J.D. Power Finds Consumer Dissatisfaction with In-Car Speech

While speech recognition systems in cars have intrigued consumers, many say that they are overwhelmingly dissatisfied with current offerings, according to new research from J.D. Power.

J.D. Power's Initial Quality Study surveyed more than 83,000 drivers who purchased new 2013 cars.

Research indicates that consumers are frustrated by their interactions with voice recognition systems, one of the highest incident problems cited by consumers today.

"There's a belief that voice is an enabler that allows interactions but minimizes the amount of distraction while driving," says Mike VanNieuwkuyk, executive director of Global Automotive Research, J.D. Power. "But consumers are largely frustrated with voice recognition or activation, [saying] that 'It doesn't understand me, so it doesn't recognize what I'm saying or can't understand my dialect or has trouble dealing with ambient noise.'"

The other issue, according to VanNieuwkuyk, is that speech recognition doesn't necessarily allow users to speak in a normal voice.

As a consumer, he explains, "'I may have to remember a set of commands and so I'm limited to those commands, but I'm also frustrated that I have to follow a different pattern of speech, things I've had to learn.' People don't want to do that. They want to speak naturally in their own way and have the software recognize them and then execute the commands based on what is it told to do. The consumers feel that the offerings today don't do that; they don't work. Consumers are clamoring for that technology to hit that level of achievement and it's not there yet."

The good news is that in spite of speech recognition limitations, consumer appetite has been whetted and there is a strong interest.

"Consumers are still asking for the feature, despite the fact that they understand that it sometimes doesn't work," says VanNieuwkuyk. "They're asking for ones that work, so the demand is there."

However, in another J.D. Power study about emerging technology, while people said that they want speech recognition in their car, they are not willing to pay for it.

"We've gotten an incredibly strong response that consumers want this, but when we asked people if they would pay for the feature and we give them different price points, the interest drops considerably. Basically there's a demand to have it, but when you ask people to pay for it. there's not a belief that voice activation is effective, so they're not going to pay for it," VanNieuwkuyk says. "We're at this point where people want it but they don't believe in it, and they're waiting for something to prove that it works."

In spite of negative consumer sentiment with current offerings, all is not lost as the technology continues to evolve.

"I believe that whoever solves these problems first will have an opportunity to attract customers to their brand based on offering voice recognition that actually works," VanNieuwkuyk says. "People are looking for that relationship of having freedom in their car."

Car makers can take these issues into consideration, and as technology improves, customer satisfaction will translate into customer loyalty.

"Speech technology in cars is better than it's ever been. The integrations need a little bit of work, but that's no reason to condemn the whole movement towards speech enablement," says Dan Miller, senior analyst at Opus Research. "Speech is not as reliable as everything else in a car, but it's getting there. Drivers hold quality to very high standards, and the solution providers have some work to do, but that's not a bad thing. It's a signal that consumers care [about speech recognition]."

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