Guide to Voice Assistants in Business

We’ve all heard about Apple’s Siri, Google’s Assistant, Amazon’s Alexa and Microsoft’s Cortana but what do they do? They are voice assistants that use voice-activated apps and AI technology. As a result, they can help us get directions, research, make appointments and more.

Spurred by the explosive growth in digital technologies, the voice assistant revolution is quietly finding its way into our daily lives. Where we were once limited by the tools for our business, today we have a wide variety of smart tools at our disposal; and voice assistants are one of those. Moreover, businesses today are discovering voice assistants perform more than just mundane tasks like setting alarms and weather information.

Depending on the particular application of the voice assistants, they often go by a variety of monikers. For example, they include intelligent personal assistants, automated personal assistants, smart assistants, virtual digital assistants, chatbots and of course voice assistants.

In effect voice assistants are assistants on our phones or smart speakers that perform a variety of tasks after hearing a wake word or command. By just saying say, “What’s the weather?” the voice assistant will answer with the weather report for that day and location. For example, they can answer queries, turn on lights, play music or place online orders. As a result, voice assistants are always at our beck and call no matter what time of day it is. They are your virtual assistants available 24/7.

Growth of Voice Assistants

A popular use is to order your voice assistant to make calls if you are busy with your hands. As a result, embedded assistants captured a 33.2% share of in-car voice assistant use compared to Bluetooth connected smartphones at 30.5%. This according to voicebot.ai.

By simply entering your voice query the assistant will send your recorded request over the Internet to its database to provide answers. Voice assistants are intuitive and use machine learning. This means you get better responses the more you use it. Like a Google search, it studies your patterns and your preferences to provide you with more personal experience.

Some voice assistants come with smart wireless speakers integrated with a virtual assistant. It provides interactive actions and hands-free activation with the help of ‘wake words’. Wake words are voice commands a phone or smart speaker uses to begin communicating with a server to do its job. Some smart speakers can also act like smart devices to control home automation devices such as your TV or appliances.

Voice assistants don’t just serve your personal needs but also help you increase customer experience, marketing, track projects and increase productivity. Voice assistant adoption has taken two paths, one on smartphones and another on smart speakers.

Some 46% of American adults admit to using voice assistants according to a survey by the Pew Research Center. The survey reveals 2% use them for their smartphones and only 14% on their computers and tablets. In terms of owning smart speakers, some 47.3 million Americans now have smart speakers.

Voice Assistants and your Business

Voice assistants have great applications in the business place. Businesses now use voice commands to work with virtual assistants in the office. These digital assistants can help boost productivity in the workplace as well. They help create calendars for appointments, read your emails, add tasks to project management apps, and more.

According to a report by the Capgeminin Research Institute, the ability of voice assistants to interact with businesses and organizations matches the rise in use and satisfaction with voice assistants.

Close to three-quarters of consumers (74%) say they use conversational assistants for researching or buying products and services, and other functions. With a further 59% saying they keep improving their personalization over time. In fact, according to the report, many consumers are highly satisfied with their conversational assistant experience.

Customers prefer to use voice assistants across the consumer journey. Among these include chatbots which are automated personal assistants such as Siri and Alexa. They are helping to bring new ways for businesses to communicate with the world and most importantly with their customers through messaging apps.

With the integration of chatbots, voice assistants will be even more useful for businesses.

Chatbots

Chatbots powered by AI help simulate real interaction with users in the form of conversations just like people. They help you provide customer engagement with your clients 24/7. In addition, they help your clients easily navigate issues such as registration, making payments and delivery issues with relative ease.

This increases customer engagement. And companies that engage with their customers on social media are often able to increase customer spending by 20% to 40%. Chatbots with relatively little investments can help businesses tap into this prospective selling. As automated solutions, chatbots can handle many customers at once, and simultaneously help you reach economies of scale in your client outreach.

Not only do chatbots help in reaching out to your customers but they also help you crunch data. Using the feedback collected through simple questions, they can help make improvements to your services/products. AI assistants have access to your company’s database, they can compile statistics, automate tasks, and turn dictations into text reports. They can also run customer surveys, map customer needs and help you optimize your offering.

You too can build your customized bot. For example, for a text-based bot, you don’t even need to know how to code. There are apps available in the market that can help you create assistants that can automate tasks or events. A text-based bot automates tasks and interacts with customers. It can also help answer questions for clients, access databases, and help customers help themselves.

