News & Views

Opinion / Why brands should ask 'is it voice-enabled?'

by Contagious Contributor

Aaron Shapiro, CEO of Huge, on why brands need to adapt now for voice user interfaces and the most important aspects to think about as they make the shift

‘Wearables’ and the inelegantly named ‘Internet of Things’ sit at the top of most digital trend lists these days, with prognosticators hyping everything from Google Glass to the Nest thermostat. But lost amidst the buzz is an important development for consumer technology that will affect how we interact with wearables, smart devices and our boring old smartphones. Voice recognition keeps getting better – Microsoft recently demo’ed its sophisticated Cortana digital personal assistant, which understands voice commands and adapts to its user’s needs. Not to be outdone, Apple purchased the U.K.-based Novauris Technologies earlier this month. Novauris promises better integration between voice and search, which means the user can ask anything and get a direct answer. 

This matters because, while it may be awkward right now, voice is a far more natural manner for humans to interact with computers for many form factors and use cases than type and touch. It’s time for brands to start adapting now for this shift, and most are completely unprepared for it. 

Think about wearables, which can be broken into two major categories. In one group are glorified sensors that detect motion, read biometric patterns or markers like heartbeats or fingerprints or measure ambient information like temperature or light levels. The user interface is entirely passive. But for the second group of wearables, including Google Glass, voice is the primary interface. In fact, perhaps the most important implication of Glass is that it introduces a completely new computing platform where the primary interface is voice. Users can’t type or click on Glass; all they can do is press a button on the side and tell it what to do. 

Better voice-based interaction will become essential given the lack of workable alternative inputs in smaller form factors. Additionally, where safety is important, such as in cars and on motorcycles, voice makes the most sense. 

The question for brands is simple: is it voice-enabled? Will your company be ready when users want to interact with you using voice commands given to their smartphones and wearable devices? Here are several key things to think about when making the shift to voice:

Moving away from ineffective call centre technology that consumers hate, towards voice interfaces that offer fast and easy interaction that’s not possible with other types of data input. 

Successful voice interfaces – as demonstrated in recent demos and acquisitions discussed above – are ones that solve search problems. Defining the range of possible responses to a given voice command or query will be the responsibility of the company, and most companies currently do a terrible job with search. Just look at a typical big company website’s search function for examples. In a voice-enabled world, companies will need to step up their search function. 

To win in voice will require companies to do more than just provide relevant information quickly and easily – it will require being able to complete tasks for users. For example, making a dinner reservation shouldn’t just mean going through the same tedious steps you go through using the mobile app, but by talking instead of typing. The user should be able to say ‘make reservations at Wagamama at 7,’ and she’s done. 

Amidst a proliferation of new devices and channels, it’s important to focus on an interface like voice that crosses many of them – a bet that Microsoft, Apple and Google are currently making.