With Acquia Engage APAC just a few weeks away, I sat down with Ogilvy Melbourne’s Managing Director, Gavin Macmillan, who will be taking the stage at Acquia Engage APAC to discuss the rapid rise of voice assistants – and why brands can no longer delay adding it to their CX strategies.
Gavin, your chosen topic for Engage APAC is voice assistants- why do you feel this is such a pertinent topic right now?
We’re particularly interested in voice because it’s a huge change – it’s not just a buzzword, there’s a huge amount of behavioural change that’s already taken place, particularly in the US, and we’re following pretty closely here in Australia. We’re seeing that consumer adoption of voice assistants is well ahead of most brands’ readiness to engage in that channel. We’re finding that we need to bring most of our clients up to speed in this space.
Why do you think brands are behind?
I think it’s been very much a consumer-led change – and it’s happening all around the country – so naturally there’s a little bit of a lag from brands. I think Australia is also slightly behind where the US is at; possibly because Amazon was late to the Australian market. Obviously, Alexa is the dominant voice assistant in the US, so I think we’re going to have to catch up quite quickly. Sensis research shows that 24% of Australians have a voice assistant already – yet most brands don’t have a voice strategy.
What are the best examples you’ve seen of voice assistants enhancing the customer experience?
It probably falls into two areas: convenience and expertise. When a brand can step in and serve customers in a more convenient way, through the use of voice assistants, then those examples have proved very successful. For example, ordering an Uber or a Domino’s pizza, you can check your balance with Westpac, Apple’s ‘Find My Phone’ app has a great voice assistant – these very simple, convenience-based applications are probably the best at the moment. The other area is where a brand is positioned to offer expertise; for example, financial expertise or delivering motivational experiences (such as Nike’s virtual training club). Where help or expertise is required, voice is the perfect interface between consumer and brand.
In our recent global research study, we saw a lot of consumers still wanting ‘a human touch’ in their interactions with brands.
Do you feel voice helps or hinders when it comes to customers who prefer a human touch?
Well, the good news is Google research shows 41% of consumers say that speaking to a voice assistant feels the same as speaking to a real person. We’ve also heard lots of anecdotal evidence of people trying to be nice to Siri or Alexa if they feel they’ve been abrupt or said the wrong thing, so there’s an instinct or inclination to deal with a voice assistant as if it’s a real person.
The reality is, most businesses are driven by the need for efficiency and productivity and this is one way to help achieve that. That being said, in our experience, attempts to prematurely reduce call centre activity has often resulted in a decrease in conversion rates, so the business has then had to shift back to that human quotient. Conversion rates in call centres, particularly in financial services, insurance categories and other areas where the decision-making process is complex, call centre conversion rates are still exceedingly high; so there’s a financial value to still having the human interaction and we don’t see that disappearing any time soon.
How far do you see voice going, in terms of the customer experience (e.g. could there be a point where it overtakes all other touchpoints)?
Absolutely, the sky’s the limit. I think the simplest way to think about voice is our evolution; over millions of years, humans have developed so that voice is our default communication method. I know many would argue that body language communicates 90% of what we want to say, but voice really is the dominant form of human communication, so it stands to reason that it’s a very natural way for us to communicate and interface.
Why not have billboards that speak to us? Why can’t you invoke a conversation with an ad on tv, if you want more information? Why not ask for more information at any point throughout the customer journey, for example on a website, and have a conversation? Those forms of interaction don’t really exist at the moment, it’s still very rudimentary and search-based.
The other thing for brands to consider is tone of voice. Many organisations have brand guidelines that reference ‘tone of voice’, but when it comes to actual voice – is your brand male or female? What sort of vocabulary does it use? What pronunciation? Many brands haven’t considered these things and there’s a considerable amount of work to do on those elements, in our experience.
What do you hope delegates will take away from your session?
Pretty simple – just realise the importance of voice and prioritise a voice strategy for their brand, if they haven’t started already. I’d want them to feel a little bit of FOMO, that they might be a little bit behind and need to get their skates on. There’s no question of whether or not voice is going to be big or whether or not there’s a place for it in your customer journey; when you consider that more than 50% of all search in the US is conducted via voice, it’s unavoidable.