Empathetic Intelligence: How smart voice assistants are driving consumer convenience

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As a consumer, what would you rather do: talk to a voice assistant, navigate your way through an app, or visit a physical store?

This is the question we asked 5,000 consumers in our recently launched Conversational Commerce research. The answer we received highlighted the fact that – consumers are embracing voice assistants today and many see a future where voice assistants will trump websites or physical stores. Some key stats below:

  • Over half (51%) are already users of voice assistants, largely via smartphones (81% use this mode).
  • Three years from now, 40% say they would choose a voice assistant over a mobile app or website.

Starting with the movement of consumers from physical stores to online shopping a few years back, to the preference towards voice assistants for routine shopping tasks today, convenience is increasingly driving the way consumers make decisions.

In today’s attention economy, the consumer has plenty of choices. The onus lies on organizations to capture the limited attention of consumers and devise compelling customer experiences that build long-lasting relationships. When we asked consumers why they prefer voice assistants over websites and apps, the top 3 drivers were:

  1. It is more convenient
  2. It allows me to multi-task and do things hands-free
  3. It helps me automate my routine shopping tasks

And when we asked why they preferred using voice assistants instead of human assistants in a shop or call center, the top 3 results were:

  1. It is faster
  2. It is more convenient
  3. It provides greater choice

Convenience is not limited to just shopping or routine activities. It is also about delegation. At its annual developer conference in May 2018, Google introduced Google Duplex, an AI system for real-world tasks that uses a natural language interface.[1] The technology engages with humans over the phone in a conversational, human-like manner. In our recent research on AI in customer experience, we found that that 45% of consumers are willing to delegate routine tasks to such a voice-enabled assistant. What’s more, around one in two consumers (48%) found the idea of such an assistant exciting and 46% said it would improve the quality of their life.

How will brands sustain an emotional link in a voice assistant future?

If they are to meet consumers’ needs, organizations are going to have to keep pace with these fast-changing expectations. They also need to understand the full implications for their digital customer experience. For example, how will brands sustain their emotional connection with the end-consumer in a world where there are fewer direct interactions?

It is critical, thus, for convenience to not be delivered at the cost of empathy and an emotional connect with consumers. In our 2017 loyalty research, we found that emotions have the strongest impact on loyalty. We also found that the ability to connect on a human level is what drives long-term customer engagement and, ultimately, loyalty. When it comes to how smart technologies are used as part of the customer experience, human-like qualities, therefore, become critical. In our AI in Customer experience research, we found human-like voice and intellect as the top two compelling factors in AI-enabled interactions with organizations (see Figure 1 below):

Figure 1: Consumers prefer human-like qualities to make AI-based interactions more compelling

Voice AssistantsSource: Capgemini Research Institute AI in CX Consumers Survey, May 2018, N=10,000 consumers

This is why some innovative companies are striving to meet the demand for voice assistant convenience married to human-like qualities. BMW has launched a personal voice assistant for its cars that not only allows drivers to control all the standard in-car features, such as climate control but also offers  more casual in-car conversations.[2] And Amazon’s Ruhi Sarikaya, head of the Alexa Brain Group, announced that Alexa would soon be able to have more natural conversations, allowing this technology to understand and respond to follow up questions.[3]

It is clear that conversational interfaces present brands with a unique opportunity to meet consumers’ changing needs while retaining an emotional connection. Consumers are not interested in the technology or platform that brands deploy, rather the experiences they deliver. Organizations need to build the voice of their brand, where brand personality is maintained while delivering a seamless and personalized experience. As the uptake of voice assistants grows, and the technology advances, organizations must deploy effective strategies to tap into this potential. Read our research on AI in customer experience and Conversational Commerce to find out how.

[1] The Verge, “Google just gave a stunning demo of Assistant making an actual phone call,” May 2018.

[2] Tech Crunch, “BMW launches a personal voice assistant for its cars,” September 2018.

[3] Tech Crunch, “Alexa will soon gain a memory, converse more naturally, and automatically launch skills,” April 2018.

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