Consumers have grown used to talking to machines. From navigating the menus of customer helplines, to asking Siri to beatbox, humans have learnt how to issue voice commands. Half of smartphone owners use voice technology on their phones; of them, a third use it daily.
Of all the homes in the United States that have Wi-Fi, 20% are now equipped with smart speakers. People are confident interacting with machines. Google Assistant’s launch shows us people will get comfortable delegating to their computers.
So what’s behind the rise of voice search – and where is it going?
Moving from computing to thinking
Since Ada Lovelace wrote the first algorithm, humans have been writing commands in a language the machine understands. The rise of voice search marks a change: people will start to use conversational search.
With the AI that powers voice technology always learning, machines are beginning to understand humans.
AI expert Andrew Ng has previously predicted that by 2020, searches made with voice and images will make up half of all search traffic. Gartner predicts that more than half of those – 30% of all searches – will be made without a screen. In a society growing aware of its addiction to screens, it offers an alternative that is less distracting.
This makes machines more intuitive. It lets them fit into daily life a bit more seamlessly. Users can take notes, search, or access information without breaking pace – keeping them focused on the present. This removes the barrier to using devices. It makes technology more user-friendly for people who aren’t used to adapting to the parameters of keyword searches.
Machines that understand you
As search becomes more conversational, and machines grow smarter, users are becoming comfortable with asking full questions when they search, rather than simply firing off key words.
Intuitive machines that learn from their users do more than answer questions. They understand context, and intent. Vocal search lets a user convey their feelings – whether that’s excitement, anger or sarcasm.
This lays the foundations for intent-based searching. A user asking “who makes the best electric sports car?” is not in the same stage of the sales funnel as someone asking “where can I test drive an electric sports car?” By understanding the subtle verbal cues of human language, voice search better serves users.
With AI understanding more advanced talk commands and queries, it’s better able to serve users with the content they want. Whilst the command is issued by voice, speech to text technology lets devices tell users the answers they want to hear, and also provides them with visual content. This can be a written summary – which acts as their own memo – images, or links that they can use to further pursue their query.
Keeping customers engaged in waiting spaces
Mobile voice search is three times more likely to be local-based. This ability to serve a customer according to context could offer a new pillar of engagement, as well as an opportunity to sell.
But more than that, it also provides amusing diversions for users. This is a welcoming value-add in environments, like airport terminals, where time seems to move slower. With hands full of carry-ons, children and tickets, a passenger could ask their phone “where can I get some snacks” or “where can I wash my face” to navigate a confusing space better.
The passenger gets an answer to their question, they are exposed to new technology, and the airport has gained some repute for providing a valuable service. This builds consumer trust in a product and provider, and is replicable at scale – yet retains a personal touch. When customers are interacting in their language, machines must reply in a human way. It fosters brand relationships in a currently wasted space.
Adapting environments to people, rather than making people fit in
The main reason that the majority (61%) of people use voice is because their hands or vision is occupied. They might be time-poor professionals or juggling parents; manual labourers or people with accessibility needs. Voice commands are letting people search, learn or buy without having to stop what they’re doing.
This will be revolutionary for online shopping, as it shortens the process, reducing abandonment or drop-off rates. Voice commerce fell just shy of $2bn in 2017, but is predicted to hit $40bn by 2022.
In fact, people are open for brands to integrate with their experience. More than half (52%) of smart speaker owners want to receive promotions and deals from brands on their devices. It’s the alignment of a sales converting trifecta. Customers are comfortable with localised content. They are prioritising convenience and they want to receive deals.
By adopting voice recognition and engagement technology now, there’s still huge opportunity to ride the early adopter wave.