In the Pandemic, Voice Grows—But Will It Grow to Value?

Mon, Nov 16, 2020

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What will it take for voice to reach its full potential? Despite increases in voice assistant usage throughout the pandemic, consumer hesitation continues to hold the industry back.

In the Pandemic, Voice Grows—But Will It Grow to Value?

There’s little doubt that the use of voice assistance has grown in this time of global pandemic.

Also growing are the ways in which voice can bring value to enterprises and individuals. From assistant-enabled early diagnosis of coronavirus symptoms to shopping assistants that provide pandemic-smart updates on in-aisle congestion and curbside pick-up times.

In these social-distancing times, much of the world is now crossing the chasm into the world of no-touch, voice-first digital.

They’re taking the first steps into no-touch, voice-first entry. No-touch, voice-first search. No-touch, voice-first computing. No-touch authentication and payment.

No-touch, voice-first digital.

But with these first steps looms an overarching question.

How far will this important early majority go in terms of their actual usage of voice? Asking for the weather and playing Pandora is one thing. Regular connection and search and scheduling and purchase is another.

Yes, a major barrier to ever more complex usage—the usage that will create value for enterprises, developers, and platforms alike—is technological. Just wait until we’re more conversational, some say. Just wait until it’s on all devices, some say.

But there’s a larger barrier. One that, when resolved, will truly unleash value creation in voice.

The barrier of user trust.

A barrier that inhibits voice-first engagement by individuals at home, brand marketers, and C-level enterprise decision-makers.

It should be of great concern to the entire voice community that research from and other reliable sources reveals numerous issues of user distrust when it comes to voice.

Let’s face it, and say it out loud: voice is not yet worthy of user trust.

At the core of this is a lack of trust about data ownership and data use. For both personal and commercial data. A recent study showed that the second-most cited reason for not owning a smart speaker (let alone using it) was a clear and direct concern about data use.

But there’s also a significant lack of trust that a voice assistant will understand the user. A study noted that being understood is still the number one issue consumers value in a smart speaker. Which indicates it’s far from a given.

And, there’s a lack of trust in knowing how to use a voice assistant for anything more than asking the weather and playing Pandora. There’s no standardized path to find a destination. No standardized path for purchase. No common guide for finding your way through a shopping list. It’s unknown, it’s complex, it’s hard.

Fun for a Silicon Valley engineer, perhaps, but it’s a reason to walk away and never come back for the other 99 percent of the available market.

Take a look at today’s availability, adoption, and usage figures. Right now there’s a significant gap between availability and adoption, and between adoption and regular, ever more complex usage.

Those gaps are the trust gaps of voice. They’re also the value gaps of voice—because until those gaps narrow, the long talked about economic value of voice for users will remain out reach.

That’s we created the Open Voice Network. Dedicated to developing the standards and ethical use frameworks that will make voice worthy of user trust. That will make voice worthy of enterprise investment and user value.

We’re a non-profit association of enterprises, tech firms, developers, and researchers that is now hard at work, sketching the list of those issues most needed by the industry at large.