Reaching the Reluctant with Speech Technology

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I drive a 10-year-old car. I do this for a few reasons. It’s paid off, has relatively low mileage, is in good shape, and has treated me well. It’s never given me any major problems, and it kept me safe when someone rear-ended me. I see no reason to get rid of a perfectly good car that gets me where I need to go. But I also keep it because it predates a lot of the modern conveniences that are now standard in so many vehicles—and that I happen to find a nuisance. Back-up cameras. Built-in GPS. Satellite radio. Even Bluetooth. None of these really appeal to me. When my trusty Subaru finally dies, I suspect I’ll spend weeks combing through newspapers looking for an older car with low miles to avoid the bells and whistles.

So if a car wanted to talk to me, I suspect I might run away screaming.

I’m not a Luddite. I’m writing this column on my laptop from a coffee shop while listening to a podcast on my iPhone (which is a few generations behind). I cut the cord to my TV almost 10 years ago, first replacing my cable box with a Roku box, and then replacing the Roku box with a smart TV. I am absolutely in love with my robot vacuum. But I’m not an early adopter either. I like to wait and let other people rush into big purchases of technology and let them work out the kinks. I watch (gleefully) as someone else’s conversation gets recorded by Alexa and emailed to a random contact.

There are, I suspect, a lot of people out there like me. It’s not that we shun technology; it’s that we understand it too well and are skeptical. I don’t have any interest in paying for a GPS system in my car when I have one on my phone that works better and helps me navigate around traffic jams. I don’t want a robot vacuum unless it gets the job done. And I am not willing to let a voice recognition system record my conversations and store my data unless it improves my life in a truly appreciable way.

I don’t think Amazon or Google are lamenting my skepticism—at least not yet. In September, Amazon launched a whole new slate of Echo devices and features. The step-by-step recipe reader feature caught my attention. When I cook, I’m always washing and drying my hands so I can scroll to the next step on my iPad. It’s crazy-making. Having Alexa read me the steps as I need them sounds like pure heaven!

If these companies—or yours—want to continue to grow your reach, they have to figure out how to reach the skeptics. Is your value proposition clear enough to win over more than the early adopters and continue to grow?

Theresa Cramer is the editor of Speech Technology magazine. She can be reached at theresa.cramer@infotoday.com.

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