A layperson’s exploration of all things voice

Monthly Archives: July 2019

July 31, 2019

How Voice Helps Older Adults Battle Social Isolation

I love Dave Kemp’s ‘FuturEar” blog. Here’s an excerpt from something he just posted:

The slide pictured above from the session illustrates why I see so much potential for voice technology, specifically for older adults. It’s becoming increasingly apparent through numerous research studies that loneliness and social isolation are severely detrimental to us as individuals, as well as to the broader economy.

The industry that I come from, the world of hearing aids and hearing loss, understands these co-morbidities all too well, as hearing loss is often correlated to social isolation. If your hearing is so diminished that you can no longer engage in social situations, you’re more likely to become withdrawn and become social isolated/lonely.

This is ultimately why I think we’ll see voice assistants become integrated into this new generation of hearing aids. It kills two birds with one stone, as it augments one’s physical sound environment by providing amplification and the ability to hear more clearly, as well as serve as an access point to a digital assistant that can be used to communicate with one’s technology. One of the best solutions on the horizon for helping to circumvent the rising demand for caregivers might be “digital caregivers” in the form of Alexa/Google housed in hearing aids or other hearable devices.

July 30, 2019

A Comparison of Mobile’s Birth to Voice’s…

Yesterday, I blogged about this free 48-page playbook by “360i” about what you should know about voice from a marketing perspective. I thought this excerpt from the intro really drives home the point that you need to be acting now:

Starting in the early 2000s, every year was going to be “The Year of Mobile.” It was declared so often that it became an ongoing inside joke among marketers; yet it never seemed to be “The Year of Mobile.” There was a lot of mobile traffic, but conversion rates were low and it was too hard to measure the impact on sales.

Additionally, desktop continued to drive profitable growth, so mobile remained an afterthought. Even though we had trouble measuring it, consumers had fully embraced mobile, particularly Search, as a regular part of their shopping routine. We marketers were behind them, and we’re still playing catch-up: as late as 2015, the Digital Marketing Report showed that only 46% of Fortune 500 sites met Google’s standards.

And this was a full a year after mobile usage overtook desktop in 2014, the actual “Year of Mobile,” and five full years after Mary Meeker’s report predicting it would happen in 2014. Despite all the warnings and the clear trends toward a mobile world, marketers failed to plan for perhaps the most significant shift in consumer behavior since the Internet was created. It’s happening again.

Voice-activated digital assistants from Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Apple and others have gone from novelty to ubiquity in a relatively short amount of time. Amazon sold millions of Alexa devices in Q4 of 2017 and Google reports that they have sold a Home “every second since October 19th of 2017. Apple made the Siri-equipped HomePod available in February 2018. This is going to have huge implications for brands, as consumers go from typing to talking when searching.

How huge? In Mary Meeker’s 2017 Internet Trends report, she shared Baidu’s estimation that by 2020 more than half of searches were going to be Voice, up from 1 in 10 in September of 2014. Part of that explosive growth will be via Alexa-style devices, but it will also come from phones, cars, household appliances, and anything else that can be equipped with a microphone and connected to the Internet. In other words, building a mobile-friendly site is child’s play compared to what brands are facing in the coming years. It is crucial to start developing a Voice strategy now, and this means far more than building an Alexa skill.

Broc Romanek

July 29, 2019

A Solid Marketing Overview for Voice

I just read this free 48-page playbook by “360i” about what you should know about voice from a marketing perspective. It’s useful for sure. It includes five case studies at the end and here’s an excerpt from the table of contents to illustrate how practical it is:

– The Voice Jargon Glossary
– How to Staff a Voice Team
– The Principles of Voice SEO & Where to Start How to (Literally) Create a Brand “Voice”
– The Nuts and Bolts of Voice Production
– Beware the Voice Graveyard: How to Make Your Skill Discoverable
– How Science Fiction Has Impacted Our Voice Reality
– What Else to Consider When Adding Voice to Your Marketing Mix

Broc Romanek

July 26, 2019

California’s “Anti-Eavesdropping Act” Bill

I often get asked about the regulatory state of affairs for voice since I’m a lawyer. This blurb from a recent Gibson Dunn memo notes one development:

On May 29, the California State Assembly passed a bill (A.B. 1395) requiring manufacturers of ambient listening devices like smart speakers to receive consent from users before retaining voice recordings, and banning manufacturers from sharing command recordings with third parties.  The bill is currently being considered by the State Senate. Companies that manufacture smart devices which record commands by default and which use the data to train their automated systems should pay close attention to developments in this space.

July 25, 2019

Voice Startup Funding Is Soaring

Here’s the intro from this “Voicebot.ai” article:

Mangrove Capital Partners released a new study this morning that forecasts voice technology funding will nearly triple in 2019 over 2018 totals. The venture capital firm estimates that global funding for voice technology startups was $581 million in 2018 and will grow to $1.57 billion in 2019. This forecast is based in part on the first half of 2019 funding that totals $786 million. The report also noted that the size of voice technology funding rounds has risen sharply in 2019.

