Overheard at VOICE 2018

Darin Reffitt on August 2, 2018

Last week I joined over 2,500 developers, product managers, entrepreneurs, students, and fellow sales & marketing professionals for VOICE 2018, a deep dive into the world of Voice First devices. Taking place in the heart of Newark at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, the inaugural VOICE Summit was jam-packed with voice-focused content, including over 175 sessions with speakers from around the world.

Highlights for me included the first keynote from David Isbitsky, Amazon’s Chief Evangelist for Alexa and Echo, who presented the power of voice in the Alexa ecosystem, and the second day’s closing session with James Poulter, Lego’s Head of Emerging Platforms, who opined on the  emergence of voice in education & play—who wouldn’t be mesmerized by learning how the iconic Lego brand is leveraging voice technology?

Over the course of the three-day summit, four key themes ran throughout the sessions I attended:

    1. Voice is truly the user-interface of the future.
      As the primary way we learn to communicate from birth, voice is the most natural way for us to interact with the world around us. While we currently live in a world surrounded by humans looking down and typing on keyboards or screens, many yearn for a world where we can interact more with people and less with technology—Daniel Atwood of WillowTree referenced one study showing that 38% of adopters purchase these devices with the goal to reduce screen time and increase interaction with other humans. And, while our children are digital natives—we’ve all seen or heard of toddlers walking up to screens and trying to interact with them by touch—it turns out voice can be equally intuitive. James Poulter told the story of his voice-native child running up to an Apple TV and trying to talk to it as though it were an Echo Dot. “And why wouldn’t she? She’s used to having devices talk back,” he concluded. While voice may not replace screens entirely any time soon, it is sure to become more and more complementary—as devices like Amazon Show plan to capitalize on.
    2. We need to avoid repeating our past mistakes.
      If you think back to the ‘90s with websites being created without much thought or planning, or the beginning of this decade where brands raced to create mobile apps that often got used only once and deleted (if downloaded at all), you’ll learn it’s not wise to race to create a voice app just because it’s the newest thing and you need to be part of it. Instead, look at your customer and how voice can be used to make their lives easier, or to what information they would need where voice would be the most convenient method to obtain it. That means stepping back and examining your customer journey, talking to your customers, and putting yourself in their shoes.
    3. Don’t design for Voice as you would for a visual interface.
      Websites and apps tend to be built hierarchically, leading customers to an intuitive understanding of what the system can do and how to get to the right information. As an example, an insurance website may be broken into sections like “Personal,” “Commercial,” “About Us” and “Investor Relations.” Depending on your reason for visiting the website, you can quickly find the information you’re looking for—say, whether or not your policy includes coverage for contact lenses. When searching for that same information using a Voice First device, the user will simply say, “Alexa, ask <invocation name> if I have coverage for contact lenses.” Voice as a medium simply has far less affordance than visual interfaces, so you need to ensure you’re providing users with clear information on what you can do within the app, ensure that you’re designing the app for non-hierarchical voice interactions, and use supporting tools like Alexa cards and user guides to provide instruction & information to educate users.
    4. Don’t rely on native Alexa or Google Assistant voices for your skills.
      We at SPLICE have been shouting this message from the rooftops for over a year, but it was refreshing to hear David Isbitsky from Amazon echoing this sentiment—you don’t need to use a cold, automated voice within an Alexa Skill or a Google Action, so why not take advantage of using a real-human voice that matches your brand? Especially if you’re a retailer who competes with Amazon, or an Insurance company who is fighting for search rankings with competitors on Google, why would you want to have those voices being the voice of your brand? There are better options out there, and as Cara Meverden of ScoutFM recently shared on CMSWire, using live voice talent can make the difference between a throwaway skill or one that gets used repeatedly. “Skills that had voice actors had 30 percent better retention than the ones that had Alexa introductions,” she stated.

Looking to build skills for Alexa and Google Home and want to leverage the power of real human voice that’s personalized and on-brand? We’d love to tell you more about how SPLICE leverages the power of the human voice for companies like yours. Contact us at 1-855-777-5423 or click here.