In the coming weeks, Amazon’s virtual assistant will acquire some intelligent new skills. And the smartest of which, from a business standpoint, will be something that Director of Applied Science, Alexa Machine Learning, Ruhi Sarikaya calls “Skills Arbitration.”
“We’re rolling out this new capability that allows customers in the U.S. to automatically discover, enable and launch skills using natural phrases and requests,” he said.
Skills are what Amazon calls voice applications. And, as of this month, there are already more than 40,000 for Echo owners to search through and choose from that enable everything from checking bank balances to checking the battery levels on a BMW i3.
Voice Assistants: Simplifying discovery for new customers
And just as with a smartphone, until now, finding the right app meant manually searching through and discovering them.
However, in the coming weeks, when a user asks Alexa for advice or for help, she will be able to autonomously search through and pull up a voice app that will meet your needs.
“This capability will provide customers frictionless direct access to, and interaction with, third-party skills,” explained Sarikaya.
Perfect timing – for businesses with the right approach
“This new feature has arrived at a crucial time,” says Gordon White, General Manager US TSC, the Sitel Group’s Digital CX agency. “Voice will be the preferred man-machine interface of the future and skills arbitration is going to make it much easier for brands to be heard and begin to build business models around the new channel. However, search and discovery is only half of the story. Unless your voice app meets a genuine user need and genuinely adds to your existing customer experience, Skills Arbitration won’t help you.”
The uptake rates for smart speakers and virtual assistants outstrips that of any communications technology in history. Apple says that 500 million people engage with Siri, while Google says 400 million users are interacting with Google Assistant, either via smartphone, smartwatch or speaker, while it’s estimated 10 percent of US homes have an Amazon Echo device.
Voice – the interface of the future
Therefore it is vital for consumer-facing brands to start thinking about a voice business strategy now if they haven’t already.
“It’s crucial to develop a strategy, considering the unique qualities of voice as an interface, how it can reduce customer effort and build more personal relationships between businesses and their customers,” warns White.
So, if brands want to start seriously debating a voice strategy, they first need to listen.
“Here, our clients already have a head start,” points out White. “They have amassed valuable experience through listening to customer service calls. That’s a great foundation to truly ‘hear’ customers and begin to define which apps or skills will provide value.”
This will also help create something that delivers in terms of voice’s specific characteristics and in a manner that’s authentic. Surprisingly, customers may already have a mental image of what your brand’s tone of voice should sound like. Is it masculine, feminine, synthesized like a robot? Does it speak in neutral English, with a Southern accent, Midwestern flat?
“Design is important, and not just the tone and manner of delivery,” White continues. “Voice is a path to offering a unique customer experience and reducing customer effort. It’s a unique touch point in and of itself.”
Ask for expert help
In addition to designing for a new experience, skills and apps have to be perfectly aligned with the customer and the business strategy, something that can require a substantial effort to get right.
“For many organizations, the clear answer will be seeking out independent partners with the right expertise to integrate voice into the customer journey and to create value-added interactions,” White concludes. “This will also help your brand constantly refine, improve and scale up your voice strategy in line with new innovations and capabilities and, of course adoption rates. Don’t forget, voice is expected to account for half of all web searches by the end of the decade.”