Why brands need to embrace the power of Voice

Industry experts are unanimous that with consumers adapting to Voice there is a need to enhance customer engagement to strengthen brand presence and improve sales with the use of conversational AI

e4m by Shikha Paliwal
Published: Sep 17, 2019 8:19 AM  | 6 min read

Voice will be the next big thing in the digital world and brands cannot afford to ignore this trend, say industry experts.

Voice wins hands down because of the ease with which humans can interact with technology and to understand this one simply needs to observe a child effortlessly engaging with voice assistants like Google Home, Amazon’s Alexa or Apple’s Siri requesting for their favourite songs.

Consumers are clearly adapting to the Voice technology but are brands keeping pace?

Not at the pace and scale they should be, believes Shamsuddin Jasani, Group MD, Isobar - South Asia. “There is a lot that needs to be done and brands are not ready, only a handful of brands are. We are recommending and working with our clients to be ahead of the curve. The consumer is already shifting there and it’s happening across the board, not just in major cities but even in smaller towns. Globally too, people are buying via voice. So, the first step is to be able to create voice assets and we are working with brands to be able to create these so that when this revolution actually hits, when the peak happens, you as a brand are not left behind. And it is going to happen in another year or a year and a half.”

So, what are the various ways in which consumers are using Voice technology?

Firstly, Voice assistants like Google Home or Amazon’s Alexa are common to most urban households. Whether it is listening to music, hearing the news, checking the weather or to simply hear a joke, consumers are constantly interacting with these assistants on a daily basis. Depending on how tech savy an individual is, the potential of these devices is unfathomable. Think smart homes where simple voice commands will control routine household chores through integrated devices.

Adding to the scope of Voice are smartphones that are home to our favourite apps and help consumers with everyday searches, directions, grocery, food delivery, customer service and financial services. These are mostly integrated with AI-powered software. The choice to use them, of course, lies with the consumer.

However, as is the case with any new tech, there are certain areas where even consumers, especially the older generations, are circumspect vis-a-vis the use of voice technology. The primary concern is privacy, and then comes the lack of an understanding of the full potential of these voice assistants or voice-enabled bots. Despite these concerns, studies have shown how the Indian consumer is ready for the next big digital leap.

According to a report by Accenture, out of the total number of Indian respondents covered in their survey - standalone voice assistants have a 97 per cent satisfaction rate. The survey also showed that 96 per cent of Indian consumers expect their home device purchases to be based on ease of integration with their standalone smart speaker.

Vinod Thadani, Chief Digital Officer, Mindshare said, "There is a rise of conversational living, In-cars, In-home, On-Mobile, On-smart devices, on-white goods, on-ERPs and much more. Touch as a way to interact with devices is being replaced by Voice. The voice search is growing at 270 per cent. Platform thinking, not just campaign thinking. Voice assistants are more than information touch points. They are getting things done like turning off lights, or hail a cab, or automate bill payments, add to cart. Voice is input, Audio is output. A Voice Assistant is a speaker that has evolved to be smart and interact, but it is fundamentally a speaker, which leads to audio content being primary use case for end users. Voice is conversational commerce. Transcend Language barriers. Google Assistant is available on the lower models of feature phones (70 million in India). Alexa is available in two languages. Voice helps to solves problems that we cannot through web and on digital so far. Voice helps to create a level playing field for customers speaking any language.

According to Mihir Karkare, EVP, Mirum India, "While voice may be new to us (millennials and the Gen Z), there is an even younger generation that is growing up seeing their parents and older siblings speaking to devices. This generation (aged 0 – 18) is going to find it natural to interface with the internet over voice. A lot of thought has to go into what that means for your business – the same business which was built in an era where screens and clicks was the primary medium of interaction."

A recent Google report - Year in Search: Insights for Brands - shows how India has seen a 270 per cent growth year-on-year in Voice searches. The report mentions how sectors such as BFSI and telecom have started integrating Voice assistants like Google Assistant with their customer service to help customers and brands such as Uber, Ola and Meru that have made cab booking services available on Google Assistant.

Emphasising on the need for brands to adapt, Aakrit Vaish, CEO and Co-founder, Haptik, says, “Enterprises today have started identifying the true use cases that intelligent virtual assistants can solve effectively and efficiently. This has broadened the horizon of Voice as organisations are aware about its impact and the areas where they require the infusion of conversational assistants. Considering enhanced customer engagement and experience is the way ahead for enterprises to strengthen brand presence and improve sales, the scope for conversational AI is huge.”

India, as a country, has its unique set of challenges. In the case of Voice technology, multiple languages and even accents pose as challenge and this is why experts stress that the popularity of Voice will depend on its adaptability with local languages. 

Vaish elaborates: “In order to become indispensable, voice-based assistance also needs to add to its present capabilities. For instance, acquiring the ability to engage in a vernacular language is a capability that needs to be incorporated in new age bots. In a country as linguistically diverse as India, voice-based assistance platforms need to develop the ability to speak the languages of the land. A 2017 report by KPMG and Google said that the number of Indian language Internet users will be 536 million by 2021; far out-stripping the projections of 199 million English language Internet users in India.”

If brands can understand the true potential for marketing and advertising or even the manner in which business is conducted using Voice, it could open the floodgates for consumer engagement in the future, believe experts. “How are you going to seamlessly integrate into the consumer’s voice journey, without disrupting it, that is very important,” Shamsuddin Jasani added.

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