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The coronavirus has served as a catalytic force to accelerate the adoption of voice assistants. The inability to work closely in the physical world is pushing many businesses to proactively embrace voice assistants to better serve their customers, partners and employees. Yet, as voice emerges as a new battleground for market differentiation, pioneering companies are confronting various challenges.

To understand the potential and pitfalls of the voice odyssey already underway, we recently surveyed 1,400 top marketing and IT executives of leading companies from APAC and the Middle East region. A vast majority (93%) of the respondents firmly believe that the shift from “touch” to “voice” is posed to accelerate.

In fact, 74% of our respondents consider voice vital to their business. And they have begun walking the talk too — their companies are gearing up to spend 3% of their revenues over the next five years on voice capabilities. They are also quite optimistic of the ability of voice to deliver revenue growth. They project revenue growth at around 6.3% over the next five years.

Many plan to focus voice assistants initially on the customer — as well as on employee engagement. Their goal: improve response time to customers, (65%), personalization (60%) and enhance customer service levels (57%).

However, the challenges are many. For starters, only 40% of respondents expressed confidence in their ability to integrate voice into existing business processes. Prominent among the challenges are privacy (89%), creating content for voice (84%) and developing a voice personality (81%).

We believe that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to the issues surrounding the successful embrace of voice. Instead, companies need a way to assess their current stage of maturity along the voice path and plan their next moves in a measured way.

A three-phased model to transition smoothly to the new age of “voice”

Armed with these findings, we created a three-phased maturity model to help businesses find their brand’s voice (see Figure below). The model is designed to enhance customer trust and envisions natural language processing (NLP), machine learning (ML) and other artificial intelligence (AI) technologies as vital to imbuing the intelligence to continuously improve over time.

The three stages of the model are:

  • Discovery: Optimize content to be found by voice-based search mechanisms while honing your organization’s voice skills.
  • Enhancement: Build voice functionalities and add them to mobile apps, websites and products/services.
  • Amplification: Use voice capabilities as a new revenue stream.

Phase 1: Embedding what it takes voice assistants to discover you

The first step to enabling discovery by voice assistants is to optimize content and infrastructure for voice search. Start by understanding how existing content differs from voice-driven content. Realize this: content that delivers high levels of social engagement tends to perform well in voice search. Companies must employ a two-pronged approach that effectively bakes into content what it takes to attract voice search as well as the algorithms that power voice assistants.

Another important element is digital infrastructure that is geared to allow higher page load speed that is critical to voice search functionality. Infrastructure readiness should precede forays into voice-driven offerings since it is “make or break” when it comes to delivering on the aspirations of voice-era customers. Companies need IT infrastructure that is agile, responsive, flexible, secure, scalable and simple to enable a voice-enabled business.

Building meaningful voice skills is the second step in enabling discovery by voice assistants. Companies need to determine the role they want to play and keep consumers and employees abreast of new functionalities that are rolled out.

Phase 2: Enhancing your in-house voice offerings

In this phase, companies add voice capabilities to their existing and new processes, products, applications and services. Key considerations for building these capabilities include developing a voice personality for the brand, making voice core to the company’s customer experience strategy, keeping the content simple and straight forward (and ensuring that content optimization and creation are driven as complementary as opposed to siloes), developing voice interfaces through human-centric design and mastering content localization to achieve brand differentiation.

Phase 3: Amplifying opportunities for top-line and bottom-line growth

Making sure that voice is deployed to influence the customers’ purchase journey is a sure way to reap monetary gains. Companies would do well to consider taking the following actions to aid monetization of voice-driven offerings.

Adding visuals to augment voice engagement will go a long way toward enhancing customer experience. Targeting hitherto untapped segments by using voice as an inclusive force adds new revenue streams — as does building a voice-based subscription model to attract digitally native customers who favor automatically renewable subscriptions. To achieve business objectives, we recommend an approach to continuously identify and address areas for improving customer trust. This can be achieved through diligent analysis of customer data concerning their engagement points and friction points, while safeguarding privacy.

AI setting the pace of voice strategy

Companies with voice-led business ambitions need to embrace AI (in the form of NLP, ML and other advanced technologies). This will ensure that machine interactions are more natural. NLP plays a key role in developing content optimization and creation strategies. It enables brands to more effectively capture and respond to customer intent and sentiments and turn conversations into conversions. The goal: voice interactions that result in “aha” moments for users.

Activate your brand voice across the business value chain

As customer behaviors evolve and become more comfortable with contactless interfaces, companies that move early and provide voice-enabled offerings will be better placed to build engaging experiences and customer trust that drives business growth.

To learn more, read our white paper “From Eyes to Ears: Getting Your Brand Heard in the New Age of 'Voice,'” visit the Cognizant Center for the Future of Work or contact us.