Engaging Younger Audiences with Voice: New Opportunities to Connect with a Younger Demographic

Most brands already have a strong omni-channel approach to engaging with consumers—purpose-built applications, social media platforms, text messages, online chat windows, and e-mail newsletters. Voice is in there, too. Users interact with speech technology on a regular basis, doing everything from ordering groceries to turning down their home’s thermostat. But even as voice becomes more prevalent, one segment has yet to truly embrace it. Younger consumers—those 18 to 24 years old—are helping to drive adoption of voice technology, yet a study by PwC shows their use of it remains low. What does this mean for companies in the speech sector, and where can inroads be made?

Breaking Down the Results

Awareness doesn’t appear to be a barrier. The majority of the survey’s respondents (90%) were familiar with devices that utilize speech technology. Checking the news and weather, playing music, and using voice as a substitute for text-based search engines were activities respondents said they used on a daily basis. At the other end of the spectrum, controlling other smart devices, making purchases, and adding items to a shopping list were rarely done through speech interactions.

For those consumers leveraging voice technology, smartphones were the most-used devices (57%) and wearables the least (14%). Survey participants said they used voice assistants the most while watching TV (43%) and while driving (40%). A desire to maintain privacy was cited as one reason many chose not to turn to a voice assistant in public, along with it “just looks weird.” Users also mentioned trust issues, such as doubts the technology could be relied upon to handle sensitive financial transactions when less-critical tasks—using a voice assistant to answer questions, for example—hadn’t always been executed well.

Complexities are likely causing consumers to hesitate when it comes to using speech technology more heavily. Respondents said they found speaking to a human to be more difficult than searching for something online or texting on a phone. However, speaking to a human moved up to second place when participants ranked them in order of convenience and speed.

Finding the Opportunities

Making consumers more comfortable with voice technology and addressing their concerns is a top priority for speech technology companies. Users’ responses around personalization are of key interest. Participants found online searches to be more personalized than interacting with a human, though they felt that speaking to a human gave them less biased information. Younger consumers are accustomed to sales and service experiences that are uniquely targeted to their habits, preferences, and needs. By more effectively tapping into the power of big data, voice technology providers are in a good position to not only make voice interactions a more trusted source of information, but also much more personalized, and all without slowing down the conversation.

About a third (34%) of respondents preferred using a voice assistant to talk to a customer service chat bot, while the rest wanted to speak to a real human in customer service. If the chat bot experience can be designed to more closely mirror traditional human-to-human interactions, there could be opportunities to win more consumers over to chat bots.

With 35% of participants saying their smartphone doesn’t always understand them, companies may also want to place an emphasis on speech technology’s reliability and accuracy to help ease some of these concerns and move more consumers toward voice. Robin Springer, president of Computer Talk, Inc., in Woodland Hills, Calif., says the issue may stem from the difference between narrower usage common in speech recognition’s earlier years and consumers’ tendency to want a conversational experience with the technology. “If you have only 10 commands that work on your voice assistant, that’s easier,” she says. The average user may get better results from a platform that’s limited in what it can do. Companies may be doing themselves—and voice technology—a disservice if they aren’t upfront on the capabilities. “If you really do need to have training but you market it as if you don’t, then people will think it isn’t working and that will backfire,” Springer says, adding that an educational component to help users get the most out of voice could help set more realistic expectations.

The gee-whiz factor likely doesn’t have the same impact on younger consumers, for whom the internet has always existed and who often aren’t quite as impressed by new technologies. But Springer says that even very fundamental activities can be streamlined through the use of voice interactions. “It can be something as basic as making a website speech accessible,” she explains. “Users can just say, ‘Scroll down,’ and be able to navigate a site by voice.” Not only does this baseline approach result in websites that are fully speech accessible, it may also help better engage young users better with voice technology. “You’re priming users and making that transition from not using speech to using it a hop, instead of a jump,” Springer says.

Visiting a physical store (64%) and shopping through a mobile application (65%) both beat out using a voice assistant to shop, but that doesn’t mean they need to be mutually exclusive. Voice search could be used to improve the shopping experience, whether it’s online or mobile. “If you could search for something by voice, such as by saying, ‘I’m looking for toys that are appropriate for a six-year-old and I don’t want to spend more than $20,’ that’s a lot easier than scrolling through pictures and setting filters,” says Deborah A. Dahl, PhD, principal at Conversational Technologies in Plymouth Meeting, Pa.

“I think there’s a lot of potential for in-store use,” Dahl adds. She describes a scenario where the mobile application knows where items are within the store, so a quick question about where to find a product could bring up a map with the location. Another use case could be a shopper who peruses the shoe section and then receives a voice alert as they near the exit doors. “It could say, ‘Remember those shoes? Are you still interested in those? Maybe I can offer you a sale price,’” Dahl explains, likening it to a helpful personal shopper. Knowing younger shoppers’ desire for a good deal and their near-constant engagement with mobile devices, a voice assistant that offers discount codes could help attract more consumers to the store and make their engagement with speech technology a more holistic part of the shopping experience.

Among the survey’s younger participants, 45% said they expected to use their voice assistants the same or less in the future. Evolving speech technology to more closely match these consumers’ expectations will be paramount to engaging them as time goes on.

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