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Are smart home assistants the next frontier for customer communications?

Are smart home assistants the next frontier for customer communications?

When Amazon launched Echo, the voice-powered digital assistants, few people expected the public to embrace them so enthusiastically.

But Echo and competing voice-powered gadgets from Google, Sonos, Harmon Kardon (and others) are bringing the internet into homes in a new way.

And these devices aren’t just for the young or the tech-savvy; they can be a welcome voice to people who live alone, a kitchen companion for busy parents – and a handy way to listen to music for kids. Their appeal is broad – and yet to be fully explored.

While most of these smart devices began life as simple speakers, controlled purely by voice, the second wave of products is bringing a new screen into the home. The Echo Show, Echo Spot and a range of products packed with Google Assistant now include screens, meaning that people can now do much more with these devices.

Another screen in the home

The addition of a screen means that people can bring up information with simple commands, receive video calls, read (or watch) a recipe, view pictures and monitor home security products (many of these devices are designed to integrate with other connected devices such as Nest cameras, thermostats, lights and Ring video doorbells).

As these virtual assistants become more capable, it’s likely that more people will bring them into their homes. And as more people have this technology at their fingertips, people will expect to use these devices to manage things like their bank accounts, utility bills, customer service requests and calendars – just as people expected to use SMS when it became prevalent in the late 1990s.

Voice-powered customer communications

How can organisations use voice assistants – and those that include screens – to help customers get support and access their information? Will organisations needs to build apps (or Skills, in Amazon’s parlance) to create a link between personal data and the device? Or will Amazon, Google and Apple create systems for bridging the gap between existing communications and their voice assistants?

If voice assistants are the next frontier of customer communications, what kind of security challenges do they pose? Is it enough, for example, to let the customer enable communications on a device with a live screen, if that device could be seen by anyone in the household? Can voice assistants authenticate users by their voice alone? With voice-powered assistants, consideration must be given to the ramifications of users speaking sensitive information aloud – and of the impact of private details being spoken back to the user by the device.

A new era of apps

In the US, banking group Capital One has created an application for Amazon’s Echo that allows users to manage their bank accounts and make payments by voice. And people can also order pizza, book a ride with Uber, and shop on Amazon with speech alone. While major players have found their way onto the Echo, the route is less clear for smaller organisations, who may not have the budget and technical prowess to develop applications for voice assistants – particularly when the market is so young (and fragmented between multiple operators) and relatively small.

Perhaps voice assistants will be adopted more widely when the development of applications is more widespread – or when a mainstream platform integrates this technology. Or perhaps we need to see a couple of organisations lead the charge and demonstrate the value of this emerging technology.

In the meantime, if you would like to know more about sending multi-channel communications from a single, powerful digital platform, talk to our team.