Are Voice Assistants the Future of Customer Interactions?

From smartphones to tablets, a generation of consumer technology has been defined by touch interfaces.

Now touch is progressively shifting to talk, as conversational devices become an increasingly common sight in kitchens and living rooms across the globe.

Below Kees Jacobs, Vice President, Global Consumer Products and Retail Sector at Capgemini, delves into the future of voice assistants and their increasing role in business and customer-facing jobs.

It’s estimated that over 110 million people in the US will use a voice assistant in 2019; over a third of the population. And, as Amazon’s recent unveiling of a raft of new products in its Alexa and Echo ranges showed, Big Tech sees voice as one of the most important tools to connect with consumers. According to Amazon, Alexa is going to move far beyond switching off the lights and choosing playlists. It’s soon going to be helping us secure our homes, cook our meals and do our shopping.

Our own research on the use of conversational interfaces confirms both the widespread consumer adoption of voice assistants and the recent acceleration of this trend. Across the US, UK, France and Germany, we found adoption of voice assistants to be at 55%, while 40% of the users across the globe first tried a voice interface within the last 12 months.

For many, voice is becoming the preferred medium of interaction for a variety of everyday tasks: almost three quarters (74%) of consumers we surveyed said they use a voice assistant to research products and services, 54% to make purchases, 53% to book appointments or interact with customer services, and 50% to make payments. Interestingly, the survey also suggested that many see voice assistants as more than anonymous intermediaries: 42% said they are more comfortable discussing personal details and issues with a voice assistant than with another person or friend. Over half (58%) like to personalize their assistants, defining its personality and giving it a name.

42% said they are more comfortable discussing personal details and issues with a voice assistant than with another person or friend.

With this surge of consumer engagement, it’s not surprising that companies are rushing to scale their offerings in the voice assistance market. The benefits are as tangible for businesses as they are for customers: 74% of executives told us they had seen more than a 20% reduction in customer service costs by using voice assistants, and 63% said that there had been a reduction of at least 20% in customer churn.

Yet many companies are still some way off capitalizing on the voice opportunity. Our analysis classed 53% of the companies we surveyed as ‘spectators’ – with low maturity on both organizational capability and customer centricity. Only 27% merited consideration as ‘leaders’ who have the necessary infrastructure and mindset to realize the full benefits – from an overarching strategy about voice, employee awareness and training programs, through to relevant business processes, skillsets and focus on transparency and personalization.

If more companies are to become leaders, one area they need to focus on is privacy. Among consumers we surveyed, 46% said that they “don’t trust voice assistants with the safety and security of my personal data”. This concern is perhaps the most fundamental barrier to continuing growth in use of voice assistants. With data privacy scandals having become part of the public narrative around technology, many consumers are thinking hard about what it means to have devices like these become such an intrinsic part of everyday life.

There is no question that voice will become one of the fundamental consumer channels as people seek solutions that allow them to live more seamless lives. In turn, companies will realize the greatest benefits if they acknowledge that voice must work for the customer (and not just as an enabler of services), as well as be a protector of security and privacy.

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