You can’t ignore it anymore. Smart speakers are the next big thing. According to Gartner, in 2019, 45% of households will have one or more smart speakers at home. Another 26% intend on purchasing one in 2019, while three quarters of those intend on purchasing one within the next 6 months. This is not hard to imagine, given the availability of smart speakers now on the market. There is something for everyone. Consider, for example, the recently announced Google Nest Hub or the Harmon/Kardon with integrated Google Assistant. More availability means more competition and therefore lower prices. The cheapest available smart speaker currently costs around 45 euros. How should you approach your smart speaker strategy and what should you consider? In this article, I will guide you through the latest developments and provide guidance for keeping the conversation on course.
Apple CEO Tim Cook recently stated that our current online privacy is in crisis. For the intelligent and automated handling of tasks, analyzed data is needed. Preferably as much as possible to recognize or even predict patterns. And that data must come from somewhere. Well, that data might even come from you, dear reader.
With growing concerns around privacy and the force of GDPR, we face a trade-off. As consumers, we don’t react well when we hear that smart speakers are listening in our conversations to ‘’improve service’’. We demand openness and transparency, especially from tech giants such as Google and Facebook who have built their business model around analyzing personal information. But does this increasing concern surrounding privacy jeopardize our ability to gain meaningful customer insight?
The new QA is Question and Action
The way we deal with these new Voice User Interfaces offers us new opportunities. Because a smart speaker learns to speak our language, it will be able to guide us through a journey quicker and easier than ever before. While a web page shows search results, the smart speaker will be slightly more suggestive. It will never show all results. This would only distract us and frustrate the experience. Users of smart speakers do not want lengthy conversations with assistants, and this means they forgo assessing all available options. Often there are also fewer visual options on a smart speaker. Of course, there are smart speakers with screens and I recommend that you use this when designing a conversation.
SEO for smart speakers
When addressing your smart speakers, we make a distinction between implicit or explicit invocation. With explicit invocation, we immediately indicate who/what we want to talk to. For example: “Hey Google, talk to Youtube”. The action is then executed within the context of Youtube. This is different for implicit invocations, where the smart speaker will provide suggestions for filling in the intent. For example: “Hey Google, order a pizza”. Here we don’t tell Google exactly who we want to order our pizza from. So how does Google come up with a suggestion to go to Domino’s instead of New York Pizza?
Well, Google uses a so-called Actions Directory to rank skills or actions. Does your action not meet the criteria set by the algorithm? Bad luck, then it’s unlikely you will be presented by the smart speaker to fulfill a user’s request. Exactly how that algorithm works is not yet entirely clear. Google’s online documentation does contain several guidelines, but it’s not completely transparent. As more and more businesses go in search of techniques to rank high in the action directory, a new trend has developed – SEO for smart speakers.
This immediately reminds us of the times when we were all busy with website optimizations for search engines. Through the years, we have become wiser. At first, we didn’t know what worked, but overtime we learned the best optimization techniques and tweaks. I expect that the same monetization will take place for the suggestions offered on smart speakers. Unfortunately, this means even more power to companies that are largely in control online.
Last month I was at the Chatbot Conference in Utrecht and I heard Sebastian Reeve talking about frictionless experiences. “A frictionless experience is what builds consumer loyalty”. Sebastien hits the nail on the head. Every customer contact should be frictionless, that is, contact without annoyance, frustration and mental strain. Now, let’s be honest, that ‘’frictionless user experience’’ with a smart speaker is not quite there yet. Too often, a voice-assisted assistant does not understand you or does something completely different to what you asked. Just google “Alexa gone wrong” and you’ll see what I mean. Incidentally, at the same conference I heard that most screenagers don’t want anything to do with smart speakers. Because why would they hand in a device which they have become accustomed to, for something less efficient and less personal? Before we all go to the smart speaker, the experience must be smooth. Without a shred of annoyance.
We still have a way to go before we decide to plant a smart speaker in every room. With the recent developments and buzz around Artiﬁcial Intelligence and the extensions in our smart homes with IoT devices, cool future scenarios are possible. How cool would it be if the smart speaker started talking to you out of the blue: “Hey Maarten, tomorrow your friends will come to watch the football. I see that you’re running low on beers. Your favorite brand is now on sale at the Spar. Shall I order a new crate to be delivered tomorrow?” Now we’re talking.
Perhaps you are eager to get started with voice interfaces? We already saw that a ﬁrst-movers advantage can be achieved for implicit invocations. Of course, the quality of the final conversation also depends on the choice of your conversational platform. With our enterprise-ready platform DigitalCX, we consciously focus on the separation of content and business logic. It is easy to write different answers across multiple channels, completely in line with the voice ﬁrst philosophy. We like to call ourselves a content-ﬁrst developer-friendly platform. Are you curious? Then let’s talk!
- – Maarten Dings, Creative Technologist