Half Of All Searches Will Soon Be By Voice (And, Yes, You Should Be Worried About Your Privacy)

Half Of All Searches Will Soon Be By Voice (And, Yes, You Should Be Worried About Your Privacy)

Tomas Haffenden (pictured below) is VERSA’s resident futurist and thought leader. In this guest post, Haffenden discusses the role of voice and the very human challenges brands will face when they enter this space for the first time…

Did you see Apple’s latest advert about privacy? If not, you should take a look here. No really, go and watch it now or what I’m about to tell you will be contextless drivel. Don’t worry I’ll wait…

As you have just seen, the ad focuses on our most common conversations with technology and imagines us sharing them with the world. In doing so, Apple shows just how tightly we control the version of ourselves we present and, perhaps unwittingly, illustrate some the challenges of Voice as a channel.

So why do these interactions present such a challenge; and how can understanding them give an advantage when it comes to Voice strategy?

There is no avoiding it, the intuitive nature of Voice guarantees it will play a central role in our technological future. This is because unless you are the kind pervert who enjoys reading the full user manual, the prospect of skipping that and merely talking to our technology is an extremely attractive one.

However, rather than piling up our outdated keyboards and setting them ablaze, we are going to have to navigate the intersection of what we are capable of technically (lots) and what we are willing to reveal to the outside world (far less!).

In reality, our technology has raced ahead in terms of linguistic detection and understanding, with Google et al. able to decipher what you are saying with nearly 100 per cent accuracy. With a voice-assistant in every pocket and smart speaker in every room, why hasn’t our world got a lot noisier?

For all its advantages, Voice does present one tiny challenge over our silent friend Mr Keyboard; other people can hear what we are doing.It might not seem like much, but this consideration needs to be front of mind as brands plan their entry point into Voice as a channel.

This is seen front and centre as we open on a man sharing his recent divorce attorney search with a crowded bus, and again later in the ad when a woman casually announces her purchase of four pregnancy tests over dinner.

Despite comScore’s claim “50 per cent of all searches will be Voice searches by 2020” what we are doing online is always going to be a closely guarded. Even if confident you were alone, for now, there is still something akin to talking in a library about searching for more than a weather update.

The next consideration is security and authentication. We see Pauline Fu happily sharing her username with a packed cinema and then, in case you missed the point, a woman using a megaphone to shout her credit card number across a campus full of people.

Although there is no technical reason why you couldn’t dictate your username and password we still have the combined issues of embarrassment and the risk of being overheard. That said, your voice is actually pretty good as a unique identifier, but it will be hard to ever escape the shame of saying “My voice is my password” in front of any friendships you value.

Authentication should be a major consideration for brands, and Voice alone is unlikely to present a solution. Brands will do well to consider a focus on voice experiences and interactions that avoid the need to authenticate or place that hurdle sufficiently far along the experience that the user is already committed.

Next, we see our most common digital activity, communicating with each other. Two colleagues share their love for each other and mutual hatred of Lee, puke emoji, and poor old Lee hears the whole thing.

Beyond another socially problematic example of being overheard, this also shows how quickly unique styles of languages develop in each channel. Emojis are a great demonstration of how something commonplace and well-suited to one channel doesn’t have a place in another.

A communication strategy that identifies the strengths and weakness of each channel and is capable of developing an adaptive tone of voice to suit is going to play a critical role as the channels of communication continue to increase.

For brands considering Voice, particularly automated-Voice where the rules of play are still ill-defined, it is still the Wild West. It might be tempting to stick to what we know and copy and paste our spoken conversations with each other, into this new automated channel. But to try and replicate, the existing style would be to neglect Voice as a channel with the potential for more.

Some consideration should be given to what we might remove from our current rules and regulations used to govern spoken interaction. Robots are not expecting any please and thank yous or even complete sentences, being nice is unlikely to provide you with the kind of measurable benefit you might expect from human interaction.

However, as a brand exploring automated Voice, perhaps it might. How many successful brands point to the associated value brought by throwing their weight behind the latest social cause. It would be quite possible for a well-meaning brand like IKEA or Lego to dictate that all automated channels encourage or perhaps even require, a certain level of nice if the user’s instructions are going to be actioned.

The power of Voice as a channel is yet to be fully realised and, as the Apple advert so eloquently shows us brands wanting to master this channel will be subject to a lot more than just technical challenges. Brands will need to find a partner whose expertise goes beyond the technical and considers the key human elements of conversation if they want to take CX to the next level.


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    1. It seems the ability to customise your voice companion will make a difference. Which is yet to be achieved.
      Me: “yo dawg, how much cookies in the cookie jar?”
      Dawg: “I’m afraid none Julazzz”
      This was a bank account check obvious to illustrate but could be anything.

      Another good reason to learn fluent Klingon I guess.

Tomas Haffenden

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