Voice Assistants - The Next Tech Disruptor

Anyone would like to have an obedient assistant who always listens to our calls, anticipates our every need, responds politely and takes action whenever necessary, isn't it? Well, thank artificial intelligence as you can now avail this luxury by getting smart voice assistants. Alexa, Siri, Cortana and Google Assistant have become an integral part of our day to day lives. Whether it is about turning down the temperature down on the thermostat, playing music from your smartphone or schedule a meeting, these digital voice assistants have proved their utility in both the personal and professional realms. There are over 110 million virtual assistant users in the United States alone, and the software is especially common in smartphones and smart speakers. As of 2019, Amazon’s Alexa was supported on around 60,000 different smart home devices around the world , providing an excellent example of just how popular the software has become. According to Statista , there are an estimated 3.25 billion digital voice assistants being used in devices around the world as of 2019. Forecasts suggest that by 2023 the number of digital voice assistants will reach around eight billion units – a number higher than the world’s population.

Voice application or voice-based technology applications have become a crucial component of the smart device industry. As the industry advances rapidly with more advanced technology solutions in artificial intelligence, machine learning and natural language processing, enterprises are in search for bigger and better uses of voice-enabled applications. In fact, voice-enabled devices and the apps that control them have become an exciting realm for developers and enterprises alike. As businesses continue to contemplate on leveraging this smart technology, it is essential to learn the emerging trends and practises in building and deploying voice applications.

What is a Voice Assistant?

Voice assistants or voice enabled applications are built on the principles of artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, voice recognition technology, natural language processing (NLP)) and speech synthesis. As an end user interacts with voice assistants, the software agent uses sophisticated algorithms to process requested queries and respond to it with desired action.

History of Voice Assistants

The history of voice assistants dates back to the 1960s when IBM introduced Shoebox at the 1962 World’s Fair in Seattle. This voice-activated calculator recognized and responded to 16 spoken words, including the ten digits from "0" through "9”. In 1971, the Carnegie Mellon University project funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) launched Harpy - a machine that could understand 1,011 words. Throughout the 1990s, tech giants like Apple, IBM and Microsoft forayed into the speech recognition technology. Apple introduced PlainTalk for its Macintosh computers in 1993, which included both speech recognition and speech synthesis. And by 1997,Dragon came out with Dragon NaturallySpeaking, which was the world’s first continuous speech dictation product. In 1996, Microsoft introduced Clippy, the most infamous and virtual assistant to help people hone their word processing skills. Fast forward a few decades, the modern era of voice assistants dawned with the launch of Apple’s Siri in 2011. Google, Microsoft and Amazon followed suit with Google Now, Cortana and Alexa and Amazon Echo in 2012, 2013 and 2014 respectively. Today, we have a plethora of voice-enabled virtual assistants inbuilt with advanced speech recognition, speech synthesis features and transcription functionalities. Some of the modern era smart assistants are HOUND, Google Assistant, Google Home, DingDong, Bixby, Amazon Echo, HomePod, Genie X1 smart speaker and Google Duplex.

Business Benefits of Voice Assistants

Many forward-thinking businesses have been exploring AI-powered voice assistant technology and applications in recent times. In fact, a survey conducted by Adobe Analytics team found that 91% of 401 business decision makers are already making significant investments in voice; 94% plan to increase their investments in the upcoming years. Adoption of voice technology is growing worldwide and brands must move forward with a strategic approach to embrace this smart transformation. Integrating voice assistants into your business operations can help in establishing a better interaction with end users. Whether it is about augmenting human talent or boosting customer personalization, voice technology can help businesses gain a competitive advantage and remain successful.

AI-powered voice assistants can provide a boost to your marketing efforts by offering enhanced consumer insights, which can be used for creating personalized strategies. Voice-driven chatbots can provide enhanced customer service experience by giving support and solving repetitive customer service. Since these virtual assistants collect customer information for creating customer profiles, it can be used for sales and marketing purposes. Introducing a voice assistant for your business will help in increasing the customer engagement, reduce human errors and cutting down on operational costs.

Many enterprises have been using voice technology and chatbots in the office too. Having a voice-enabled AI bot in your office can boost the overall productivity and efficiency. Gartner, predicts these digital helpers will recover up to 6.2 billion employee hours based on results from a recent voice assistant survey. Since these virtual assistants can automate and execute redundant administrative tasks quickly and efficiently, it would free up the employees to focus on critical tasks.

AI-enabled voice assistants can also streamline the internal operations of an organization, giving employees better support and services. Integrating the virtual assistants into your enterprise operations will facilitate data surfacing and data-driven decision making. Organizations can rely on voice assistants to fetch and process huge volumes of data and find the most relevant information for a requested command in a matter of seconds. Voice enabled virtual assistants can be used to schedule meetings, set deadlines and reminders thus driving innovation and decreasing costs.

Advancements in voice-processing technology have the potential to transform how consumers use products and services. Users can get fast and accurate responses from voice assistants which saves their time and efforts. The hands-free operation allows users to multi-tasks and interact with devices on the go. Consumers find it convenient and easy to use the voice-enabled devices for performing a task effortlessly. Businesses, regardless of their size and industry vertical can reap the benefits of voice technology to increase their customer engagement and satisfaction. Some of the major industries to benefit from the conversational interfaces include automotive, retail, healthcare, hospitality, education, banking, finance and insurance. According to a report published by Capgemini, 74% of the surveyed organizations believe conversational assistants are a key enabler of their company’s business and customer engagement strategy. The figure given below shows the percentage of organizations (out of the top 100) deploying voice assistants and chat assistants.

How to Build an AI-based Voice Assistant for Your Business?

Building a conversational interface for your brand is a right move to gain a competitive edge. However, it is important to map out the strategy and content prior to the development phase.

Choose the right platform: You can find a multitude of technology platforms for building a voice assistant. It is essential to choose the best one that fits your needs. Do review the features and attributes of each platform and tool while making a decision.

Remember the end user: Digital voice assistants should deliver convenience and ease of use for the end user. Whether you are building a voice application for your customer or employees, make it a point to think about their requirements. Think about who will be using the voice assistant and what tasks they want to complete. Having a clear idea about your end user demands would help in mapping out an effective communication strategy.

Choose useful features: Consider what kind of voice application is the best fit for your brand Depending on the type of digital assistant, you need to introduce a voice bot with the most useful features and make sure the assistant can execute them out to perfection.

Give it personality: How would you like your brand’s voice assistant to be? Give it a personality by choosing a unique design, style and voice. Your brand’s voice assistant will be engaging with customers on a personal level. Hence, take the end user into consideration while figuring out the personality for your voice bot.

Integrate it with various platforms: Make sure to integrate your AI-based voice assistant with a large number of devices and platforms. This would give your business a wide reachability and ensures a great user experience every time.

The Future of Voice Assistants

The future of voice assistants look bright and promising. As this technology is flourishing in both capabilities and popularity, there are still several challenges associated with its actual deployment and adaptation. Artificial intelligence providers need to come up with innovative solutions to address the existing challenges and pave the way for other companies to move forward with voice-first initiatives. As of now, it is safe to assume that AI-controlled voice assistants are bound to get better and sophisticated going forward. Business enterprises need to begin preparing to embrace the voice technology adoption- or risk getting left behind.

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