How to use voice tech during COVID-19
For years, brands and agencies have hyped voice technology as a marketing game-changer. Still, even as the number of consumers using audio on smart speakers rises, voice has remained a minor player for uses like shopping. But the tech is poised to enter the mainstream with COVID-19 making consumers touch-averse, prompting marketers to find ways to make ordering as simple and contact-
free as possible. “Up until this crisis, voice technology was the technology looking for a business purpose,” says Shannon Warner, VP of retail and consumer goods at Capgemini Invent, the innovation arm of digital consulting firm Capgemini. “Now, it’s tech that solves and therefore there’s mass adoption overnight.”
A Capgemini survey found that 59 percent of global consumers—including 70 percent in the U.S.—would rather use voice interfaces in public places to avoid touching. Previously, voice was most associated with at-home uses, like asking Alexa to play a favorite song.
“Smart speaker sales are growing rapidly, but just a small fraction of consumers are actually using them for shopping,” says John Harmon, senior analyst at Coresight Research, a retail-focused data firm. He points to a survey by Prosper Insights & Analytics finding 32 percent of U.S. respondents used a smart home assistant, but only a small percentage of them used it to purchase items. But with interest rising in using voice tech outside of the home, marketers must figure out ways to best connect with consumers. Experts say most voice tech in retail is still in an experimental stage. Yet the tech could easily be implemented across health care, financial technology, retail and hospitality.
“Voice strategy is not a luxury anymore,” says Nina Knox, head of growth and enterprise business development at Blue Fountain Media, a digital agency. “Companies that embrace it will have a competitive advantage.” Below, some tips to make that happen:
Add audio help inside the store
Voice can come into play when a customer is reluctant to interact with a clerk. Talking to the mobile app, rather than taking the time to type a query, could easily help consumers with locating inventory or explaining how a product works.
“It will replace a help button,” says Warner. Voice interfaces will also be used in autonomous stores like Amazon Go, or on cruise lines, where travelers need to check in for meals or other events. H&M has experimented with a fitting room that uses voice to help customers bring in new merchandise. Knox says retailers are looking into voice as a way that customers can pick up their orders of food and non-food products.
Some retailers are arming employees with voice-enabled gadgets. Verizon employees have a voice assistant bot they can use on their in-store tablets to replace typing with vocal instruction. The bot also helps with language translation. “We have been working on implementing voice in the Verizon retail journey for several years,” says Senthil Muthusamy, executive director of IT for sales at Verizon. “The pandemic accelerated our plans, and voice taking center stage is likely to be one of the silver linings when we look back on this situation.”
Adjust search results
At the beginning of the year, Dunkin’ Brands was already focusing on building out its voice search strategy for customers on their mobile devices. When the coronavirus hit, Dunkin’ saw a 10x rise in people using voice to search for open locations with access points like drive-through, delivery or curbside pickup. The company was able to capitalize on such investments by adjusting its paid online search results to respond to vocal questions. It’s crucial in getting a store visit.
“When you think about our business pre-COVID, it was nice to know when I got to the store and they had a drive-through, but now it’s determining whether I go or not,” says Keith Lusby, VP of media at Dunkin’, noting that consumers are often driving to Dunkin’ locations and can’t type on their phones. “We were able to modify our results to make sure we matched what the person was looking for. That’s our view of voice—meet the customer; they’re giving us more info, so let’s give them a better result.”
Address privacy risks
There are a host of challenges for brands. The technology is not ubiquitous, and experts don’t expect voice to replace touch-free payments. Warner says using voice recognition to authenticate customers at checkouts is advanced tech few retailers are currently working on. There are also privacy risks involved with using voice, in the same way that marketers have had to deal with facial recognition blowback. Unfamiliar with the uses, customers might not want to use their voice for certain implementations like payment authentication. Consumers worry about how their voice recording might be used, Warner says. Mass adoption will only occur “once we realize it creates seamlessness and improved experiences,” she adds.