With the end of June comes the end of developer conference season. Each of the tech titans has been busy detailing the next big changes to their software and hardware lineups and crucially for brands, the new tools that will be at their disposal for building better connections with their customers.
The company that was once just an online bookseller has taken an early lead in the smart speaker market in its native U.S. – 33 million Echo devices and counting. By the end of the year, it has confirmed that the devices will be on sale in France, Italy and Spain as well as in the UK, North America and Germany.
And now, as well as smart speakers, Alexa is available as a smart camera. The Echo Look, which went on sale in the U.S. on June 6, examines its user to understand his or her fashion tastes and preferred clothing colors and use that information to make clothes shopping suggestions.
The first-of-its-kind device’s own fashion sense comes courtesy of input from GQ and Vogue among others and represents a whole new way to engage with customers. So much so that Linda Ranz, Director of Echo Product Management at Amazon, describes the Echo Look as being, “like a trustworthy best friend.”
More importantly for businesses looking to take advantage of Alexa as a channel for connecting with customers is the launch of Skills Attribution. This new feature allows Alexa to autonomously trawl through existing voice apps (or Skills) to offer one as the answer to a user’s question. And, with over 40,000 skills already available this feature couldn’t have arrived at a better time for organizations looking to be heard on this latest of platforms.
“Voice is going to 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,” says Gordon White, General Manager, TSC Americas, Sitel Group’s Digital CX agency.
“Smart speakers are selling at a faster rate than any consumer tech item in history. There is no doubt that they’re going to be a fixture in most people’s living rooms within the next five years,” adds Geoffrey Boulakia, General Manager TSC EMEA. “That’s why it’s crucial to address the problem of discovering new apps and skills now before the numbers surge into the millions like in smartphone app stores.”
Skills arbitration was first announced in April and is rolling out in stages in the U.S., the UK and Germany over the year.
At its annual World Wide Developers Conference on June 4, Apple revealed that its voice assistant is now on 500 million devices from smartphones to smart speakers and that changes to its operating system will allow users to start training Siri to behave in a more personalized manner that really fits their life and reflects their interests.
However, the biggest announcements to come out of the event were all around turning personal data security and protection into Apple’s unique selling point. Starting in September, people with Apple devices will be able to surf the web without being tracked by advertisers as standard, while there will be a host of stricter regulations for any organization that wants to build an app for an iPhone iPad or the HomePod.
“Privacy has never been higher on the agenda and is now a firm obligation of customer experience (CX),” says Boulakia. “These changes will be embraced by consumers but will do nothing to dent the ability of companies with a differentiated CX from retaining existing customers or from winning new customers.”
The CEO of the world’s most popular social network kicked off the F8 conference on May 1 with an apology.
“What happened was a major breach of trust,” said Mark Zuckerburg. “An app developer took data that people had shared with him and sold it. We need to make sure that this never happens again.”
As a result, Facebook is rolling out new tools to let all its users actively manage the data they share with it and its partners. And with this extra protection in place it also announced it’s moving into the online dating market in order to help its 200 million unattached users find someone special.
Other major announcements included opening up WhatsApp to businesses and adding Augmented Reality (AR) features to Facebook Messenger to make it even easier for companies already using chatbots on the platform to help customers visualize a product during the path to purchase.
Removing friction further will be the introduction of M Translations, a real-time translation service that will initially translate English and Spanish but more languages are set to follow.
“Facebook is really bringing the Messenger platform’s business capabilities to the forefront,” explains Boulakia. “Messenger is becoming a real customer care and customer conversion tool and these updates have clearly been developed with taking its commercial capabilities to the next level.”
When Google CEO Sundar Pichai took to the stage at the Shoreline Amphitheater in Mountain View, California on May 8 to give his keynote address, he gave a live demo of a new feature coming to the company’s virtual assistant that even a year ago would have seemed like something from a sci-fi movie – the ability to autonomously make phone calls on your behalf.
Whether it’s an appointment with a hairstylist, a reservation at a local restaurant or finding time to see the dentist, the new feature, powered by something called Google Duplex, is so good that it can fool people into thinking they’re speaking with someone, not something else.
“It’s still early, and we need to get the experience right, but done correctly we believe this will save time for people and generate value for small businesses,” said Pichai.
Indeed, according to Principal Engineer Yaniv Leviathan, the inspiration behind the feature is to let companies optimize their services without heavy hi-tech investments.
“Businesses that rely on appointment bookings supported by Duplex, and are not yet powered by online systems, can benefit from Duplex by allowing customers to book through the Google Assistant without having to change any day-to-day practices or train employees,” he said.
And while Duplex is still very much in its nascent stage – Google has announced no timeline for its launch – it hasn’t stopped some media outlets from proclaiming it will kill off the contact center.
“Artificial Intelligence has the potential to revolutionize every aspect of society, not just business,” points out Boulakia. “But even something as impressive as Google Duplex should only ever be seen as a tool for augmenting customer experience. No matter how much the technology develops, a machine will never be able to make the emotional connection that is becoming crucial in delivering truly differentiated CX. AI is here to augment how we engage with customers and enable contact center professionals to focus on the interactions that really matter.”