By 2020, over 50% of online searches will be conducted via voice devices. Retail marketers are already treating voice technology as a potentially revolutionary way of engaging with their customers.
When done right, voice technology helps companies offer more relevant experiences and new levels of convenience, all of which builds brand loyalty that lasts.
But I’m here to offer a word of caution. As with much shiny new technology, many businesses have rushed into the smart speaker world with a huge amount of excitement, but probably not as much planning. And not yet completely examined how it can best complement their existing customer experience (CX) strategies.
The success of voice technology in retail relies on an existing loyal consumer base and an understanding that just because everyone’s talking about voice, it doesn’t mean that every product will be suitable.
Where does voice work?
Voice technology is the ultimate form of convenience and it’s tailor-made for retail brands. Google has already partnered with the likes of Walmart, Ocado, and Target, enabling customers to order their weekly grocery shop via voice, while Amazon Echo offers seamless shopping integration with its online store.
And it’s clearly working. According to a study of almost 40,000 Amazon customers, those who own an Echo voice device have significantly increased their spend on low-cost, repeat-purchase items, such as groceries, pet food, and health and beauty products.
However, it begs the question as to whether people will ever use voice devices to buy big-ticket items. Indeed, Adobe research shows most people wouldn’t use voice tech for complex tasks like personal banking or booking travel.
But even if customers still prefer to shop for more expensive goods via mobile, desktop or in-store – voice technology still has an important role to play in the overall customer journey.
The real power of voice expands beyond transactions to more conversational and complex engagements – perhaps a customer asking questions about a specific product to inform them during the research phase of their purchase journey.
Well thought-out, voice-led experiences that endear someone to a brand may well mean that they buy a big-ticket item later down the line via another channel. It’s why voice technology absolutely has to be integrated into a retail brand’s wider marketing mix, rather than sitting in isolation.
Everything starts with trust
The opportunities for retailers using voice are clear. But in many ways, voice technology is already on the back foot when it comes to earning the consumer trust needed to make it work. A stigma still remains following rumours that voice technology was listening to private conversations, and it’s been a tough one to shake.
The objective then, is building that all-important customer trust first. As with any other new piece of technology, it can’t operate in silos, and won’t provide immediate marketing gratification. But voice tech is so different from other marketing channels, that many brands have made the mistake of doing exactly that.
Consumer trust will invariably increase as voice technology evolves to feature more robust security standards – much like e‑commerce and online banking became the new norm following an initial period of skepticism.
But the onus is also on brands to create an ominchannel approach that incorporates voice seamlessly into the customer journey. Consumers are much more likely to embrace voice technology from a brand they already trust.
Know what you want to achieve
Despite the opportunities, voice technology as purely a revenue driver just isn’t going cut it in some markets. A realistic approach that recognises its limitations is crucial to its success.
The important thing is to determine what you actually want voice technology to achieve from a business perspective. Is it conversions and increased revenue, customer engagement, or customer loyalty? It really comes down to who you are as a brand.
After all, a B2B tech brand wouldn’t expect to sell a multi-million pound piece of software over social media, nor would a restaurant call you up trying to peddle their new three-course menu. The same theory applies to voice, but with the aforementioned restaurant, for example, consumers may well use a voice device to check out customer reviews or opening times and menu options.
Each brand is different, meaning voice can be used in many different ways to achieve different things.
What is certain, however, is that the vast majority (76%) of brands that have introduced voice tech into their marketing mix already see it as a competitive differentiator – whether that’s due to better customer engagement or increased sales. The sophistication of voice technology is only going to increase, and with it the levels of convenience it offers its users, so time really is of the essence.