The Challenges of Monetizing Speech Applications

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About 30% of all searches will be done without a screen by 2020, according to Gartner. ComScore says in that same time frame, 50% of all searches will be carried out by voice. One in six Americans own a voice-activated smart speaker, according to Edison Research and NPR. The numbers don’t lie—voice is the future of content.

With these kinds of numbers in mind, speech applications are becoming an important part of content strategies for marketers, publishers, and brands across the spectrum. But developing applications can be challenging from a technical perspective, and the development means little unless the technology can be monetized—or at least provide significant value.

It’s Not Always About Revenue

Monetization of speech applications should be looked at not only through the lens of added revenue but also through the lens of cost savings, says Jim Freeze, chief marketing officer for Interactions. For every dollar spent on a human transcriber for a call, an automated speech recognition engine saves a dollar, he explains.

Tim Bourgeois, managing director of East Coast Catalyst, agrees: “In the world where I’m most active—B2B—apps are considered, primarily, a customer engagement or service tool. So their success is measured on cost reduction or cost avoidance terms, or by increased or sustained customer engagement, which delivers on two fronts: increased spending by existing customers, and decreased customer churn (or, alternatively, increased customer retention). If the app makes it easier for customers to do business with the company, it should deliver in each of these areas.”

For example, Bourgeois says, Google’s suite of tools (Google Analytics, Google Ads, Google Tag Manager) helps customers to easily buy advertising from the company.

To successfully develop and monetize a speech application, a company needs to identify how the end customer will use the application, then design it with that end in mind, says Mark Stephen Meadows, CEO and founder of Botanic Technologies, a company that provides multi-modal, human-centered conversational interfaces. Companies that fail to monetize their speech applications typically haven’t conducted enough initial research to understand what is and what isn’t working in the market, Meadows adds.

“The monetary value comes from customer engagement,” agrees Rebecca Wang, assistant professor of marketing in the Lehigh University College of Business and Economics. “Speech applications elevate the [current] customer experience—can help move the prospect to the next engagement stage or the purchase.”

By integrating purchase history information with the speech application, a brand can use speech to quicken the mobile ordering process, Wang says. For example, if a consumer asks for the nearest Starbuck’s, the app can ask if the consumer wants to repeat the previous order, so all it takes is a simple “yes” to get the order started and ready once the customer arrives.

“Customers like that better,” Wang says. “It’s a way that a brand can differentiate itself with its customers.”

An emerging area for speech application monetization, according to Freeze, is order taking. With the nation’s unemployment at historically low rates, and the high turnover rates at restaurants and other jobs in which taking orders by phone is part of the business model, there aren’t sufficient resources to take orders, and online/mobile ordering isn’t always available. As a result, orders and revenue are being lost. Speech technology, backed by natural language understanding and sufficient artificial intelligence, can take these orders to avoid losing revenue and customers. The application needs to do more than listen; it must provide responses/prompts as well.

“Customers love it,” Freeze says. Interactions expects to roll out such a technology sometime in the second quarter of the year.

But for this or any speech application to be successful, it needs to respond in a natural-sounding human voice rather than the robotic-sounding response of older technology, Freeze says. Even if people know they are talking to a speech-enabled system, they are more comfortable with a human-sounding voice.

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