Pandemics of today, technology for tomorrow; what part will voice play in the future?

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Alexa, tell me the truth.

Previously, large tech companies have been accused of playing a part in the spread of fake news by not monitoring the truth of what is being posted and advertised. Positively, the current environment has led to tech giants taking on more responsibility, with Google, Amazon and other voice answer providers quickly ensuring that accurate up-to-date information about the epidemic pulled from reliable sources is being provided to users. Google is currently answering ‘What is coronavirus’ with an in-depth description from the NHS website. Alexa gives a definition from gov.uk.

Both giants have further adopted an aggressive approach to coronavirus-related voice apps, and individuals attempting to profiteer off of uncertain and challenging circumstances.

The new normal: customer behaviour inside the home

The current environment is driving increased usage of voice assistants in consumer lifestyle.

In the home, the current environment will drive consumers to rely more on their assistants for entertainment, deliveries, mental health support, calling and community connections, work outs and practical instructions such as cooking tips. After normality returns, the new need and deeper understanding of the devices will remain, and voice will have a new solid consumer base.

Example: How smart speakers can assist streamlined methods of home working

A current example we’re seeing of this is with the sudden movement of most of the UK’s workforce to a home environment, there is newfound use for voice technology and remote working.

With a new need to be able to complete our daily tasks in a home setting, voice enabled devices will play a part in us professionalising our home environments. Looking back ten years, technology would not have allowed us to sustain ‘work as normal’ as it does today. Scheduling reminders and to-dos and building company skills for staff updates and company news are some examples of what assistants could help with. We expect to see voice become rapidly more important in the professional domain.

The new normal: customer behaviour outside the home

We don’t just expect to see consumer behaviour towards voice change within the home, but also outside of it. Certain customer journeys done in-person, such as doctors’ appointments or via touch, such as airport bag check in or grocery store payments are now sparking hygiene fears and will drive a demand for virtual or hands-free interactions.

Example: Moving towards a cashless future

Amazon is already working on voice-controlled petrol pumps and automated shop payments via Amazon Go, and we expect to see voice taking over the consumer path to using ATM’s, ticket machines and self-service counters such as those found in the Post Office. The technical challenge here is how to control the machines accurately via voice in an often-noisy environment; two possible solutions would be allowing consumers to use their Bluetooth headphones to connect to the machine or using built-in nearfield microphones.

Streamlining communication services

Now is a trying time for many brands, and it has become crucial for them to be able to talk directly consumers. In categories such as online conferencing, healthcare, household goods, home delivery and exercise and wellness we are seeing huge spikes in demand, whereas we are seeing falling demand in areas such as luxury goods, events and travel booking.

Brands will need to adopt new ways to manage the influx of customer communications both in terms of positive and negative queries. Delivery services will need to have ways to communicate on service availability, booking slots and ways they are safeguarding both their staff and customers. Equally, insurance and travel businesses are dealing with large volumes of claims, refunds and complaints.

Voice offers a platform to sort through consumer requests and filter out the majority which can be replied to automatically. Already we have seen LV= implement a voice skill which will take pressure off call centres which are having to close down because of COVID-19.

Example: Mitigating the strain on our healthcare systems

According to Xinmin Evening News, a voice recognition bot is now being used in Shanghai to automate screening tests for COVID-19, running 200 calls within 5 minutes, compared to the two to three hours it would take manually. Artificial intelligence developer and US based platform Orbita has launched a voice assistant and chatbot to the same effect. This will help prevent people from overloading healthcare workers who don’t have symptoms of the virus and will also help to triage patients who are showing symptoms so that they don’t spread the disease further.

Voice looks to play a key part in the health system moving forwards if as bots become more capable of spotting symptoms and providing advice. If we can provide accurate advice to people in the comfort of their homes, voice might be key in supporting overwhelmed NHS 111 lines or A&E waiting rooms in the coming period.

The future for brands

We are now seeing many brands who have been biding their time with voice pulling out of channels such as experiential and outdoor and accelerating their efforts in building actions and skills as well as ensuring that content such as FAQs are optimised for voice.

In this time of change we expect brands to turn to voice not just as a marketing channel, but as a means of solving formidable business challenges and connecting with individual consumers at scale.

John Campbell, founder, Rabbit and Pork

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