Ditching Mobile Search for Voice? Not So Fast
Voice-assisted technology is poised to reshape the customer experience (CX) by the end of 2018 and beyond, offering consumers a hands-off and seamless approach to blended digital and physical experiences. In fact, 37 percent of Americans are planning to own a smart assistant by the end of 2018, and as devices like Google Home experience global market growth and success — in Australia, Canada, France, Italy, Singapore and elsewhere — the penetration and ubiquity of voice will only continue to grow, with predictions showing that 50 percent of all searches will be voice searches by 2020. This shift in consumer preference makes clear that it’s necessary for retail brands to pursue investments in voice. However, that doesn’t mean it's a good idea to ditch mobile search altogether.
This is despite the fact that the rise in consumer demand for voice is leading to a decline in mobile search. Further findings show that two out of three consumers who own a stand-alone voice assistant admit to using their smartphone less. However, a decline in mobile search isn't synonymous with the death of mobile search, and the astute retail brand will keep one foot in each camp.
As popular voice assistants like Alexa, Echo and Siri continue to make modern homes smarter, here are some ways that retail brands can strike a balance between (necessary) voice assistant adoption while maintaining a (highly relevant) presence in mobile search.
Voice and Mobile Fill Each Other’s Gaps
While artificial intelligence (AI) technology has advanced tremendously over the past five years, the fact is there's still room for smart home tech to get a little smarter. When it comes to automatic speech recognition (ASR) software, for example, the technology still struggles to identify and respond accurately to different languages, dialects and accents. While work to expand ASR and natural language generation (NLG) capabilities is crucial for brands to stay relevant in our global economy, mobile search (via text or keypad input) can play a key role in ensuring conversational accuracy and, ultimately, maintaining customer satisfaction.
Conversely, voice-based tech is a useful tool when the text or handheld functionality of mobile search is difficult for some consumers. Seniors, for instance, benefit from voice assistants to complete simple tasks (e.g., “Siri, place my grocery order,” or “Alexa, turn on the TV”), especially if their mobility is limited. Of course, these conveniences also apply to multitasking professionals and busy parents. Another example are banking apps around the world that are beginning to incorporate face and voice biometrics into customer authentication, providing a more secure way for customers to manage their finances.
How Brands Can Leverage the Best of Both
While voice and mobile may appear to be disparate search experiences, the fact is that together they enhance the consumer experience through convenience and discovery. For instance, if a consumer is researching a holiday destination, mobile search plays a key role in facilitating the “discovery” of new locations — providing in-depth information that users can quickly scroll through to determine whether they want to spend their downtime on the remote beaches of Easter Island or in a small seaside cottage in Brighton. From there, consumers can leverage their voice assistant to learn more information about their vacation spot while getting ready for work or cooking dinner — e.g., “When is the best time to travel to the South Pacific?” or “What do I pack for a weekend in Guernsey?”
What will set brands apart from competitors is anticipating the multifaceted questions that arise when consumers leverage various channels to conduct searches. Combining the elements of discovery and convenience and incorporating them into your website or product offerings (e.g., creating pages that allow shoppers to search for clothing by activity or destination) will increase user satisfaction, expedite transactions and provide a reliable resource that customers will want to return to.
Managing Consumer Reticence
While the overwhelming convenience of voice cannot be denied, research shows that consumers may not be 100 percent willing to trust their smart devices. A new study by Limelight shows that one of the key factors slowing the adoption of voice and digital assistants is that most consumers (65 percent) are skeptical about their ability to perform basic tasks. The report also reveals that security and privacy are leading concerns, with 42 percent of consumers citing possible hacking and 45 percent citing data collection as worrisome.
Brands can balance consumer doubt or distrust in voice assistants by enhancing the omnidigital convenience of their mobile search options, whether that’s through a chatbot, shopping app or on their online store. The application of AI is critical in streamlining the customer search experience on mobile, and shouldn’t fall to the wayside amid the popularity of voice. Consumers will appreciate (and revisit!) your app, for instance, if their search for a pair of shoes is supplemented by a suggestion from your chatbot, pointing them to a pair that’s on sale, in their size and matches the pants they purchased the previous week.
While brands cannot ignore the implications of voice assistant growth and adoption, the fact is that mobile search does and will continue to play an important role in how consumers search, shop and discover new products and brands. Ensuring that your brand’s mobile search features are up to par will go a long way in maintaining consumer trust and loyalty, and in establishing your brand as a leader in omnidigital CX.
Geoffrey Boulakia is the deputy managing director at TSC (Sitel Group).