When I woke up this morning, the first thing I did was to ask Alexa, Amazon’s voice assistant, to switch on my coffee maker so that a fresh cup of coffee would be ready for me after I got out of the shower.

As I had my breakfast, I had Alexa read out my latest emails, as well as highlights of the latest news.

I had an early morning meeting in a section of the city I’ve never been to before, so I asked Siri, the voice assistant on my iPhone to give me directions to my destination.

I followed Siri’s voice directions till I got to the meeting location, without worrying about getting lost even for a minute.

I believe I am not the only one who relies on voice to interact with technology today.

Unless you just time travelled from the 18th century, I am willing to bet that you have used voice to interact with a voice assistant at least once in your life.

Today, voice assistants have become all the rage.

All the large technology companies have invested heavily in voice technology. Google has Google Assistant. Microsoft has Cortana. Apple has Siri. Amazon has Alexa.

Owing to the recent and rapid growth of voice technology, a lot of people have adopted voice assistants in their daily life, and the trend is set to continue.

According to a report published by Juniper Research, it is estimated that more than half of US households (55%) will have a voice enabled smart speaker by the year 2022.

Another report by Adobe Analytics reports that of those who currently own smart speakers such as Google Home and Amazon Echo, 71% interact with the voice assistant at least once every day, and 44% of them interact with the voice assistant several times a day.

The use of voice assistants is also changing.

As these voice assistants become more prevalent in our lives, they are also making their way into the business world.

They are changing the way consumers interact with brands and creating a new aspect of business known as conversational commerce.

Conversational commerce started with chatbots, which allowed consumers to interact with brands by way of messaging apps.

However, the emergence of voice assistants has greatly expanded conversational commerce and created new opportunities for brands to brands to build greater intimacy with consumers.

Currently, conversational commerce is still in its early stages.

With the adoption of voice assistants set to increase in the coming years, however, conversational commerce will greatly revolutionize how consumers interact and engage with brands across various stages of the customer relationship lifecycle, from marketing to sales and service.

Already, customers have started interacting with companies through voice and are showing a strong preference for this mode of interaction.

According to a survey carried out by Capgemini, 24% of those surveyed reported that they would prefer interacting with a brand through a voice assistant rather than through a website.

The survey, which involved more than 5000 consumers across Germany, France, UK and the United States, estimates that this figure will rise to 40% within the next three years.

20% of the respondents said that they would prefer interacting with a voice assistant rather than visiting a physical shop or bank branch, with the figure set to increase to 31% in the next three years.

According to the report, consumer expenditure via voice assistants will grow about six fold within the next three years, from the current 3% of total consumer expenditure to about 18%.

Currently, music streaming and searching for information are the most popular uses of voice assistants.

However, the use of voice assistants for shopping is steadily growing, with 35% of those who currently use voice assistants reporting that they have used a voice assistant to order clothes, homecare, and groceries.

28% of those currently using voice assistants also reported that they have sent money or made a payment through a voice assistant.

As voice technology becomes better at handling tasks such as credit card payments, it is expected that this number will increase in the near future.

WHAT IS DRIVING THE ADOPTION OF VOICE ASSISTANTS BY CONSUMERS?

There are a number of factors contributing to the adoption of voice assistants by consumers. These include:

Users are Satisfied with their Voice Interactions

Before fully embracing a technology, users will usually try it out first and then adopt it based on their satisfaction with the technology.

Consumers who are already using voice assistants give a very positive report of their experience with voice interactions, regardless of the kind of activity they performed via voice assistant, from ordering groceries to making payments.

According to the survey by Capgemini, 71% of those currently using voice assistants are satisfied with their overall experience.

For instance, one respondent reported that he found it easier to have his cell phone read out directions to him instead of constantly looking at street names.

In addition, four in five of those using voice assistants for purchase-related activities are satisfied with their experience.

Voice Assistants Provide Speed, Convenience and the Ability to Multi-Task

According to the report by Capgemini, 52% of consumers prefer using voice assistants over mobile apps and websites owing to the convenience offered voice assistants, while 48% prefer them because of the ability to carry out tasks hands free.

Users also like the fact that there are no restrictions with voice assistants – they can be used anywhere and anytime.

Capgemini’s survey also found that 41% of consumers prefer shopping through a voice assistant instead of a mobile app or website since the voice assistant allows consumers to automate their routine shopping tasks.

Other reasons why users go for voice assistants instead of apps and websites include better personalization to the customer’s needs, better security of customer data, and the fact that interactions with voice assistants feel more natural compared to apps and websites.

It almost feels like the customer is speaking to a real person.

Ironically, some consumers also prefer interacting with voice assistants in shops and call centers instead of actual humans.

People who prefer voice assistants over speaking to a real person feel that voice assistants are faster, more convenient, they provide better quality of service, they understand their concerns better than human assistants, and they are better at automation of shopping tasks.

