“Alexa, how will you help my customers?”

lornacrowley
Author: Lorna Crowley
Lorna heads the global marketing team at Engage Hub. With a degree in Psychology, she has an innate passion for understanding how new technologies influence consumer behaviour. Lorna also enjoys writing about key consumer trends, research and market conditions.

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Convenience is key to keeping customers happy – understandably, it’s top of mind for most businesses because happy customers usually translate to greater revenues. But as the information-hungry consumers we are today, we’re increasingly demanding and time poor, constantly looking for ways to interact with businesses as quickly and easily as possible.

While telephony had historically been the communication channel of choice for customer service queries, newer channels such as Facebook Messenger and interactive SMS have recently become the go-to channels for certain things like leaving customer feedback and changing account details.

The reason for this change in channel preference is clear from both sides; Customers are looking for the quickest way to interact with a business, and businesses are looking for the most cost effective channels to resolve customer queries in the most effective way.

That being said, with the more recent popularity of virtual, or ‘voice-activated’ assistants such as Siri (Apple), Cortana (Microsoft), Google Now (Google) and Alexa (Amazon), is the way we search for services about to do a u-turn away from the keyboard and back towards the human voice?

Thanks to the invention of these virtual assistants and recent breakthroughs in natural language understanding, consumers now have the option to interact with a business without even picking up a phone.


Speak easy

Voice is booming, and it’s already changing the way we interact with brands and devices.

Amazon’s Alexa, an AI driven personal assistant, is becoming a more familiar part of many households with more than 11 million sold before January 2017. Living in the cloud, Alexa listens to its owner through a number of different physical devices including Amazon Echo, Echo Dot, Amazon Tap and Fire TV.

Essentially, what Alexa enables is convenience. She answers our questions, reads recipes or news, searches for Spotify playlists, makes to do lists and, of course, orders products through Amazon all just by us talking to her.


Talking shop – the race is on!

Big retail brands are already beginning to see the value of voice – so expect to be doing your shopping through voice in the near future. Tesco recently trialled voice ordering through Google Home, which enables customers to buy products using voice with the view of creating a more frictionless shopping experience.

Amazon has taken this one step further. To spur the use of Alexa for shopping Amazon has previously promoted Alexa-only deals, whereby users simply have to say “Alexa, what are your deals today?” and Amazon provides key products at discounts, presumably based on its knowledge of the consumer.

Alexa and the other voice-activated assistants represent the front line in the e-commerce battle. Having an online presence is rapidly becoming the price of entry for brick-and-mortar retailers aspiring to become cross-channel retailers. Finding another way of integrating the online store with automated replenishment services, combined with the growing number of digital assistants is poised to quickly become a necessity. So if you haven’t already, it’s time to familiarise yourself with the Alexa Skills Kit.


Alexa – what’s my balance on my credit card?

If you can shop online using voice, why shouldn’t you be able to online bank using it too? Capital One has already teamed up with Amazon to allow customers to access their bank accounts using voice via Alexa. Customers can just ask Alexa what their balance is, make a payment and ask when one’s due all by using voice. Banking via virtual assistant gives us a glimpse into the already very exciting AI powered future.

Similarly, FedEx is building an app that lets you ship packages by saying, “Alexa, I want to ship a package,” Once customers have completed the package details, a FedEx truck arrive as the customers desired location to pick up the package and ship it to where the customer intends it to be.


So how can your company prepare for the Voice evolution?

First things first, if you haven’t already, make sure your office has a voice-activated assistant – there’s plenty to choose from. Besides the obvious advantages of letting your developers experiment, setting up a device in your office can really start paying dividends for everything from scheduling a meeting to ordering stationary.

At a time when customers are used to reading about high profile data privacy breaches on an almost daily basis, trust, is a key consideration. Amazon is currently developing speaker recognition features for Alexa so we could soon see a surge in biometric security to ensure that purchases and financial information are secure and safe – critical if consumers are going to adopt the technology and keep coming back. So keep your eyes peeled for announcements to make sure you and your business stays ahead of the curve.

And finally, look at the bigger picture. Ensuring your website and apps account for voice-enabled searches is a very small piece of the puzzle. Implementing natural language understanding to deliver a seamless customer experience across multiple devices, that all talk to each other, will be the next.

Begin to think about integrating data from Amazon Alexa to deliver relevant messages via SMS, e-mail or push notifications to customers on the move. Alexa is restricted to just the home at the moment, so consider how you can also combine geo-location technology with spending habit information from Alexa to create the ultimate digital experience for the ‘on-the-go’ consumer.

Quite rightly, customers and business professionals around the world are getting excited about the ramifications of mainstream natural language technology. The challenge, should you wish to accept it, is creating a seamless customer experience that will make them keep coming back for more.

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