Conversational UX and invisible apps: The future of voice assistants for business
The largest tech titans have shown their commitment to conversational user interfaces in 2017 with a host of product launches. Amazon Echo and Google Home smart speakers, which featured heavily in many Christmas Day unwrapping frenzies, are bringing voice recognition into people’s homes. The tech also dominated conversations at this year’s CES.
This kind of interface may have been around for a while on mobile, but consumers will feel far more comfortable using it within their four walls. Once users realise the effortlessness of using speech to ask for ingredients when cooking or to check the traffic quickly, it’s only a matter of time before voice controls are as normal as tapping on an app. The launch of Google Assistant, the most important feature on the company’s new Pixel phone, along with constant improvements to Siri, mean conversational interfaces are now much more useful than their previous iterations.
It could be tempting to dismiss this technology as a gimmick, but several factors are working directly in its favour. First, many of the new smart speakers have a low price point — with the Amazon Echo Dot starting at less than £50 — and the software can work on mobile devices that most people already own. Considering the minimal barriers to entry, and some of the world’s biggest marketing budgets supporting these interfaces, they’ll be at the forefront of consumers’ minds. Even non-techies can use voice commands easily, potentially opening up digital services to a new demographic. Rather than a fad, all signs point to a revolution in user experience. Specific touch-based apps focusing on one service will appear outdated when stood next to this new way of interacting, placing pressure on others to follow suit.
If you can’t beat them, join them
Luckily, third parties will be able to integrate with voice-enabled assistants, rather than reinventing the wheel. Capital One has become the first bank to connect with Amazon Echo, allowing consumers to check balances and pay for goods, while Uber’s partnership allows customers to order rides using their voice. In fact, it will be these third-party apps that will transform conversational interfaces from being useful to essential. As more and more services are added, consumers will come to expect this from other businesses.
Those looking to link up to these assistants will rely on open APIs, the publicly accessible part of an application, to accommodate transfers of data and personalise the experience for the consumer. APIs certainly have their benefits, opening up more possibilities to developers than ever before, but they present significant programming challenges too. While things are getting easier and more convenient for the customer, the increasing number of connections will inflate application complexity, making the job much harder for IT teams. Unfortunately, the third-party businesses linking up to these interfaces will bear the biggest compatibility burden, having to ensure the optimum level of performance.
Conversational UX is meant to increase convenience, meaning any performance glitches will leave customers frustrated, and potentially prompt them to abandon transactions or go elsewhere. Efficiency will, therefore, be essential.
Making applications invisible
Creating conversational UX won’t be as easy as connecting to just one of these platforms, either. The whole nature of the conversational interface will rely on going where the customer is, and not the other way around. This means it could go beyond voice to include messaging apps and social media too. MasterCard has already integrated with Facebook Messenger to allow customers to manage their finances using a chatbot. This trajectory will see applications become almost invisible, waiting on standby for whenever the customer needs them. With this ecosystem relying on an intricate network of individual microservices, monitoring and analytics tools that give full application visibility will be necessary to understand what is going on.
That said, software alone won’t be enough. There will need to be strong communication between development, operations and the wider business teams to make this work. It’s important to understand not only how things are performing, but also how applications are impacting the business. Technology teams can work out how processes can be improved, but it will ultimately be the wider business that decides whether it gets investment. To ensure everyone is on the same page, teams can establish a common language, focusing on business transactions to make sure they’re driving revenue while improving the experience for the customer. This way, if there is a problem with Amazon’s Echo API, it means that everyone, technical and non-technical, can understand the context of the issue – spelling out how customer experience is taking a hit and how this impacts the bottom line.
This is a challenging time for technology teams, but most of them will see results from conversational UX if they move to a more advanced way of maintaining applications. Evidence suggests that voice interfaces are here to stay, and for every company that rejects the idea, another one will take its place. Brands that adopt this technology can now truly impress their customers and keep them from going elsewhere.