Building for Voice: Home vs Work.

The remarkable uptake of smart speakers in homes in recent years is testament to the rapidly maturing voice first automation space.  Household penetration in the U.S. is growing fast and customers are comfortable having them around.

The stakes are high as evident by the trend in global revenues for the smart speaker market. Gaining unfettered access to customers’ homes may have the same impact to brands as the introduction of the television into homes.The war for supremacy is very much in play with Amazon’s early dominance being challenged by the likes of Google, Baidu and Apple.

Indeed Canalys’ August report announced that Baidu had overtaken Google to become the second largest vendor due to their focus on the Chinese market and primarily driven by smart display sales. The Chinese market is fought over between the likes of Baidu, Xiaomi and Alibaba. As well as being the largest market for smart speakers, the difficulty in using pinyin in text input makes intuitive voice interaction the natural choice for consumers. 

Baidu’s growth is in part due to heavy subsidizing of speaker units to capture market share. In time, I would expect subscription revenue models for premium services like video, games, education and music to offset the losses. The growing attention to smart displays acknowledges the need for supporting visuals. The future is Voice First not Voice Only.

Despite all this adoption, when we look into the home usage patterns of smart speakers, we find it is still mostly a One Player experience. Streaming music and asking questions remain the top use cases whilst social interaction through the speaker is limited to simple games and triggering calls and messages.

What the home market has successfully achieved is open the minds of executives that voice first automation may deliver similar benefits in the workplace. Many organizations have already introduced or are experimenting with features such as AI enabled chatbots for customer service and administrative “busy work” that distracts from real work. However, the workplace has different requirements to a household so the future is unlikely to be Amazon’s “Echo for every boardroom” claim.

Photo by Josue Isai Ramos Figueroa on Unsplash

At Verbz, we’re building for work whether it be for the workplace or for the “deskless” workers and here’s some of what we’re thinking when comparing consumer voice and enterprise.

  • Mobile First – the traditional office and static workplace is being replaced with hot desking and open plan designs. Deskless workers in the field and on the road are unlikely to carry a separate smart speaker device with them. Hands-free, Eyes-free situations arise frequently when on the move and voice is the natural choice.
  • Your Data – commercially sensitive data is the lifeblood of enterprise and it’s important to keep ownership with the organization and not the service provider. Providers handle the data and derive intelligence from the metadata but the privacy and security of the data remains with the owner.
  • Privacy – we’re not listening to the details. Some proudly claim to be “Always Listening” like it’s a virtue but we worry about the consequences of constant passive listening and recording. If users don’t know who else is listening and or suspect their every word is being recorded for future review the discussion will be stifled and the devices resented. Securing and managing such a burgeoning commercially sensitive data-set raises security issues too. Big Brother surveillance does not foster team morale.
  • Speak to People – the best way to get work done is to tackle it as a team. Delegating to the right person, focused meetings, accountability and follow-ups are essential elements to great execution. Any enterprise voice solution needs to facilitate these things.
  • We’re part of the Team too – consumer voice remains all about asking the machine for answers or to trigger services. Whilst verbally accessing data is just as useful at work, enterprise voice should help field workers and remote teams such as sales executives and service crews feel connected to their office teammates. Being able to speak, even asynchronously, to your colleagues brings you closer to the team culture.
  • Help you work not change how you work – we believe the platform should be agnostic to your organization’s workflow and systems. Proprietary platforms that don’t talk to others or force users to adopt certain services generate friction and slow uptake. Being voice first is intuitive and should be the connective tissue between existing services, making them easier to use and share with each other. It needs to piece together snippets of context from all the silos of corporate data and make workers’ lives easier.
  • You make me a better person – the challenges of voice first automation are no different from what AI adoption is experiencing. These services need to quickly and easily demonstrate how much they augment workers’ lives. Workers need to feel smarter from having quick access to information and be able to work smarter from increased responsiveness and connectivity.   

Voice enabled work is poised to deliver real value for enterprises both in the workplace and for the “deskless” workers outside. The growth in consumer smart speakers has paved the way for workplace adoption if we can build it right.

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