Amazon Echo Dot smart speaker with built-in Alexa voice assistant.
PHOTO: Anna Quelhas

Whether your organization already has a voice presence or you're just getting started, it's never been a better time to offer branded, intelligent voice experiences. The last five years have witnessed explosive growth in the ownership and use of smart speakers, not to mention billions of other speaker-enabled devices worldwide.

At the same time, the technology used to design, build and deploy voice experiences is continuously growing more intelligent, better integrated and easier to use while the total cost of ownership goes down. 

However, ease of delivery can be a double-edged sword offering benefits and creating problems. Organizations giddy with the fun and excitement of creating intelligent voice assistants with an AI-driven conversational content management system often rush into execution without a well-thought-out strategy. This problem will probably sound familiar to anyone involved in creating websites in the early days of web content management systems. 

In this scenario, it's not uncommon to end up with shallow and misaligned voice experiences that do not deliver value, disappointing the brand and the customers they serve. Like all things worth building, voice experiences benefit from the classic "measure twice, cut once" mentality. 

So how do you get there with a strong voice strategy?

Align Voice Objectives With Overall Business Goals

Businesses recognize the true power of voice assistants when the medium transcends mere novelty and aligns with strategic goals and objectives. Before ever creating a single turn of conversation, voice planners should ask: What are we trying to achieve with this voice assistant? If the only answer is shallow, the voice experience will be, too.

Although this is not an exhaustive list, a few of the most common, superficial reasons to create voice experiences are:

  • We think it's cool
  • Our competitors have one
  • The boss said to, and we didn't ask why

Again, none of these are wrong reasons, but if they are the only reason for proceeding, the project is unlikely to have the leadership support and resources necessary for success. Voice experiences are programs, not projects. 

Setting goals is the most crucial phase of strategic planning, so it's essential to get it right. It's an excellent time to slow down and dig into the details. Document each goal individually and describe it as clearly as possible. 

A great way to evaluate the potential value of voice objectives is to ask how the organization will measure success. Pro tip: The plan is on the right track if the answer is quantifiable and directly linked to increased sales or decreased costs.

Related Article: CX Decoded Podcast: Analyzing Voice-Content Prospects for Marketers

Voice Planning Team Must Be Diverse

It's no secret that senior leadership often dictates strategy, but this is a mistake. The strategic voice planning team should consist of a diverse group of thinkers with varying experiences and seniority from across the organization. This group must include individuals who have direct contact with and can speak to customers' wants and needs. Ideally, representative customers have a seat at the table. 

When the voice strategy team meets, arm them with current research. This information should encompass a broad understanding of customers, competitors and industry trends. It should also include voice specifics like attitudes and sentiment toward the medium among the organization's unique audience segments.

The strategy should also define how voice will deliver a competitive advantage. Like all good strategies, this section should be data-driven and based on the documented results of a comparative benchmarking study and gap analysis prepared by an objective source of truth. When done well, such a study will allow the organization to see precisely where they stand in the present and provides all the information needed for a roadmap in the direction of change.

Related Article: How to Let Your Customer Experience Speak for Itself With Voice Content

Stay on Top of Voice Content Trends, Privacy Issues

Knowledge of relevant trends informs exceptional strategic planning, and when it comes to voice, nothing is hotter than the recent pivot towards custom voice assistants. 

It's long been a well-known problem among industry insiders that brands do not top the charts within the walled-garden, smart speaker ecosystem because of ongoing issues around discoverability and retention. Without this knowledge, an organization might waste a lot of time and energy pursuing a voice strategy with too much emphasis on the smart speaker ecosystem and not enough on other opportunities. 

For example, more organizations are considering strategies like Erica, the custom voice assistant in Bank of America's mobile banking application. Deployed outside the walled-garden ecosystem, deeply integrated custom voice assistants allow the organization to solve more complex and transactional business problems and offer many other attractive benefits to brands and the customers they serve.

Unlike voice in the walled-garden ecosystem, the brands that create custom voice assistants own them completely. That means they can be deployed anywhere and work best when they become a part of the customer experience. Ownership also means total control over data, features, and conversation design. 

By owning the data and experience at every level, organizations that choose a custom voice assistant strategy can establish and adhere to their privacy and data protection policies. While this may seem like a small detail, in an era of spiraling costs related to a breach, not to mention the loss of trust and affinity among customers, it is one of the best reasons to avoid the walled-garden ecosystem.