woman on cell phone
SMBs can take a page from the big brands when it comes to location-based advertising PHOTO: Matthew Kane

The importance of weaving voice into customer interactions has become clear to organizations. Voice puts your company where your customers are whenever they think about your products and want to speak with you. Further, voice is a combination of platform and mode. Smart speakers, fridges, cars and more are all becoming voice-enabled.

However, if you think about "voice" solely as equivalent to Alexa or smart speakers, you might understandably feel overwhelmed and not know where to start. Thankfully, there’s a better place for most to look first: mobile.

Put a Mic on it

Most companies already have mobile apps or websites, and so “putting a mic on it” isn't a significant investment. Further, voice on mobile is often used purely for input. You don’t need to answer questions like, “what’s the persona of our brand when speaking?” because your app won’t speak back to the user. Many of the difficulties specific to voice are minimized because the user can always fall back on a screen. For example, users can clearly see when speech-to-text misunderstands them, and can provide fine-grained information such as credit card numbers easily by using their keyboards instead.

The fastest way to add voice search is to use the built-in functionality in the browser or mobile OS. For native apps, both Android and iOS have built-in capabilities to understand speech. In the browser, speech recognition is currently only supported by Chrome and Firefox, and not at all on iOS. That’s a huge chunk of people, but when it takes less than half an hour to add the voice input, the ROI is still very high. Then, when you’re ready to spread voice search across all browsers, you can look into services from Google, Assembly AI or others.

Once you start to see the benefit of voice search on mobile, you can start thinking about where else a conversational interface can help your business. As always, you’re looking for areas where you can make money or save money. And in voice applications today, money making is often a secondary effect at best. Sure, GrubHub lets people order food on smart speakers, but that’s an outlier.

Related Article: The Future Is Multimodal: Why Voice Alone Will Never Be the Answer

Give Your Customers New Ways to Interact With You

Instead, for many brands, conversational interfaces work best as a cost reducer. For example, can you hook up natural language search to your customer ticketing system so that customers can get answers themselves without having to speak to an employee. Or perhaps you bring that same content to the phone through a service like Twilio, so customers can call in with their requests.

Bringing voice into your apps and websites is a virtuous slope that benefits other areas of the business. Take a look at what people are searching through voice, and you will find other areas where they could be asking questions if only there were a way. These are signals to new features or optimizations waiting to happen. For example, perhaps your customers are asking the main search bar on your app how to make returns. This is a sign that you need a better self-serve system. Or they ask to find the newest products, but you’re currently only offering search results by most popular. There’s another chance to attend to the user intent.

Even users who aren’t searching via voice will benefit, because the added natural language understanding in your search will better understand those long tail queries that most accurately point to someone engaged with your business. For most businesses, search today tells users, “hey, you formulate the query the right way.” With natural language search, users are free to be as descriptive or vague as they desire.

Related Article: Where Voice Experiences Fit in Customer Service

Start With Voice Today

The endgame is voice everywhere, and the beginning is not necessarily on smart speakers — it’s on the mobile apps and websites that are already powering your business. Think about voice less as “where” and instead “how.” Give your customers a new way to interact with you wherever you already are, before working into new platforms. Doing so will not only give your customers a better experience, it will also give you better insight into what actions they want to take.