Some users also prefer voice assistants to humans because they feel it is a smarter way to shop and because they don’t want to interact with a sales or customer care representative.

Users Find Voice Assistant’s Understanding of Context to be Quite Effective

Context is a very important aspect of human interactions.

Something with a seemingly definitive meaning might have an entirely new meaning in a different context.

With the recent advances in voice technology, voice assistants are becoming even smarter.

They are learning to not only understand what was said, but also to recognize the context in which it was said.

A high number of users reported that they would be more likely to use voice assistants for shopping provided the voice assistants can display understanding of context.

Users feel that voice assistants that have great understanding of context should be able to understand the users’ accent and diction, provide relevant recommendations based on the users’ needs, create a personalized experience for them, and hold a sensible conversation.

Users also feel that voice assistants should be able to anticipate their needs and contribute to the conversation by providing any additional and relevant information that might be helpful to the user.

WHY ARE NON-USERS NOT ENTHUSIASTIC ABOUT ADOPTING VOICE ASSISTANTS?

While the use of voice assistants is steadily growing, a lot of people are still quite apprehensive about using this new technology for shopping and transaction-related tasks.

The top reason keeping people away from voice assistants is security concerns, with 65% of non-users reporting that they don’t trust voice assistants to keep their personal data safe and secure, according to the report by Capgemini.

Aside from personal data security concerns, some non-users also don’t feel the need to use voice assistants.

In other words, there are no incentives for them to start using voice assistants.

Many people also feel like voice assistants are intrusive and want access to personal information that might not even be necessary to ensuring a successful shopping experience.

Some people are also apprehensive to voice assistants because they are not comfortable with talking to machines, while others feel that voice assistants are not very good at understanding them.

IS CONVERSATIONAL COMMERCE GOOD FOR YOUR BUSINESS?

We have already seen how conversational commerce is growing, and some of the reasons why consumers are adopting voice assistants, but is it a good idea to provide consumers with the option of interacting with your brand through voice?

Does conversational commerce offer any tangible benefits to businesses and brands?

In their survey, Capgemini found that giving consumers the option to interact with your brand through voice assistants can increase your brand’s Net Promoter Score (NPS) by up to 19 points.

The advantage of conversational commerce is even more pronounced in the United States, where brands that provide consumers with voice assistants have an improvement of 25 NPS points on average compared to brands that do not have voice assistants.

This shows that voice assistants provide brands with a great opportunity to drive customer satisfaction.

Aside from a better Net Promoter Score, providing consumers with a voice assistant has several other benefits. These include:

Generating Positive Word-Of-Mouth and Attracting More Business

The survey by Capgemini found that consumers who regularly use voice assistants are more likely to do more business with brands that provide voice assistants and recommend these brands to their friends compared to brands that do not offer voice assistants.

After a positive and satisfactory experience with a voice assistant, consumers who regularly use voice assistants have done one of the following:

  • Started transacting more frequently with the brand
  • Mentioned their positive and satisfactory experience to family and friends
  • Increased the amount of money they spend with the brand
  • Given the brand higher ratings and left positive feedback about the brand on social media
  • Purchased more products from the brand

Ironically, this is not only restricted to consumers who regularly use voice assistants.

Even non-users of voice assistants reported that on having a positive experience with a brand’s voice assistant.

They would increase the number of transactions with the brand, increase the amount of money they spend with the brand, buy more products from the brand, rate the brand highly and leave positive reviews of the brand on social media, and mention their positive experience to family and friends.

Securing Bigger Consumer Spend

The survey by Capgemini also sought to determine how much consumers were willing to increase their spending with a brand owing to a positive experience with voice assistants.

The survey found that, on average, consumers were willing to increase the amount of money they spent with a brand by 5% in return for a positive voice assistant experience.

The survey also found out that consumers who already use voice assistants today will increase their spending in consumer products and retail, and services by about 8% on average.

HOW TO DEVISE A SOUND CONVERSATIONAL COMMERCE STRATEGY FOR YOUR BRAND

Seeing how fast conversational commerce is going mainstream, and the benefits you stand to gain, it is wise to start devising a conversational commerce strategy for your brand.

Question is, how exactly do you do this? There are four key steps to devising a sound conversational commerce strategy. These are:

Design and Execute Compelling Voice Customer Experiences

In a previous research about customer loyalty, Capgemini found that customer loyalty is based on emotions.

Brands that can connect with their customers on a human level are able to secure long-term engagement and loyalty from their customers.

Fortunately, conversational commerce provides brands with an opportunity to connect with their customers on a human levels and create an emotional connection, thereby enhancing the customer experience while at the same time cultivating customer loyalty.

In order to design and execute a great voice experience for your customers, you need to start by understanding what your customers expect from your brand.

