually inside the brain. At that point, talking to tech will become routine – if not necessary. The first challenge, of course, is introducing these products to a customer base that is ready to accept them. The second challenge is anticipating how this will impact future behaviours.

How will talk technology disrupt consumer behaviour?

The availability of constant conversational interfaces is obviously going to affect the way that consumers interact with electronics. Much like the integration of mobile personal assistants, it won’t be long before people expect to be able to ask their electronics for immediate answers. According to best selling author and international speaker Nathalie Nahai, otherwise known as the Web Psychologist, the demand for instant and ubiquitous products will continue:

“We’ve learned to expect convenience, in the form of personalised content and experiences, and ease of use. However, our awareness around issues concerning data use and privacy has also sky-rocketed,” she says. “Given the recent scandals surrounding the use and alleged impact of psychometric profiling on voting behaviours and social interactions, it should perhaps come as no surprise that consumer trust in brands is low. With various bodies starting to call for a data science code of ethics, I think it is likely that this theme will provide a challenge to brands wishing to better connect with consumers.”

Aside from refining data ethics, one of the most important things businesses can do to respond to transforming consumer behaviours is to acknowledge them. Another simple way to meet changing demand is to know what that demand actually is. Create quality products that serve the consumer need, and consumers will buy them. In the past and even today, a lack of focus on consumers has been responsible for a disjointed relationship between company and consumer. Collecting and analysing in depth market research is the simple answer.

Today, talking to tech is still something of a novelty. Nonetheless, developers are clearly getting serious about human to machine communication in every sense. In the not so distant future, the novel personal assistants built into our smartphones and various apps will be constantly available. There can be no doubt that through usage, this will disrupt consumer preferences, leading to markets that expect on demand, personal and constantly accessible products or services.

Dealing so closely with consumer information will necessitate even more diligent data protection, as product development will rely on the quality and security of market metrics. Of course, there will still be those who find the concept of chatting away to a smart device inherently unsettling. As well as keeping up with the next wave of consumer demands, businesses also need to cater for the loyal customers that aren’t quite ready to make the transition.

As a consumers how willing are you to talk to technology? How else have companies used speech technology to engage with their customers? What voice techniques does your business use to keep up with consumers? Comment below with your thoughts and experiences.