Voice Stakes Claim as First-Class Citizen

Emerson Sklar Emerson Sklar
minute read
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While voice is still a developing medium, it has cemented its place in the future of digital.

There is no telling exactly what the future holds, but sometimes it’s evident when something is bound to succeed. Voice technology is undoubtedly one of those things. This was only further cemented by the level of innovation, foresight, and enthusiasm shown at the second annual VOICE Summit.

Yes, there is a long way to go before voice becomes ingrained in our day-to-day lives, but the opportunity is ripe for the taking. By the same token, there are countless ways in which voice can be leveraged by organizations to engage customers and simplify and streamline various actions and initiatives. So what can we expect moving forward and who is leading the charge? Let’s take a look.

Accessible Voice Design

For many of us, voice is an avenue toward a more frictionless way of living. It allows us to access information more quickly and conveniently than we could with a phone or computer. However, for many others voice is an extension of themselves and a means to function in the real world. As a result, inclusive design is critical to the future of voice experiences.

Though we tend to think about accessibility more frequently regarding websites and mobile apps, the concept of inclusive design cannot be forgotten when it comes to voice. You may be thinking, “Isn’t voice naturally designed for the visually impaired?” Yes, it can serve as a critical aide, but there are still many features and capabilities that can disrupt the experience for those with impairments if not properly designed.

The visually impaired are not the only ones to be considered in the design phase though; the hearing impaired and those with other disabilities are of equal importance. A feature like volume control is essential to the hearing impaired, while contextual dialogue is critical to all users, and especially for those with cognitive disabilities. With accessibility becoming an emerging priority in the digital world, it is essential that we hold voice technology to the same standard.

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Enhancing Personalization with Voice

If there’s one industry in which voice experiences are most pervasive today, it has to be in media and entertainment. If I think about my most frequent uses of voice, it would be to stream music, listen to news, or select a show to watch, interchangeably via near-field remotes and far-field headless and multimodal smart speakers. However, these functions are only scratching the surface of what voice can provide in the media space.

Consider the intersection of AI and voice and how both of these technologies can combine to deliver more personalized experiences. Steve Keller from Pandora and Neala Gollomp from Comcast discussed the impact these technologies can play in curating custom content specific to an individual user. Rather than catering to an account or household, you can suggest options specific to an individual as identified by their voice.

Media Panel at Voice Summit 2019
A panel of media experts at the 2019 Voice Summit discusses how voice is transforming the future of media.

For example, if I were to ask my remote to “Find me a new comedy to watch,” the results I’m fed could and should be different than if my wife were to make the same command. It’s fascinating to think that voice is not just a tool made for convenience, but for the betterment of entire experiences.

With so many new mediums in which voice is helping to deliver content (e.g. news briefings, audiobooks, etc.), it will be incredible to see what the media landscape looks like just a year from now. If current trends are any indication, we can expect to see voice at the front and center very soon.

Voice Automation Improves UX

It’s something I’ve touched on previously, but voice is rapidly emerging in the retail space – specifically voice automation. Consumers may not have fully embraced voice-driven purchasing just yet, but one avenue in which voice is extremely beneficial is the conversational customer experience.

The truth is humans don’t scale and bots don’t build relationships, but when working together optimally the benefits are exponential.
Shane Mac, Chief Automation Officer, Conversocial

As a brand, you have to be everywhere your customers are. Voice is no different. While it may not be a consistent purchase channel today, it can provide a valuable touchpoint along the broader customer journey. For 1-800-FLOWERS and CMO Amit Shah, voice is a means to provide insight and personalization into the buying experience. The fusion of voice and automation allows customers to have an actual conversation with a friendly presence, rather than plod through a slow list of robotic inputs on their touchscreens.

Whether or not customers know they are conversing with an automated voice, the human element makes a notable difference in the customer experience. In a 2018 report by the Sitel Group, 70% of consumers noted their preference to engage with a human versus a digital representative. By blending the best of both worlds, retailers not only add a valuable layer to the customer experience, but save on overhead by minimizing the number of live reps needed.


While these three trends stood out most to me at the 2019 VOICE Summit, they only scratch the surface of how voice is being leveraged and applied to enhance modern business practices and customer experiences. Voice may not be at the forefront of all business priorities right now, but with all of the great work being done to drive innovation forward, it will no doubt be viewed as a first-class citizen in the very near future. You can count on that.

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