There are several apps that can help you develop your own bot.

Chatfuel

Chatfuel can support both Facebook Messenger and Telegram, making it somewhat flexible in some aspects. It uses templates to get your bot up and running and works well for publishing, real estate agent, influencer, and Shopify bots. The free tier can cater to up to 1,000 subscribers and includes basic features to automate your messenger inbox. Paid accounts start at $15 per month with no subscriber limit, full-featured bot and access to multiple team members.

HubSpot

HubSpot Chatbot Builder integrates with Facebook Messenger, Slack, Short Message Service (SMS), e-mail, and the web. As a result, it is geared to provide solutions for visual workers, as the back-end platform is built on a flowchart style setup.

It includes contact and lead management; Gmail and outlook integration pipeline management; contact and company insights; and others. As a content marketing company, HubSpot is optimized to help you qualify leads, book client meetings, and respond to a growing customer base without hiring more customer service representatives to respond manually.

HubSpot offers the chatbot builder as one tool in a larger Marketing Hub package that includes many other features. Its free basic feature comes at a price tag of $50 a month. It comes with ad management; Live chat, email marketing; and ad re-targeting.

INTERCOM

INTERCOM provides a code-free customization of chatbots and boasts faster customer resolutions. It claims its Custom Bots can start conversations by using advanced targeting and enrichment, only engaging the leads you want. In addition, through the launch of a bot to engage high-intent leads you can replace web forms. Moving qualified leads directly to a conversation results in faster conversions. INTERCOM’s offering starts at $87 a month and progressively increases as the features are extended.

ManyChat

ManyChat is popular with bot enthusiasts for its fast and simple Facebook Messenger bots. It automates and combines Facebook messenger and SMS. As a business solutions it helps get more leads, engage prospects and drive up sales. It starts with a free plan account that offers unlimited broadcasts and two sequences. It also comes with some layers of customization such as audience segmentation, landing pages and web widgets. Paid accounts start at $10 per month for interactions with sponsored messages, advanced automation, integration with Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system, email marketing and more.

PandoraBots

PandoraBots offers users an application programming interface (API) that gives developers the power to deploy your bot nearly anywhere. Taking your chat experience beyond Facebook to nearly any social platform.

The AI platform claims over 275,000 developers, 325,000 bots, and 75 billion messages sent. You can start using PandoraBots for free with slimmed-down support for public office hours, use open source chatbot libraries, and unlimited sandbox messages. The next tier charges $19 a month and comes with up to 1,000 messages per month, email support capabilities API access and more.

With these and other tools, you can get started and build a bot in as little as two minutes with no code. Using a drag and drop builder, you can create conversations, responses, and get your most important settings up in a few minutes. Connect to Facebook and you can get up and running quickly with an automated sales funnel and list builder

How Voice Assistants Stack Up

The voice assistants on our list are becoming more popular.  We explain what they are and what small businesses should know.

Amazon Alexa

Amazon Alexa, also known as Alexa, is a virtual assistant AI developed by Amazon. The assistant is touted as having capabilities for voice interaction, making to-do lists, playing music, setting alarms, playing audiobooks, and providing weather, traffic, news and other real-time information. This smart speaker-based voice assistant also helps control smart devices using a home automation system. Alexa is reported to have 50,000 skills or functions demonstrating users can find something from Alexa.

Most devices with Alexa allow users to activate the device using a wake-word such as Alexa. On other devices such as the Amazon mobile app on iOS or Android and Amazon Dash Wand requires users to push a button to activate Alexa’s listening mode.

Alexa can communicate in English, German, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Japanese, and Hindi languages.

Google Assistant

Developed by Google, Google Assistant is a virtual assistant that is primarily available on mobile and smart home devices. Google Assistant is a follow-through of the previous virtual assistant, Google Now, and can engage in two-way conversations. Google Assistant according to reviews consistently outperforms other industry leaders, repeatedly recognizing and correctly responding to questions. It is also faster.

Google Assistant is compatible with everything from refrigerators to third-party smart displays and is able to understand commands made in pairings of languages- which comes in handy in bilingual households.

