We just got back from the 1st VOICE Summit in Newark, NJ. Over 2,000 professionals gathered from a vast array of disciplines came together to talk about the state of voice technology; it was a ton of great content and lots of thought-provoking conversations. Much of it helps frame a lot of the discussions we've been having at CapTech for over a year now, and I'm excited to bring what we learned back to our team to refine our approach to designing and developing voice experiences. But, I also wanted to share several learnings more widely through this blog.

We have a lot of UX work to do

Many of the speakers and attendees acknowledged that voice experiences are "not there yet". We've begun to build some provocative and promising experiences, but we know that many consumers still have trouble adopting and using voice technology. Part of this is adoption and use of the actual hardware and part of it is creating an intuitive, conversational design.

  • How do we leverage user research and discovery techniques to make our voice experiences more useful?
  • How do you replace visual cues that we relied upon in traditional visual designs - or do we always have to give up visuals for a voice experience?
  • How do you create conversations that ask less of consumers while still doing more?

Answers to these questions are coming into view but we as a community realize we still have a lot to figure out before voice can successfully be applied to a broader consumer market.

Skill/action discovery is hard

A more specific and fundamental issue that arises is skill/action discovery (Note: Amazon calls them 'skills' and Google calls them 'actions'). Many consumers who use an Echo or Google Home are not using additional skills or actions outside of what the device came with out of the box. A strong, early offering of Apple's iPhone was an app store that allowed consumers to intuitively download and access third-party apps. For Amazon and Google, the model for accessing additional skills by voice or a separate desktop experience is not as apparent to consumers. This is important for brands to understand and account for as they develop and release voice functionality. Additional promotion and education of their consumer base may be necessary and should be planned for.

Voice is about platforms

Skill/action development and discovery are important but brands also need to understand that Amazon and Google's goal is to own the voice platform and act as the layer through which consumer access information and products (There are other players in the voice space, I'm just mentioning the top two). Brands can decide to create their own distinct voice personas if the focus of the experience necessitates it, but they should also take into account the large platforms in their strategies. This means developing functionality that can live in these larger platforms but is also optimized for discoverability (if, to my earlier point, consumers ever figure out to how to find them.)

Voice is a tool in the toolbox

I have to admit that I heard some, frankly, hyperbolic language around how voice technologies are going to "change everything" and "take over all other channels". I do agree that voice (and, closely related to this, artificial intelligence) will be a significant variable in consumer experiences in the years to come. But an effective consumer engagement strategy will still include web, mobile, and many other non-digital channels. This is where consumer context is important so that we're giving the right help at the right time over the right channel. An elegant digital strategy will not see any of these channels as the answer but, rather one answer.

We're still dealing with a 1.0 platform

It goes without saying that, despite much of the amazing work being done in the voice space over the past several years, many of our aspirations for the platform are still a way off. Not decades but, in many cases, years (for some things months). Voice as a channel needs to improve from a Natural Language Processing and Understanding perspective. Artificial intelligence and machine learning will be critical to delivering the kinds of insights and value we want to offer. Many types of service-level and hardware integrations will be necessary to really integrate these into peoples' lives to serve them in the manner we aspire to.

These takeaways are not meant to be discouraging but rather point to the work we need to engage in to continue the advancements we've seen over the past several years. It would be too easy to sit back and just marvel at what has been done. How much more engaging and inspiring would it be to think about what's possible if we continue discovering and innovating further. I'm ready to get to work and I hope you'll join me!