Voice Is Next for Digital Transformation: Are You Ready?

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The race to take advantage of voice-enabled technology has been decades in the making. In 1952, Bell Laboratories designed a system they called Audrey, which could recognize a single voice speaking digits aloud. By the end of the 1960s, the technology could support words with four vowels and nine consonants.

Sixty-one years later, in 2013, Google's AI could recognize 77 percent of spoken words. Today, that figure is 97 percent. As a result of these improvements, 41 percent of adults and 55 percent of teens use voice search daily and 25 percent of all Windows 10 desktop searches are done via voice.

Can something that is 70 years in the making be the next big thing? If we are talking about voice-enabled technology, the answer is yes! Now that Apple, Google, Microsoft, Amazon, IBM, and others have invested billions in artificial intelligence and natural language processing research and development, consumers have eagerly adopted voice-enabled search on mobile devices, and now on home assistants.

Why have consumers so readily embraced voice? There are several reasons:

The technology has advanced to an amazing degree in the past decade and is now highly reliable. It is simply easier and faster to use your voice than it is to type. In fact, it is three to five times faster to do a voice search than it is to type it. In today's multitasking life, time is more valuable than ever. In a few years, the idea of typing on a keyboard for every question, comment, and communication will seem absurd, like paying for the internet by the hour. Perhaps the most important driver is accessibility. More than 1 billion people around the world are limited in their ability to communicate online. The reasons run the gamut from access to technology, physical disability, to simply lacking the ability to read and write. Voice is one of the great equalizers, making advanced technology accessible to many of the people who have been left behind in the great digital transformation of 2020.

These are the compelling reasons why users have so readily adopted voice enabled technologies. The bigger question is, why are businesses so far behind? The rapid adoption has caught many businesses off guard. Voice is a problem that most do not realize they have yet.

Whether you are a small business trying to connect with local shoppers or a global brand reaching for mass markets, you need a voice strategy to maintain a competitive advantage. Voice will quickly become a business imperative to reach customers, just like websites were at the turn of the 21st century. By 2010, businesses had progressed to building mobile apps. Today, the next business need is to build voice apps. Google reports that "____ near me now" searches have grown by 150 percent in the past two years, and nearly 24 percent of U.S. consumers are using voice search for product and brand-related queries today.

The risk to companies is missing out on the easiest and the preferred way customers want to engage with them. Best practices change over time, and it is time they change again. In 2010, mobile-first was not widely adopted as a best practice, the same way voice is not today. One reason is that transitions simply take time. To go from a conversational AI, screen-based chatbots to voice-first has been a highly technical, complex, and expensive multiplatform architect, design, build and deploy process.

As it has in other areas of enterprise IT, the emergence of no-code software, along with cloud-based platforms, are emerging to enable non-technical employees to build voice apps once and then deploy them across all voice channels.

There are no excuses for not having a voice strategy. Voice is fast becoming the third pillar of marketing, joining the web, and mobile as the primary means of communication.

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