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Building Your First Voice Application

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Voice technology is becoming increasingly important in our lives. We can see it everywhere. We can search on our mobile phones and control applications using voice. Voice home assistants like Amazon Echo, Google Assistant, and Apple HomePod are also very popular. We can even control home appliances like thermostats, TVs, or vacuum cleaners using voice. But that’s just the beginning of the revolution and we can expect voice technology to grow in importance in the coming years.

Voice channel is expected to be worth $40 billion by 2022 according to OC&C Strategy Consultants(3).

With voice technology becoming an important marketing channel, companies need to start thinking about how they are going to use this technology to bring value to their clients.

Voice technology is not going to entirely replace computers and mobile phones any time soon. But for certain types of activities, customers are very keen to use voice technology because of its convenience.

Voice assistant — A digital assistant, often a physical device, that uses voice recognition, speech synthesis and Natural Language Processing to provide a service by answering users’ questions and performing tasks. The most popular voice assistants are Amazon Echo, Google Assistant, Siri and Apple HomePod.

According to Capgemini, 24% of respondents would rather use a voice assistant than visit a website and 71% of users are satisfied with their voice assistant. Consumers cite convenience (52%), the ability to do things hands-free (48%), and automation of routine shopping tasks (41%) as the main advantages(1).

You can use voice technology in many ways in digital marketing.

You can create standalone, voice-only application (a skill or an action) or an application that will utilise an additional visual interface, which can be a tablet, a desktop computer, laptop, or a mobile phone screen (or now, even more commonly, TV).

Google Action — A mini-application built for Google Voice Assistance to extend its functionality.

Visual content can be a great addition to the voice interface to show graphics, charts, photos, or display detailed information.

Alexa Skill An application built for Amazon Voice Assistant Amazon Echo to extend its functionality beyond the standard functionality.

Most applications these days are, however, voice-only applications and are built as skills or actions for popular home voice assistants. There are currently more than 80,000 Alexa Skills available worldwide(2). Other areas are catching up, though, with more and more companies announcing support for voice in their applications, such as Salesforce and their Einstein Voice.

Why do users like voice technology? Because it is a natural way for people to communicate and interact with each other. There is almost no technological barrier to using it. Also, technological developments in recent years in the AI field have made the Natural Languages Processing (NLP) technology, which stays behind pretty much all voice applications, very accurate in terms of understanding, learning, and interpreting user’s intent.

Natural Language Processing (NLP) — A field of Artificial Intelligence that enables computers to understand and interpret human language.

Voice technology offers hands-free and quick navigation (always one question away from the answer) and limitless functionality (not enough space on the screen to include all available information or functionality? With voice, there is no limit on the content or space).

Another significant advantage is that voice technology has no technical barriers (no need to learn how the device works, just use your voice like talking to another person and the application will guide you), and therefore can be used by people of all ages, even those that are not particularly technologically savvy.

Intent — What the user is trying to achieve or find out from the application; what is the desired outcome.

Speed of input is also very important — we can speak faster, and therefore find information quicker, than typing, or using navigational menus.

With these advantages, it is no surprise that voice technology is becoming increasingly popular.

It is great to be ambitious, and you should be with your overall voice strategy, but for your very first voice application start with something small. You can even start with an internal voice and AI project. This will enable you to familiarise yourself with the voice technology and what does work and what doesn’t. If you start with a complex project, there is a greater risk that it will not achieve the desired outcome and you will lose faith in voice technology, which may put you off doing anything with voice for some time. Start with a small project, make it a success and then build more complex projects based on this experience and solid foundations.

There are many tools already available to create Voice and other AI projects. Amazon, Microsoft, Google and Salesforce all have their own tools to create Voice and AI applications so as long as it meets your expectations choose the platform that you are already using or you are most familiar with.

Because pretty much all AI and Voice Technology tools are based in the cloud, the applications using them have to have an internet connection and will not work properly offline. This might be an important factor for you to consider when you are building a voice application.

The best way to ensure that your application is successful is to give the user clear instructions about what the application does and doesn’t do. Typically, voice application has a specific purpose and it is important that the user knows exactly what that purpose is. This will prevent the user from interacting with the application in a way that wasn’t intended by the author, which will prevent the user’s frustration. This is especially important if the application doesn’t have a visual interface (typically voice applications that run on devices like Amazon Echo or Google Assistant), but it applies to all applications that involve voice interactions.

Users’ interactions with the application need to feel as natural as possible. One of the easiest ways to give your application a human touch is to add simple, everyday human interactions like Hi, How are you, Thank you, I’m sorry, Goodbye, etc. These will immediately give the user an impression that they are talking to an intelligent human-like voice application.

If your application is not only voice but also has a visual interface (mobile voice application or voice application on your website) you can go a step further and give your voice application an identity by giving it a name, or even add a visual representation of a human face or body. These can further increase the connection between the user and your voice application.

Analytics is the key ingredient of any digital application these days. Thanks to analytics we not only know the number of users that interact with our application, but we can also find out the strong and weak points of our application that will enable us to improve its performance.

Voice application is no exception. It is even more important for voice application than for any other application because there are many ways that users can express the same intent. Although NLP AI engines are becoming better and better at understanding users’ intents, and they learn fast, there will still be some nuances that will require manual improvements and changes in your application’s algorithm.

It is important to log user interactions, review them regularly and make improvements to the voice application. An application that does not properly and accurately understand the user’s intent will not be effective and will not be used. Therefore measuring results and making improvements is one of the most important elements of the successful voice application.

We are currently at the beginning of the voice technology revolution, but the progress in this area is very fast and adopting this technology early might have many benefits from a marketing point of view in the future. Voice is a natural way for people to communicate with each other, and that is why this innovative technology is very effective and is becoming very popular. The number of products supporting voice technology is growing every day, and this trend is likely to continue. Adding voice as another channel or another way of interacting with customers can be a great addition to the marketing portfolio.

REFERENCES

1. www.capgemini.com/news/voice-assistants-set-to-revolutionize- commerce-and-become-a-dominant-mode-of-consumer-interaction-in-the- next-three-years/

2. www.voicebot.ai/2019/01/31/amazon-announces-80000-alexa-skills- worldwide-and-jeff-bezos-earnings-release-quote-focuses-solely-on-alexa- momentum/

3. www.occstrategy.com/media/1285/the-talking-shop_uk.pdf

I’m Przemyslaw Jarzynski (PJ) and I regularly write about Innovation, Data Science, Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence. If you are interested in these areas, feel free to get in touch and connect or follow me on LinkedIn or Medium.



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