By Matt Muldoon
Voice technology has been gaining steady popularity in recent years, from smart speakers in homes to voice control in cars. The COVID-19 pandemic was a catalyst that skyrocketed voice technology’s prominence, with almost 40 percent of the U.S. population using smart speakers monthly in 2020. Voice technology adoption grew in 2020 due to its contactless appeal and now, as we move into the inoculation phase of the pandemic, brands are realizing that consumers aren’t willing to give up the convenience voice technology offers moving forward.
As people continue to expect the ease and convenience of voice-enabled interactions, companies should think about developing and deploying a conversational-first strategy to create deeper relationships with customers. Digital voice technology can help companies bridge the gap between their products and services to their most important consumers.
To build a successful digital voice strategy, companies need to first understand what digital voice is, and how they can use it to their advantage.
What is digital voice?
With 61 percent of adults who already use a voice assistant reporting that they will use it more frequently in the future to complete tasks like making purchases or adding items to a shopping list, companies have an opportunity to meet people on these devices. However, companies can go beyond the voice assistants built into smart speakers to create a unique voice that speaks to the company’s brand and sets them apart from the uniform sound of an assistant’s voice. Custom digital voices can be deployed across different devices and touchpoints to create a seamless experience across the entire consumer journey and increase brand recognition. Similar to visual branding collateral, the voice a brand leverages must be instantly identifiable, engaging, memorable, and consistent between devices and platforms. When consumers hear the same voice—no matter the device or platform—they trust the brand more and develop an emotional connection, which is key for brands as voice technology continues to grow.
To optimize digital voices, companies need to choose the right voice partner. Ideally, the company will choose a partner that guarantees data privacy, commits to quality assurance, and uses the most effective technology available, so that the company can create the best experiences possible for consumers while guaranteeing their privacy.
The technology powering next-gen digital voice
As consumers become accustomed to more natural-sounding voices, companies need to ensure that the voices they’re deploying meet their standards. To be effective, companies should deploy technologies such as natural language understanding (NLU), conversational artificial intelligence (AI), and neural text-to-speech (TTS). Together, these technologies enable voices to sound more humanlike, as opposed to the voices found in smart assistants today. NLU, which enables machine reading comprehension, can be applied to tasks such as short-spoken commands, or highly complex tasks like comprehending entire news articles. It powers conversational AI to recognize speech and text inputs to translate their meanings across languages. Combining these technologies with neural TTS, companies can produce synthesized speech from text that sounds like a human voice and can respond more appropriately to consumer grievances and questions.
For example, many automakers are embedding voice solutions into their GPS, navigation, and telematics systems, which can be used for outbound communications between an automaker and the driver. If an automaker is trying to warn a driver about safety hazards, they can deploy a voice that is more sympathetic. However, if the automaker is communicating a scheduled service reminder at a dealership, it wouldn’t make sense to use the same voice as the safety hazard warning voice. Instead, the automaker could deploy a more upbeat voice when communicating the reminder. With the help of NLU, AI, and TTS, automakers can deploy different voices depending on each consumer’s situation.
With different voices at their disposal, companies can create better, more engaging experiences for consumers that increase loyalty and deepen consumer trust.
Up leveling the consumer experience
While voice technology has been widely used to increase web accessibility for the visually impaired, as well as in niche use cases like GPS devices for vehicles, companies across multiple industries, such as retail, travel, and hospitality, are realizing the benefits of the technology and are using it to provide superior, personalized customer experiences to interact with consumers by deploying different voices based on the consumer’s unique situation.
Once the voice is created, the technology can be adjusted and scaled, so companies can modify scripts, maintain a consistent brand voice and add new ways to keep consumers engaged. This way, companies don’t have to depend on a voice actor’s availability or health or cover their recording costs each time they want to make an adjustment to their custom voice, allowing them to deploy voice updates immediately as they are made.
Scalability is crucial to deploying different voices given the different reasons consumers interact with voice technology. In the wellness industry, companies can encourage people to exercise, stay hydrated, and take medication, all of which could be communicated in an upbeat and friendly tone. Companies can also remind people to meditate, for which an upbeat tone may not work as well. Instead, the company can deploy a calming voice in different languages to help users get in the right mindset.
As voice technology grows more popular and people continue to demand ease of use and convenience, brands can work on creating a digital voice now to meet consumer preferences. By using digital voices that capture the unique brand persona, companies can better engage their most important customers, provide better customer service and offer superior experiences.