Saved by the voice.

Saved by the Voice; voice controlThe other day I was in the backyard planting window boxes while my boyfriend was off having lunch with one of his daughters. I went inside and on my way back out, accidentally kicked the backdoor closed, heard a sickening “click,” and suddenly found myself locked out. I checked the front door – locked too. And then I realized in addition to locking myself out I also left my phone inside.  This left me with the prospect of being stuck outside for quite a while until Larry finished his nice lunch and drove his daughter home. What’s a woman to do? Call on Alexa.

Standing on my tippy toes I yelled through the kitchen window to Alexa and asked her to call Larry. She quickly complied, I was able to relay the news of my stupidity, and not long after my knight in shining armor saved me from myself and let me in the house. But my real hero was my Echo Dot with Alexa. While she normally gives me the news in the morning, plays my favorite music and shares weather updates, on that day she also saved me from myself.

This experience got me thinking about voice assistants and how they are impacting our work. As you no doubt know, voice assistants have been gaining traction rapidly in the US and globally, and the way they have changed and will continue to change our behavior is very interesting. A few tidbits about smart speakers in the US:

  • 2/3 of current Echo and Google Home owners plan to buy another smart speaker within 6 months, spreading their accessibility in the home (GeoMarketing)
  • Almost 63% of current smart speaker owners use them at least once per day (Voicebot.ai)
  • 55% of US households will have at least one smart speaker by 2022 (eMarketer, 2017)
  • In 2017 there was $1.8 billion in voice sales in the US; this is projected to increase to $40 billion by 2022 (OC&C, 2018)

I could go on and on with other points but will stop here and just let the scale of smart speakers seep in for a moment. And that largely ignores the assistants available on our smart phones that are with us almost 24/7, it seems.

From a marketing perspective there is no doubt a need to think about how to bring your brand experience to life through a voice assistant. There is also a real challenge in creating a meaningful voice app – based on a study by UXmatters 63% of users have experienced problems with a third party app. The good news is that many of the same principles used in digital user experience design apply to creating a successful voice experience, such as:

  • Know your audience. What needs do they have that could be best answered by voice? How are they engaging with the competition? What can your brand offer that actually adds value?
  • Define your brand’s personality. How does the brand talk? How does it not? Existing brand tone of voice guidelines are a great starting point.
  • Determine what your app will do. This seems obvious but is sometimes the hardest part. You need to very thoughtfully determine what the app is, and what it is not. This can be somewhat like thinking about mobile vs. desktop experiences; sometimes in mobile things naturally fall out, and other approaches or offerings get added to create the best experience.
  • Detail your conversation flow. What is the ideal flow that will ensure the user is successful? What happens if some of that goes off the rails? Ultimately think about how to ensure there are no dead ends and users can get back on track.
  • Test before you build. This can be “Wizard of Oz” type testing where someone is behind the curtain (sometimes literally) acting as the voice as users walk through the experience, or can be a more sophisticated prototype. Either way, use this step to refine and enhance before moving forward with the full build.

And like with all digital experiences, don’t forget to establish good tracking and use the insights from the analytics to help refine the app to make it even better.

One thing is clear – voice works best with simplicity. And sophisticated simplicity is often the most deceptively difficult thing to achieve. If you’re looking to grab some of that $40 billion market share, you need great UX expertise. Have your Alexa call our Alexa – it will be a conversation worth having.