Is Voice-Enabled Technology Right for Your Customers?


It’s easy to understand the allure of creating voice-enabled products. All you have to do is observe someone interact with Amazon Alexa. At a recent social event, I had the opportunity to observe representatives from every generation connect with Alexa. Regardless of technical expertise, the human connection that was quickly established was unlikely any other technology I’ve observed.

Despite the fact that Alexa’s utility is limited—for now—she’s personified in a way I rarely see when people interact with, for example, their laptop. In Voice+Code’s research, and consistent with similar research, nearly all people refer to voice-enabled technologies as “you, her or him” not “it.”

Should you take advantage of voice-enabled technologies for your business? The numbers are certainly appealing. Nearly half of Americans use digital assistants like Siri and Google Now, according to a 2017 PEW Research Center study. Over 50 million Americans own a smart speaker, according to a late 2018 NPR and Edison Research Smart Audio report. But just because a technology is available doesn’t make it right for every scenario.

Understand Where Voice Fits in the Customer Experience

Voice may be the opportunity to provide better customer service or solve challenges in contexts when being hands-free is essential, such as when driving or preparing meals. Voice may also be annoying and intrusive.

It’s important to understand the nuances of the customer experience and how different points throughout the customer journey influence when, how, and in what context customers would find a voice-enabled technology desirable and helpful. 

At Voice+Code, we find customer journey mapping exercises—based on data from actual or representative customers—to be indispensable in understanding whether and how voice-enabled technology is right for a business or product. As part of this exercise, your team should be able to answer:

  • What aspects of the customer experience do we need to fix before we introduce a new technology?

  • How does voice fit into our overall customer experience strategy?

  • Throughout the customer journey, what opportunities do we have to include voice-enabled technologies that will be helpful to our customers?

What aspects of the customer experience do we need to fix before we introduce a new technology?

Businesses will sometimes gloss over underlying business issues in the excitement of adopting a new technology. Instead, systemic issues need to be addressed before attempting to provide a better customer experience using technology.

Let’s say your team would like to implement voice-enabled technology to help customers place orders and solve customer service issues. Voice-enabled technology relies on the rules you prescribe and the data you feed it. So if those rules or data are failing your current solution, voice is only going to make the situation worse. 

How does voice fit into our overall customer experience strategy?

Voice—or any technology, for that matter—should be part of an overall customer experience strategy. It is one of many touchpoints that will comprise how customers think about and interact with your brand.

If your organization doesn’t understand how the customer experience relates to business goals, there’s no point in investing in new technologies. There are no goals and there’s nothing to measure—you’d simply be building a new technology just to build it. Worse, you’d be investing in a technology without giving it the strategic guidance it requires. For example:

  • How is voice providing value?

  • How will your voice-enabled technology interact with customers?

  • How will the technology handle errors or unexpected situations?

What opportunities do we have to include voice-enabled technologies that will be helpful to our customers?

With a strategy in place, it’s far easier to uncover opportunities to provide value to your customers. Sometimes those opportunities will involve voice-enabled technology, sometimes not. 

Keep in mind that voice is not the most effective way to communicate certain types of information. Some content is much better represented in visuals, as opposed to words. Long lists of options, for example, are cumbersome for users to listen to and choose from. In these cases, a hybrid of voice and visuals, like the new Amazon Echo Show, which features a touch screen, may be a solution.

Where might voice-enabled technology be useful? Look for places in the customer journey where users are attempting to achieve a goal in a context where using a computer or phone is less-than-ideal. Voice may be a faster and simpler way for the user to accomplish a task. Also think about the human connection voice easily establishes. Voice is an opportunity to connect with users and convey more information than text alone.

Regardless of the voice-enabled technology you build, we recommend that you use a cyclical process where your team observes, measures, and improves. As with graphical user interfaces, your voice user interfaces won’t be perfect when they are released. Involve representative users before, during, and after launch. Determine what user experience metrics you can put into place that will ensure you can measure success or failure at the product level and get comfortable with the idea that your voice user interface will evolve and improve over time.

Interested in how voice-enabled technologies can provide value to your customers? Our process and framework were designed for specifically for evaluating and improving emerging technologies like voice.