Cortana

Microsoft’s Cortana can set reminders and recognize natural voices without the requirement for keyboard input. In addition, using Bing, Microsoft’s search engine, it answers questions using its database and web results. Cortana will alert you to breaking news about your interests in Windows action center. This voice assistant also adds things there that need your attention, like commitments, reminders you may have missed, and more. It has features where Cortana will help you pick up where you left off on a different device.

Cortana is available in English, Portuguese, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Chinese, and Japanese language editions, depending on the software platform and region in which it is used. To speak with Cortana, select the Cortana icon in the taskbar and start talking. Another option is to type a command in the search box.

Bixby

Bixby is Samsung’s virtual assistant. It is considered a reboot for S Voice, Samsung’s voice assistant app introduced in 2012 with the Galaxy S III. As a result, Bixby adapts to your needs by learning your routine and even remembers what you’ve already asked for and how, so it becomes more helpful over time.

For example, the app can help you set alarms, manage your schedule, or even ask for dinner recommendations. As a result, you can use it to pair your phone to the TV and watch movies, change channels and also control your smart home devices. Bixby also helps you to edit photos, send messages, and composes emails on command.

MyCroft

This is a free and open-source voice assistant for Linux-based operating systems that uses a natural language user interface. MyCroft can be used for planning your schedule or work as an enterprise software application.

The software runs on many platforms  including desktop, Mycroft Mark 1, or on a Raspberry Pi. This open-source software can be freely remixed, extended, and improved. Mycroft may be used in anything from a science project to an enterprise software application.

Mycroft makes its own smart speaker called the Mark and the project being open-source, you can install Mycroft on just about any Linux machine. For privacy concerned users MyCroft promises to not sell your data or show advertisements on its technology.

Siri

Apple’s Siri is a virtual assistant that uses voice queries to answer questions, make recommendations, and perform actions. The software has the capability to adapt to users’ individual language usages, searches, and preferences, with continuous use. Siri can also offer proactive suggestions — like texting someone that you’re running late for a meeting. Returned results from Siri are also individualized.

Siri supports a wide range of user commands. For example, performing phone actions, checking basic information, scheduling events and reminders, handling device settings, searching the Internet, navigating areas and finding information on entertainment. It can also engage with iOS-integrated apps.

Features to look for in Voice Assistants

Compatibility

The value of a voice assistant or any software for that matter rests on how well it melds with your business processes and the degree of control it allows you. The voice assistant you choose should be able to access apps and complete tasks with little effort. Voice assistants that are compatible across various platforms and devices should be at the top of your list of voice assistants.

Correct Information Completed Tasks

Any application voice assistants should provide you with utility and functionality. As a result, your voice assistant should live up to the promises it makes and complete tasks. You should ask whether the assistant does the tasks it purports to? Does it take long to load; provide you with high quality and relevant responses; does it often crash; is it compatible with other applications? Are your smart speakers up to the task?

Privacy

While selecting your particular voice assistant for your business you should ensure your clients’ privacy is secure. Make sure you don’t inadvertently expose your customers to spam or provide their information to third parties.

Looking Forward

Voice assistants are improving all the time. They pretty much learn the same way people do but at a much faster rate. As a result, voice assistants look poised to further integrate into our lives. For example, their selling points include improved user experience, reliability and their growing breadth of features, which makes them highly attractive.

Voice assistants, virtual assistants, chatbots are all the products of innovations trying to help businesses increase their competitiveness. Through automation and machine learning they help businesses increase productivity as well as save time and resources. Whether they are simply used to manage queries or solve complex marketing tasks, voice assistants today provide us with a plethora of solutions.

With Geographical Information System Mapping and intuitive learning to handle complex data, we are at a cusp of a new era of Customer Relationship Management (CRM). As a result, gone is the era of hunches, scenario mapping and intense pondering over spreadsheets, lengthy focus group discussions or surveys.

The key to any successful business process is to deliver synergy. As a result, the days when businesses struggle to bring about coherence, integration and unity of mission are quickly fading away. As AI continues to evolve it is providing clarity in operations. And this is giving businesses the freedom to focus on more important tasks.

These solutions are applicable to businesses of all shapes and sizes regardless of their business models. As a result, companies can build automated business processes without a single line of code, complex formulas, or help from their IT departments. Thus, making them ideal for any business.

Image: Depositphotos.com

This article, “Guide to Voice Assistants in Business” was first published on Small Business Trends







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