July 24, 2019

A Strange “Big Announcement”

At the “Voice Summit” yesterday, there was a slot during the plenary session for a “big surprise” announcement from an unnamed company. After keynotes from Amazon, Microsoft & Samsung – two of which made their own big announcements – this unnamed company was revealed to be the Dutch airline, KLM. A spokesperson went up and went through the 100-year history of the company, including how the company got big into interacting via social media with their customers after the huge ash cloud over Iceland in 2010. All interesting enough – but not the “big” announcement.

She finally mentioned that KLM had a travel voice assistant (she didn’t mention it’s name – it’s “Blue Bot“) – and a handful of people clapped. But she then noted they’ve had that for a while and that wasn’t the announcement. Finally, after 20 minutes of what I consider to be filler, she showed a video of a bunch of their employees in front of microphones. She noted that KLM didn’t use synthetic voice nor voice actors. Instead, they use the voices of their own employees. And that was literally it. She didn’t explain how those voices are being used. Or the process of putting it all together. Her remarks literally ended.

Now granted that I’m a bit of a connoisseur because I do a lot of public speaking and event planning myself, but I believe that KLM should have made their “big” announcement right up front and then spent the next 20 minutes explaining what it actually is – the why, where, when – and all the other stuff that this crowd of 3000 in the voice space would have cared about. Strange stuff…

July 22, 2019

A Great Example: How Much AI “Call Center” Agents Sound Human

In hypnosis, there is a technique that can be used called a “convincer” – it’s something that happens so that the client can realize they did indeed experience hypnosis. It’s typically a profound revelation for the client.

For voice, I find this illustration from Gridspace that shows just how much an AI-powered call center agent (named “Grace”) sounds human to be persuasive when I try to explain the awesome power that is being unleashed:

July 19, 2019

Doing It Right: The “Butterball Turkey” Hotline Skill

At the end of their “Pragmatic Talk” podcast (episode 8), Susan & Scot Westwater mention that the most useful example they have seen for a brand using voice is the “Butterball Turkey Talk-Line” skill (“Alexa, open the Butterball skill”). The company has three of their customer service reps answer 18 years of FAQs that the company had received – and used that content to populate a skill. So instead of calling a 800-phone number, Butterball’s customers can talk to their voice assistant and get almost any question about the product answered.

So the company has reduced the number of calls to its call center – and customers are getting their questions answered much quicker. They can get a question answered in the same time it would take for them to search for the call center’s phone number. I’m spacing and can’t remember where I got this from, but the following drills down on this example of how to use voice smartly:

One of the best examples about how a company leveraged its past customer service to build a popular skill is Butterball’s “Turkey Talk-Line” skill. For nearly 40 years, Butterball ran a telephonic hotline so that customers could call to ask questions about how to cook their turkey. In more recent years, questions could also be asked via email, text or chat.

The company kept records of the questions asked. In 2016, as noted in this article, the company had 120,000 interactions with customers during the holidays. 77% – over 92,000 – still preferred the call center phone number compared to the digital alternatives. But would using voice change this equation?

In 2018, the company launched the “Butterball Turkey Talk-Line” skill (“Alexa, open the Butterball skill”). In the skill, three of Butterball’s customer service reps answer 18 years of FAQs that the company has received. So the skill uses the real voices of experts rather than rely on synthetic voices. Here’s a 1-minute video showing these employees do their work.

So the company has reduced the number of calls to its call center – and customers are getting their questions answered much quicker. They can get a question answered in the same time it would take for them to search for the call center’s phone number. A great example of a brand using voice.

July 18, 2019

Using Voice to Help Your Pet Sitter

If you live with a pet, you know the drill. When you have someone watch over your beloved, you leave a list of the “what’s” and the “where’s.” But what if you could also easily create a skill so that your pet sitter could ask questions of a voice assistant in your absence. Now that’s easy to accomplish with Amazon’s “Pet Sitter Blueprint.”

After you create a name for your skill, you can fill in your pet’s daily habits & needs – including answers to common questions (egs. contact info for your vet, neighbors or pet store). Other things you might address include:

– Daily schedules
– Allergies & medications
– Where to find things
– How to do things
– Emergency contact information

July 16, 2019

Conducting Surveys by Voice: Turning Something Mundane Into Fun!

For marketers, research remains one of the most important tools to determine which approach to use. And one of the best ways to conduct research is having customers – and potential customers – fill out surveys. But no one enjoys filling those out – in fact, we’ve become accustomed to being rewarded in some way in exchange for the hassle of doing so.

But what if filling out a survey wasn’t such a hassle? That’s the promise of “SurveyLine” from Voice Metrics. It’s akin to “SurveyMonkey” online – but filling out surveys by merely listening & talking seems far easier than reading & clicking. At least, right now – perhaps because it’s new. But probably because it really is far easier. So it has a lot of promise.

The beauty is right now it’s free. And it’s a ton of fun to create short surveys to impress your family, co-workers & friends. You don’t have to be doing research to use it. Anyone can for any reason. So I’ve created a few fun ones in addition to using it for my day job. To try one say: “Alexa, open SurveyLine.” Then when prompted, just say “Flintstones” and enjoy…

Two things to note if you create a voice survey:

1. I’m not sure how voice surveys would fare for complex questions & answers. Those might be easier to tackle in writing – particularly for those of us who are older and have a hard time remembering past the last few seconds

2. If you create a multiple-choice quiz, warn folks in your promos that they should answer using the number of their answer (not the phrase of their choices). Otherwise, they will get an error…