When done right, Voice can be a powerful enhancement to existing mobile apps
Because of how explosive consumer smart speaker adoption has been, there’s been a tendency to think about smart speakers as the only way brands can engage with Voice. However, the reality is that Voice goes well beyond smart speakers. With 500 million active monthly users on Google Assistant on mobile and Siri having a major amount of consumer mindshare, it's time for brands to take a serious look at voice-enabling their mobile applications. In fact, data from the April 2020 NPR SmartAudio Report showed that the primary method for interacting with a Voice assistant was via a smartphone.
In the past year, there has been an uptick in brands using Voice to enhance and improve their mobile applications. The rise of Voice-enabled mobile apps was even noted as a major trend to watch for in 2021.
For many brands, Voice-enabling their mobile app can be an easier path to using Voice. If your brand has an existing mobile application that is being maintained, you aren’t starting from scratch on a number of levels. With a mobile application, you already have:
All of this is an incredibly helpful foundation to ensuring a successful implementation of Voice within your experience.
Before we get too deep into the how, it makes sense to talk about what “Voice-enabled” truly means in the context of mobile apps first. As with all things Voice, there are a range of ways that it can be integrated into an existing mobile experience:
Speech recognition for input
One way that Voice can be used in a mobile app is by incorporating speech recognition so a user can provide input using their voice versus having to type. The mobile versions of Google Docs or Microsoft Word are good examples of this in action. It’s faster for most people to speak than to type and it also benefits people with fine motor skill or manual dexterity issues.
Command and control
A deeper integration of Voice can enable a user to use their voice to navigate through the app experience and simply speak the inputs. This can be particularly useful in apps with complex navigation or features that are buried. An additional benefit to this approach is that you can access the functionality without opening the app by using a Google Assistant shortcut or Siri shortcut. An example of this allows enabling the user to track meals or medications simply by telling Google Assistant or Siri to “tell My Fitness Pal to track a meal.” This is particularly helpful when the user doesn’t have their phone out or is using headphones.
Full featured AI assistant
The most robust of the Voice integration types is the use of a full-featured Voice assistant that engages and guides the user. A great example of this is SUKI - Voice-enabled physician’s assistant that allows the doctor to ask questions about their schedule and upcoming caseload, take clinical notes and integrate everything with their electronic medical record system.
Bonus: Voice biometrics for authentication
Finally, by adding voice authentication you not only increase the security of your app but password recovery becomes a thing of the past. This is especially important in the case of commerce apps where a forgotten password often results in an abandoned shopping cart and a lost sale.
In all of these instances, there is a direct benefit to the user -- but that should be the case with any application of Voice on any device. Voice should improve the experience. If the addition of Voice makes things more difficult or confusing, by all means don’t do it. Regardless of the level of integration, Voice can build customer relationships and improve experiences when applied with strategic thought and a solid implementation plan.
“Great, how do I get started you ask?” Here are some considerations you should keep in mind when determining if your Voice strategy should include voice-enabling a mobile application, creating a stand alone Voice Assistant that lives on mobile and smart speakers, or all of the above.
What is the current state of your mobile application?
Obviously, to voice-enable a mobile application, there needs to be a mobile application to voice-enable. It takes a significant amount of time and resources to build and launch a mobile application so if you’re starting from scratch this may not be the ideal approach. Depending on your reasons for creating a voice-enabled mobile application, it might make more sense to invest the resources into creating a stand-alone Voice experience or optimizing your web content for Voice instead.
It also might not make sense if you have a mobile application but it doesn’t perform well — unless you are planning to improve the experience in addition to adding Voice. Adding Voice won’t correct issues caused by poor design or by features your audience isn’t interested in. Also, if your current mobile app hasn’t been well maintained and needs significant updates, combining that with efforts around adding Voice will slow down your implementation.
Who is the target audience of your current app and does it align with your goals?
Even if you do have an existing mobile application, it needs to be designed for the same audience your Voice strategy is targeting. If your mobile app is designed for current customers to manage their account and your goal is to acquire new customers, you won’t be able achieve the results needed to tell the right ROI story. However, you might be able to show that the improved customer experience from a voice-enabled mobile app leads to increased retention which could reduce the need for increased acquisition.
Another audience consideration that will inform where and how it makes sense to integrate Voice is the context of where and how your audience is using the app. Is the app being used in the car so that an eyes and hands-free experience would ensure safer use? Or, is it being used in a noisy environment where there is a lot of background noise or with headphones or earbuds that are connected to a phone in a pocket? Will your user have reliable internet access besides their phone? These types of questions will ensure that adding Voice makes an app more usable.
What will be accomplished by adding or integrating voice?
Although it’s tempting to think Voice is a silver bullet that can reduce the friction in any task, that is not the case. As you’re considering how and where to add Voice, it’s critical that it truly make important tasks (accessing information or support, making purchases, etc.) easier for your user. If instead it adds steps or complicates decisions, then you need to rethink your approach or reconsider a Voice integration altogether.
What resources have been allocated for marketing and future enhancements?
The care and feeding of a mobile application requires resources for maintenance and optimization but it also requires marketing support to drive traffic, downloads and usage. Since almost 40% of mobile app discovery happens via the app stores, they require their own search strategies and marketing plans so the right users find and use them. There also will need to be resources for developing new features that become necessary as user behaviors show they are needed or wanted. If you already have these resources allocated for your mobile application, it will be easier to work Voice into those plans versus having to find additional resources and budget to support a completely new Voice experience.
Defining success very much depends on the goals of your app and the tasks your audience is trying to complete. For example, if your app focused on account management and customer service, enabling your customer to quickly resolve their problem without the need to be on hold with your call center can be a huge benefit for your customer and your organization. Some of the questions you can ask to identify the effectiveness include:
Knowing that mobile apps are middle to bottom of funnel tactics, voice-enabling a mobile application will not solve all your brands problems. But it can go a long way to making the lives of your audience easier. Done right, Voice can enhance the experience your audience has with your app and your brand.
Voice optimization for mobile is one of many ways that brands can integrate Voice across the entire customer journey. The key thing to remember to ask is “Can Voice make things easier for my audience and/or does it make our organization more efficient?” To learn more about where Voice can fit within your existing ecosystem, check out: How to win the hearts (and wallets) of your customers.
You can also tune in live to VOICE Talks on March 25, at 2 pm ET to hear more about the latest developments in Voice technology and how mobile will extend the use of Voice, particularly as more brands embrace its power. Produced by Modev and presented by Google Assistant, VOICE Talks is the fastest growing internet technology show featuring industry leaders discussing the latest developments relating to AI-powered voice technologies. Follow VOICE Talks on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook or LinkedIn.
Susan Westwater is the CEO and co-founder of Pragmatic and an expert in advising innovative brands on Voice and conversational AI. With 20+ years of experience in top tier agencies and corporate, she helps clients expand their brands into conversational experiences. She is an expert on Voice, conversational AI, and emerging technologies in marketing and business strategy and has published works on the topic. She is an Ambassador of the Open Voice Network, an instructor at the AI Academy for Marketers, and co-author of "Voice Strategy" and "Voice Marketing" (2023).
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