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2019: The Year of Voice

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A major change has begun in how people wield technology to serve their needs. It’s no longer surprising to hear someone say the magic words “Alexa” or “OK Google” or “Hey Siri.” Like the rise of any new field in technology though, there are early days*. That’s when companies see the new area as a novelty. Web pages were “cute”, perhaps helpful, but initially just a “nice to have.” As the technology progressed and companies saw that it could be a vital channel for commerce and an operational vehicle for employees, every firm jumped into the fray. The web became a vital part of every firm’s competitive vector and there was a race to get into the mix.

The same can now be said of Voice. Like the web and the smartphone before them, these are early days and we don’t know the extent of Voice or what role it will play in consumer or enterprise activity. Early web pages were simply brochure-ware. Simple enough and informative, changeable at a moment’s notice. But then came commerce and transactions and media and social interaction and integration with external systems. The sky became the limit.

A similar shift has begun in the voice space. Voice is everywhere:

  • The voice recognition market will be a $601 million industry by 2019
  • There are an estimated one billion voice searches per month
  • 50% of all searches will be voice searches by 2020
  • 13% of all households in the United States owned a smart speaker in 2017; this will rise to 55% by 2022
  • 72% of people who own smart speakers say their devices are used as part of their daily routines
  • The number of millennials who use voice-enabled digital assistants will climb to 39.3% in 2019
  • Voice commerce sales reached $1.8 billion last year; they’re predicted to reach $40 billion by 2022

The current landscape of conversational providers includes the five biggest technology companies in the world each making a play for market share. Amazon launched the category with the Echo smart speaker and it still dominates the field, both in market share and in types and quantity of devices. Google jumped into the fray as well with the Home smart speaker and, given their overwhelming presence at CES, their intention to grab market share is pretty clear. Additionally, Apple now ships the pricey but high quality HomePod and Microsoft is working hard to position Cortana as a leader in the enterprise space. Even Facebook is making a play with the Facebook Portal.

In 2019 we’ll see businesses begin to enhance experiences that are already core to their business but that leverage voice as a first order channel. Ordering flowers, booking a hotel room, scheduling a haircut: actions that are central to the relationship the customer already has with the brand. The initial challenge will often be uncovering the right use cases to begin with.

Voice can be a tantalizing interface when it’s done well because it can very quickly reach the customer’s targeted intent. Imagine checking into your flight. “Alexa, ask Big Air to check me into my flight.” You’re done. There’s no opening your phone, swiping to the Big Air app, finding your flight, finding the Check In screen and finally, checking in. Not to mention, “is my flight on time?”, “what’s my gate?”, “what’s my seat?”, “can you find me an aisle seat?”, “when does my flight arrive?” When it works, it seems magical and customers love it because it removes a lot of friction. It becomes simply talking to your brand and communicating your intent.

Related: He Never Wrote a Song. He Changed Music Forever

Opportunities also abound everywhere in the world where people wait in line. Imagine ordering a beer in a stadium. Instead of getting out of your seat and going through the line, the experience might go like this. “Alexa, ask the Mariners to bring me two beers”, the message is relayed to the Apple Watch of the beer salesperson in your section who brings it directly to you. Total time elapsed? Anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes, all performed behind the scenes while you enjoy uninterrupted viewing of the game. [1]

Voice provides the brand with a very direct connection to their customer. After all, what’s more direct than actually connecting intelligent systems trained to hear your customer’s expectations? And the great thing? Your errors are your intelligence. It’s like having a “learn as you go” system that’s 100% reliable. Up until now, everyone in software has been scared of the errors, the mistakes. That’s now backwards thinking. Brands should want to know everything their customer ever wants to ask them. Voice provides that direction connection. “I want two beers.”, “Coming right up”, “I want peanuts”, “We don’t serve peanuts.” (But now that we know, we’ll be implementing that right away!). Voice is a dream interface. It’s what every brand should want! A way for their customers to talk to them about what they’re looking for. [1]

Two years ago in an interview with famed technology journalist Walt Mossberg, Jeff Bezos was asked about the development of the voice industry that his company had pioneered. Admitting that they had already been at work for four years, he compared it to a baseball game. “It’s the first inning. It might even be the first guy is up at bat. It’s really early.”*

*It’s no longer early. Time to get moving!

[1] This entire idea and inspiration came from Episode 54 of the Voicebot podcast with Bret Kinsella and Shane Mac
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