According to a study done by Cornell University, people’s comfort interacting with a machine-generated voice depends on whether the voice has any human-like characteristics.

The more human-like the voice sounds and feels, the more natural the conversation will be perceived to be, and the more likely customers are to feel comfortable interacting with it.

Therefore, when building a voice experience for your customers, you should make sure that the experience is as human-like as possible.

First and foremost, the voice assistant should be able to understand your customers’ accent and diction. For brands that operate across different geographical regions, this might mean creating a localized voice experience for each geographical market.

Aside from the ability to understand accent and diction, the voice assistant should also be able to recognize and respond to context and provide fast, relevant and accurate responses.

Designing and executing a great voice experience also requires the elimination of any impediments that might keep potential users from adopting the technology.

Use Conversation Intelligence to Better Understand Your Customers

The rise of digital commerce granted brands access to a lot of information about the likes and dislikes of their customers. Conversational commerce takes this a notch higher.

Using personal voice assistants allows brands to engage in dialog with consumers and gain better insights into the needs and preferences of the customers, as well as the context that influenced a purchase.

This is a treasure trove of information that brands can use to make their voice experience even better for customers.

Using this information, brands can customize the voice experience even further and make sure it is tailored for each of the brand’s customer segments.

The needs, preferences and usage patterns of each customer segment should be researched, and then the voice experience created to match these needs.

For instance, if your voice experience is focused on older people who are not very savvy with digital channels, the voice experience should be focused on simplicity and being as natural as possible.

If the target segment is younger people, the voice experience can be focused on offering a highly personalized service and offering deals and promotions that allow them to save money.

Come Up With Sound Business Operations Voice Solutions

The greatest mistake most brands make when implementing a conversational commerce solution is to view the solution in isolation.

Conversational commerce should be designed in collaboration with other brand channels, with the aim of providing omni-channel fulfillment.

Conversational commerce should also be integrated with other internal business operations of the organization, such as order management, supply chain, marketing and customer relationships management, as well as the touch points through which customers interact with the brand.

According to the Capgemini survey, some of the customer touch points where voice assistants can be effectively implemented include searching for products and services, making a shopping list, adding items to a shopping cart, making a purchase, checking the delivery status of orders, providing feedback about products and services, using the customer support service and making recommendations for the product or service to other potential customers.

Implement Technology Solutions that Make the Voice Experience More Efficient

To make the voice experience as efficient and effective as possible, brands need to implement other technology solutions that allow for a seamless, simple, and hyper-personalized customer experience.

For instance, retailers like Target and Walmart partnered with Google to create voice experiences that allow consumers to order products using voice via Google Home.

This provides a much more seamless experience since consumers are already conversant with Google Home and therefore don’t need to spend any time learning how to use a new service.

On the other hand, the information Google has about the consumer makes it easier to provide a more personalized service.

When creating a voice experience, it is also important for brands to be proactive in ensuring the security and privacy of consumer data. We saw earlier that concerns over the safety and security of personal information is the greatest hindrance to the adoption of conversational commerce by consumers.

Lack of trust not only keeps consumers from embracing your brand’s voice experience, it might also affect your brand reputation.

To avoid this, brands should alleviate concerns about the safety and security of customers’ personal information by creating strong and transparent privacy policies and ensuring that they stick to these privacy policies.

Organizations should also ensure that they have robust security measures in place.

Consumers will not share their personal information if this means spending their time worried about your systems being hacked and their personal data getting exposed.

By keeping these four key things in mind, your brand can devise and execute a sound conversational commerce strategy.

It’s good to keep in mind that the best approach is to building a great voice customer experience is to start small, test what is working and then keep iterating and improving based on your results.

PREPARING THE ORGANIZATION FOR CONVERSATIONAL COMMERCE

If your organization is thinking about implementing conversational commerce, it is important to make conversation commerce an integral part of your organization’s overall digital customer experience strategy.

If you view it as an isolated project, you will not be able to take full advantage of this new channel.

In addition, organizations should also ensure that the implementation of the voice strategy is driven by the top leadership.

The adoption of conversational commerce might have significant changes for the organization, such as the complete replacement of human interactions with voice assistants.

This might call for a change in the organization’s hiring practices and a need for upskilling in the teams whose tasks will be taken over by voice assistants.

All these changes might present a challenge if the digital strategy is not driven by the top leadership.

WRAPPING UP

Conversational commerce has created new opportunities for businesses and brands to interact with their customers in new and innovative ways and create deeper connections that drive long-term customer engagement.

As voice technology becomes more advanced and more commonplace, it is inevitable that voice will become the dominant channel through which consumers interact with brands.

If they want to remain competitive, brands must start taking advantage of this new opportunity and increase the available options for consumers to engage with and interact with the brands.

Conversational Commerce: Why Consumers are Embracing Voice Assistants

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