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How Siri, Alexa, and Conversational Systems are Changing Business

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The conversations of the future are between a person and a machine. With just a few voice prompts you can play music, look up information, or order a pizza. And this future isn’t part of a sci-fi movie, it’s already happening in homes and businesses.

Conversational voice interfaces are the next wave of technology, and voice could change the way we do business in the same way the iPhone revolutionized telephones. These systems are more than just fun tools for around the house, they can be a big part of a business strategy, from developing ways to incorporate conversational systems into interfaces to using them to enhance workflow and productivity.

2017 Will Be Year of Voice-First

If your business isn’t thinking about how to leverage use of voice systems, this is the time to correct that.

According to Forbes, Amazon sold more than 1 million units of its voice-activated device, Echo; that number is expected to quadruple this year. Google Home use is also growing at a similar rate, causing speculation that “2017 will be the year of ‘voice-first,’ as opposed to mobile first.”

What’s important about conversational voice interfaces is that they are more open-ended than anything we’ve seen so far. Unlike the mobile revolution, which is tied to a small hand-held device, voice interactions aren’t tethered to you. The conversational nature allows for users, particularly at the enterprise level, to interact with systems without thinking about a specific user interface.

The potential is far-reaching as well. Voice systems can identify and “learn” users in a way that creates the potential for one device or module to work for a number of people. The hands-free model isn’t tied to single user interactions and could be the future of business system integrations.

There are a number of such conversational systems already on the market and in development:

  • Apple Siri
  • Amazon Echo/Alexa
  • Google Home/Now
  • Microsoft Cortana
  • IBM Watson

What’s more important for business clients is that more of these networks are beginning to open their technology to third-party applications and development. What this means is that a company can build – or hire a developer to build – an integrated voice system just for them on one of these growing platforms.

Designing New Interfaces

The bigger implication of conversational interfaces is that you must design and present information in a different way. (This can be hard to imagine at first and you might want to hire experienced help to get started.) Users will interact with data in completely new ways. Think about it like this:

In traditional search, a user types in something like “Purple Rain.” The result is a text description of the song and artist, and might include the full text of lyrics. But in a conversational interface, the song might start playing to provide a different level of context.

Then there’s the conversation itself. The interface needs to be less robotic and more human so that people want to interact with it. You’ll have to think about prompts from the interface, tone, dialect and when and how it communicates back to the user.

A Changing Business Model

While voice systems such as Siri and Alexa are still new, they are going to impact your business model. Think of how quickly users started to buy items from their phones; how long will it take before they buy via voice rather than sitting down and ordering from a desktop computer?

A good conversational interface could create a direct sales channel that’s vital for your business. That’s why it is important to get in on the technology now. Isn’t it better to experiment early, rather than wait until using the technology is a must-have?

These interfaces might not be just outward facing. Businesses are already adopting voice and early AI technology to serve as virtual assistants to help with mundane tasks.

Here’s the starting point for your business: you aren’t a technology giant like Apple or Amazon, but you can use conversational systems to supplement an existing service or product. It’s on you to determine just what that is before the market is over-saturated with options and you miss out.

Knocking on Door of Innovation

There are tons of voice imitators already beginning to release products – some good, others not so good. But there’s no mistaking that this technology is paving the way for a new wave of innovative businesses.

Siri will order an Uber for you. Dominos is partnering with Amazon for pizza delivery straight from voice; the concept was announced around the time of the 2016 Super Bowl before so many homes had voice-active devices. The unlikely partnership shows how any business can be impacted by the technology. Here’s the catch to this type of innovation: We are accustomed to algorithms that rank and show all kinds of results to answer questions. With voice, there’s usually one answer spoken with purpose and intent.

For businesses, it is time to think about how to cultivate and foster the types of relationships that will help create strategic positioning and business advantage. Whether it is working with a third-party developer to create an app, or establishing a relationship with a key player in the conversational interfaces game, the boardroom conversations need to start now.

Voice commands will be the future of how people “interface” with technology, and you need to use this technology now and continue to evolve with it to stay on top of the wave and make money.

Time recently took a look at voice, and how these systems will alter the future of technology:

Today’s biggest technology companies are already laying the building blocks towards that future. Those firms already focused on voice-only interfaces will have a big head start, because that kind of computing requires a total rethink on how we interact with our devices.

If that’s not enough to make you think about how conversational systems fit into your business paradigm, then nothing will.

Conclusion

Voice technology is poised to be the business revolution of 2017. For consumers, the barriers to entry are low because new devices are inexpensive and voice assistants are a part of almost every new mobile interface. It’s time for your business to get on board.

posted by David Appleyard

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