When it comes to interacting with retailers and brands, there are two things which customers crave: convenience and ease of use. Convenience, in that a customer expects to be able to reach the store or brand whenever they want to, wherever they are. They also want that point of contact to be uncomplicated and easy to navigate. In their minds, this is a basic expectation and is simple to achieve.
From the retail perspective, this is neither basic nor simple. There are a lot of variables to consider when creating a digital customer engagement strategy. However, one technology, which is quickly emerging and which retailers should be aware of if they want to be part of the next frontier of the digital experience, is making a whole lot easier: voice-enabled digital interfaces.
Voice-enabled digital interfaces have become very popular since Amazon.com released its first Echo product. Google soon followed with Google Home, and most recently, Apple announced the coming launch of its HomePod. Prior to Echo, digital interfacing with retailers or brands was limited primarily through text in live chat. Texting provided a way for customers to reach out to the brands they wanted without having to be stuck calling and navigating tedious IVR menus. Live chat was certainly a step forward on that quest for convenience and ease. Text-based communications do come with their own inherent limitations, however, including needing to use one’s hands to type. In a culture of multitasking, texting creates a hard stop. The facade of texting being convenient has faded.
This explains why, when the Amazon Echo was released, it achieved the quick success it did. With voice-activated AI assistants, customers can reach the retailers they wish, interact, make a purchase, ask a question and get their answers — all without having to lift a finger. All a customer needs to do is speak into the air and their needs are met easily and conveniently. The shift from text to voice has been a quick one; if retailers wish to reach customers within their homes, it's critical they embrace voice.
There are so many different avenues retailers can take to engage with customers with voice-enabled digital interfaces. One huge opportunity is in the creation of new marketplaces. By introducing voice capabilities, retailers are now able to offer customers a branded “skill” or “action” (depending on the device), which creates a direct line to the store without having to leave home. This is especially valuable when it comes to replenishing orders. By having a voice-powered solution within a customer’s home, it makes it much easier and convenient for that customer to re-order or replenish items through the same retailer every time. It diminishes the chance of customer loss to competitors.
As with most emerging technologies, there are still a few kinks which need to be worked out. Amazon has been forced to refund customers due to accidental orders on the Echo, primarily made by children. Google is already on top of this issue, developing technology which can distinguish voices and ultimately block unauthorized ones.
Yes, there are challenges and some risks with adopting voice-enabled digital interfaces, but the benefits of doing so far outnumber them. Any retailer that wants to stay competitive in the emerging digital landscape must consider what role voice will play for their path to success.
Michael Levine is the vice president of marketing at Photon Interactive, a provider of digital transformation and omnichannel solutions.