How to design branded voice experiences that engage and benefit customers in the long term
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Almost all ambitious brands are looking to build and monetize long-term, steady relationships with customers. In 2022, however, competing for their attention can feel like a daunting, almost insurmountable task. As demand has increased for increasingly scarce attention, some desperate tactics have emerged: Hong Kong is redesigning its traffic lights to try to catch the attention of pedestrians staring at their phones; or a growing number of brands relying on “dark patterns” in an attempt to access more data and secure more eyeballs.
The good news is that an easier way to engage productively with an increasingly distracted population is emerging. More than a quarter (27%) of the global internet population use the voice search feature on their mobile devices, and 500 million people use Siri every day. High-quality voice experiences are a particularly promising medium for engaging consumers in a meaningful, responsive and consistent way, rebalancing the value exchange between brand and customer.
We have learned – out of necessity – how to use our fingers to speak. Now a much more intuitive and natural form of communication, voice experiences, allow people to do things they already need and want to do – but with the simplicity and ease of talking to a friend.
For brands, voice experiences can create a direct and immediate bridge between consumer needs and a brand’s products and services, without friction. It is this speed of access that is already changing consumer behavior today. Erica, the virtual assistant that Bank of America launched in 2018, has been used over one billion times by customers seeking information about transactions, refunds and fees.
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Voice experiences also allow brands to engage with consumers when screens are unwieldy (that is, while they’re cooking, driving, or running on a treadmill), or even when they’re multitasking (for example, when they’re taking a walk or listening to a podcast ). Today’s leading brands are already recognizing commerce’s shift from screens to voice, and are moving first to maintain and increase market share in this new channel. Juniper Research estimates that the value of e-commerce transactions via voice assistants will top $19.4 billion by 2023.
We have seen the likes of SONOS, Disney, Samsung and Bank of America take leading positions in the development of branded voice services. And as the Wikipedia project’s sponsor Wikimedia Foundation has said: “When a virtual voice assistant answers a question using Wikimedia knowledge, people don’t always know where the information came from.” That’s the rationale behind the effort to design a new audio logo that identifies Wikimedia content, and it’s evidence of growing market demand for voice. The number of users of voice assistants multiplied from 544.1 million in 2015 to 2.6 billion in 2021, the foundation states.
Designing new journeys from scratch
To unlock the value that voice can provide, brands must design branded voice experiences that are truly additive to users’ daily lives. As studies have shown, “A 20% increase in convenience results in a 96% increase in customer loyalty. It can lead to consumers being 86% more likely to buy brands and 115% more likely to recommend those brands to others.”
However, it is not enough to simply add generic voice commands on top of existing screen-based experiences while continuing to drive attention and interaction to screens to execute the final command. This is also not a question of moving everything inside an app to voice. To win customer loyalty and maintain brand trust, entirely new journeys must be designed from the ground up – journeys that are optimized for their context of use, often moving seamlessly between voice and visual interfaces.
So what should brands keep in mind when building impactful voice experiences for the first time? Here are five best practices we’ve come back to time and time again:
Prioritize simple use cases
The reduction of cognitive load is what gives consumers a sense of relief when using voice technology, and that simple sense of relief is what fundamentally makes voice experiences so valuable. Instead of investing in complex, multi-turn use cases that sound impressive, prioritize implementing simple use cases that allow you to deliver a voice experience that will reduce time-to-value for users and make consumers’ lives easier. Simple-minded, simpler use cases are easier to learn and increase the likelihood of meeting user expectations.
Quality is everything
One of the most common complaints about voice experiences is not the lack of complex, advanced interactions, but rather the frequency of misunderstanding requests. The tolerance for latency is thin. This means ensuring that every connection point in the voice assistant – from device connectivity to automatic speech recognition (ASR) and natural language processing (NLP) (that is, reliably parsing, tagging and delivering meaning from utterances) – is delivered before moving. to something more advanced.
Be aware of when voice is the most effective experience (and when it’s not)
While a branded assistant can be seen through the same lens as a branded app – as a container of use cases that are associated with a brand and separate from others – it is not about replicating an existing app’s functionality via audio channels. We’ve already learned that good apps don’t just replicate good websites, and the same logic applies in the transition from apps to voice assistants.
When consumers know and can articulate what they want, voice can work beautifully to fulfill their needs easily and quickly. For many interactions, including when consumers are unsure of exactly what they want or where the range of decisions is complex, screens are likely to remain optimal. And as more and more visual interfaces are embedded in our lives (and virtual lives), voice will increasingly complement these rich visual experiences as part of the same product or service experience.
Build continuity across a range of entities
To create a seamless voice experience, you need to understand the variety of devices that consumers access throughout the day, and then orchestrate an experience across those devices. For example, a user might want to order a pair of sneakers in the morning while they’re in the kitchen via their smart speakers, then check in on their order during their evening commute via smart earbuds, so your voice experience needs to support that. Furthermore, interaction patterns, audio cues, language and tone should be consistent to build familiarity and trust in your brand over time.
Own your brand experience
Just as apps and websites have become central materializations of a brand’s personality and what the brand stands for, voice experiences can and should evolve to be the same. From the use case to wake-up call, voice, content and performance, all elements must be considered and combined to create the brand experience your customers will enjoy. Creating a direct relationship with consumers through a branded voice assistant is the most effective way to own your brand and capture the cues from customers to quickly improve your service experience.
Enables a “heads-up” culture
Designing a voice-based multimedia user experience from scratch can feel like an overwhelming task. Brands should remember that the best voice experiences simply address existing user needs and make them significantly faster and easier to meet. The goal is not to flood consumers with new technology they only use once. Rather, the goal is to build everyday use and monetize relationships with consumers in the places where voice can make their lives easier. If we do, the hope is that we can avoid redesigning our cities for distracted citizens and instead enable a “heads-up” future where everyone is just a little more present.
John Goscha is the founder and CEO of Native Voice.
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