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Alexa, Can You Help Me Answer the Question of ROI?

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With a projected 70 million households owning at least one smart speaker by 2020, brands will need to start thinking about their brand voice more literally – as it applies to voice design. Some are referring to this as “Brand Humanity”, or how brands will function more as humans. It’s coming, and so much so that Alexa can now even change her tone when saying something excited to portray a different emotion.  Whether through developing an Alexa skill, an audio logo, or simply laying the foundation for a brand identity in the voice space – it’s time to start thinking about how voice design can extend your brand.

In our last blog, we discussed some of the key challenges to consider when approaching VUI design and key terms to get you up to speed.  In addition to these functional questions, when looking for organizational support, the question of ROI is likely to arise within your organization —  “Why do we need an Alexa App?”.

Communicating Return on Investment

Unless you are selling a retail product, top line ROI may be hard to define (and even calculate). However, when it comes to healthcare, health insurance, financial services, and other service-oriented industries, the true value of Voice User Interface (VUI) design may be found in customer experience and delivery improvements.  For example, VUI can function as a servicing tool to divert support calls while increasing customer satisfaction.  Look at GEICO.  They’re using Alexa to help offer quick and convenient access to information for their policyholders – who can now check their balance, pay their bill, get ID cards, get vehicle help, and more by using their GEICO Alexa skill.  Not only is that convenient, but it frees up their customer service team to focus on sales and other critical business needs.

That’s just one example.  Applications for ROI will also exist in that space between retail (selling a product) and service improvement/customer support.  For example, reserving your place in line at a nearby urgent care is a prime example.

Finding your place in the voice ecosystem and recognizing its long-term importance is critical as you don’t want to be playing catch up.   When building an ROI case for your organization, here are some key points to consider:

  • The future of Voice has arrived (or is arriving). Voice search isn’t going away soon; there are already more than 30,000 skills for Alexa, and it is going to continue to grow.  It is better to be on the front end of a technological movement by getting Alexa users accessing your skill before the rest of your competitors figure it out.  Customers will come to expect to interact with your brand on voice (whether to buy, inquire, or learn) in the same ways they do now via your website or mobile app.  They may not expect it yet (aside from retail via Amazon), but we will see that transition happen.  And as more consumers use voice, their dependency on the platform will grow and manifest itself much like we see with mobile devices.  Why write a shopping list out when you can tell Alexa in real-time that you’re out of salt while cooking?  Think about it.
  • It’s good PR. It’s invaluable to be on the leading edge – and not the bleeding edge.  That said, to be perceived as a leader, you simply can’t execute an Alexa skill poorly.  Rather, your organization must do so at a reasonable level.  In our next blog, we’ll discuss why we recommend an iterative design and MVP (minimum viable product) approach to deliver your first skill in order to learn from and incorporate your users’ feedback along the way.  With regards to publicity, there’s a “shine factor” right now with voice – especially in healthcare with Amazon recently unveiling software that allows healthcare companies to build HIPAA-compliant skills.  If your use case is good, it could be a solid source of publicity for your organization.
  • It may not be always being free. Many experts assume that as smart speakers become more and more popular, businesses may have to pay for their skill to be placed higher than others on the Search Engine Results Page (SERP). Being the first to market helps.
  • Voice as a medium for advertising. While voice recognition won’t replace traditional advertising, it may change the way consumers buy merchandise or interact with your brand.  Voice will inevitably provide marketers with more opportunities in the coming years.  Think about when Pandora began offering targeted ad spots to reach their nearly 75 million US listeners based on a variety of demographic and psychographic variables.  While not currently in play, we won’t be surprised (and neither should you) when similar opportunities are available in voice advertising through Alexa – and it’ll be best to make some small bets and start to learn rather than waiting until all of your competitors are doing it.
  • At minimum, it’s time to start learning. Even if you’re not convinced you’re ready for it, get up to speed on VUI so that you’re not behind the eight ball and can recognize ROI opportunities that fit within your organization’s business strategy.

Building an app takes time and is an investment.  Don’t create a skill just because it is the trendy thing to do.  Unless you’re committed and able to execute it well, you’re better not to create a skill yet.  Delivering a top-notch skill starts with the consumer – putting his or her needs at the center of your design. A well-designed app can offer a better customer experience, increased customer acquisition, retention and long-term value.

In our next blog, we’ll discuss the critical steps for finding the right use case and functionally building your first skill for Amazon’s Alexa marketplace.

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