Five years after Amazon Alexa hit the market, smart speaker systems are firmly cemented in the nation’s living rooms, but where do they sit in terms of CX?

The worldwide installed base for Amazon Echo, Google Home Assistant, Apple’s HomePod and countless white-labelled devices has already surpassed the 200 million mark and conservative estimates predict the market will have experienced another 42% growth globally over the course of 2019.

The growth continues to impress, adoption rates have been faster than smartphones. However, despite being heralded as the future of conversational customer care it’s still less than clear exactly where in the customer journey Alexa, Google Assistant or Apple’s Siri really sit.

Is voice a new standalone channel covering the entirety of the customer journey? Is it simply another touch point? Or is its future role one of enhancing the overall customer experience?

Context is key with voice assistants

The fact is it’s still potentially all of these and none of these. The conversation around these conversational devices has been so loud and so constant, a hype cycle developed. For example, ComScore famously said that by 2020 50% of internet searches will be by voice. The reality is that as we approach the end of 2019 it’s closer to 15%. 

And this is because in the rush to embrace the technology many overlooked one major issue – context. Voice will never be responsible for half of all internet searches because the majority of internet searches are already mobile – that means while walking down a busy, noisy street, or sitting in a restaurant or commuting via public transport. Moments when talking aloud is neither practical nor polite.

The best interface is no interface

Nevertheless, when the context is right, there is no denying voice is the most immediate and natural form of interaction. It eliminates the need for an interface. And this is what has driven the excitement and bold claims within the industry. Voice could well be the future of human-machine interaction – a future where anyone of any age with any level of technological know-how can take control of a device and get it to do their bidding.

As a result, there’s every possibility voice will own 100% of static searches, those made from the home or from the car, spaces where people are afforded the necessary privacy to be more personal. But again, the devices and the channel will have to recognise and be optimised for this context. Still people do want to use voice to search in these situations. According to Voicebot.ai research, 60% of U.S. adults do already use voice for search, either via their smartphone or smart speaker and the number is steadily rising.

Speaking through the sales funnel

So if we take this obvious demand and apply it to the traditional sales funnel, then it’s clear conversation is playing a bigger and bigger role in search and discovery and recommendation, particularly in those situations where consumers have time to think and process received information to make the right decision.

However, if we move towards the end of the funnel, we discover that, according to the latest eMarketer research, just 4% of U.S. smart speaker owners have used their device to actually make a purchase.

Our own research on the subject, undertaken a part of our latest report – Preventing Fraud & Preserving CX with AI –  found that while 20% of U.S. adults have used their voice assistant to call a customer support number, 65% of respondents say they would not feel comfortable using their device to actually make a purchase.

Post-purchase power

Some of this reservation is due to security concerns about voice assistants – is the channel safe for transmitting financial details? But every channel carries some form of potential risk and for companies, rather than looking for ways to alleviate consumer doubt, they should be looking beyond closing the deal with a conversation.

With the exception of grocery shopping where consumers are more than familiar with the products they’re buying (they’re choosing variations of the same items every week or every month) and where brands have had success with voice aps or skills that enable users to dictate a shopping list, voice alone is too constraining a channel to make a real decision, especially on big ticket items. This is one of the reasons why the current market leaders, Amazon and Google, have both diversified their products with the addition of a screen.

Part of an omnichannel approach

Still, where exactly in the funnel voice assistants come to life shouldn’t matter to any customer-centric organisation as it will have an omnichannel engagement platform in place. We know customers move from channel to channel based on their preferences, the context and the stage of the customer journey. 

And when looked at holistically, as well as for moving customers into the funnel, voice becomes key to providing interaction and engagement post-purchase. Vocal alerts to confirm the order, notifications for the delivery date and tracking information and offering a direct connection to support information. The types of interaction that build loyalty and advocacy while simultaneously feeding into consumers’ growing demand for frictionless self-service.

Imagine the positive impact voice-activated and guided how-to videos for problem solving would have on your company’s CX. And this is just one example. As well as being omnichannel by default, we also know that consumers will look to solve their own problems first before making contact with customer support.

The key to enhanced self-service?

However, according to Gartner research, just 9% of consumers it polled say they have successfully resolved an issue via a company’s self-service tools. But if we were to apply voice AI in this situation, consumers would be able to ask and answer questions in order to get the information they need, rather than have to navigate a potentially clunky web-based UX and trawl through FAQs, a knowledge base or a community forum. The friction would disappear and the customer has an experience akin to speaking with a contact centre associate.

And this is just one potential use. Despite being five years old as a consumer technology, smart speakers and the technology behind them still represent a world of possibilities.

Even the Consumer Technology Association (CTA), an organisation that expects Americans to buy a further 35 million smart speakers between July and December, still classifies voice assistants as an emerging technology. What’s more, it’s predicting that demand will level out over the next 12 months while potential owners wait for stronger use cases to become clear.

Don’t try to predict a trend

Technology moves more quickly even than consumer adoption. And this is key because ultimately it will be consumers who decide what this technology does, and how it will serve their needs.

We know from studies that one in four smart speaker owners have already expressed a preference for conducting customer service via their devices, whether it’s scheduling a delivery, reporting an issue or attempting to self-serve. But what else can they be used for?

But rather than asking these questions and attempting to second guess customer trends before they develop, we need to keep in mind that we can’t force customers to use a channel they don’t want to use.

Therefore in its current incarnation, voice should be seen as an opportunity to improve, not to replace what is already on offer to serve customers. And, because it is the most natural form of interface, one that doesn’t stigmatise younger or older consumers, it has the potential to grow your customer base by making it easier for more people to connect with your brand.

To help our clients learn more about vocal assistants and voice bots, including how to create an Amazon Skill, and to understand how to integrate this channel into their existing customer journey, we have built a dedicated multilingual voice technology team. Its mission is to partner with companies to deliver experiences that delight users yet stay true to an individual brand’s identity and business case.


Sitel Group