Voice search is increasingly being adopted by consumers who are literally speaking to brands to get the answers to their questions. This habit of relying on a voice assistant to answer queries presents brands with ample opportunities to connect with customers in meaningful ways. But are companies capitalizing on this opportunity?
Google UK’s research into consumer perceptions of voice and text search has shown that while 57 percent of consumers still find text search highly functional, a growing number — 45 percent, in fact — feel that voice is the future. A massive 83 percent of the consumers we surveyed believe voice makes it even easier to find what they want from brands, while even more of them (89 percent) feel voice makes search faster.
This is making search an even more important channel when it comes to brand communications. Bringing voice into the equation means more people are searching more often. In fact, three-quarters of the consumers in our research believed that mobile voice search availability meant they search more.
It’s not that consumers are switching from one capability to the other. More than half (51 percent) currently use both text and voice, and they’re expecting results on both. Consumers need search to deliver fast, efficient, and targeted results. Brands should see this as an opportunity to communicate more authentically with their customers.
To do that, brands need to learn how customers use search. What external factors (weather, economy, life stage) are impacting customers’ perceptions? How and where are they using search? Why and what for? How can brands enhance search across voice, text, and mobile platforms so that it becomes a personal and engaging connection?
The shift from “text only” to “text plus voice” has been boosted by advances in technology, particularly in natural language processing (NLP). Providing a high-functioning voice capability is critical to delivering on customer experience.
Poor experiences using voice in the past have clearly colored some customers’ attitudes. Only a quarter of consumers who tried less-advanced voice technology four years ago still use it often today. In contrast, 42 percent of customers who have only started using voice in the last six months now use it daily.
It’s the ongoing challenge of promise and expectation meeting reality. Customers are still simply turned off when stuff doesn’t work. Half of millennials are frustrated by slow web page loads, and 57 percent of consumers overall would use voice search more if it could understand more complex commands. Voice, in particular, has to be an intuitive experience, with 42 percent saying they would use it more if they knew how to use it better.
This may mean that we’re still on the cusp of voice search becoming mainstream, but it’s also a call to action for brands. We’re just about over the top of the adoption curve, and brands and agencies need to take the concept seriously.
In the research, it became clear that consumers expect Google to be smart enough to recognize individuals’ voices and respond accordingly.
While it’s up to Google to continue developing our voice-activated products and NLP capabilities, just as we do with text search, brands can already start acting on the new demands of the channel.
For example, one respondent noted anecdotally in the research that he tended to search for things by voice that he wouldn’t think to look for using text. This opens up a whole new area of opportunity by optimizing for new search terms.
The frustration consumers commonly feel is another challenge-turned-opportunity. Almost twice as many consumers believe search is too slow when they’re on the move compared to when they’re sitting down. More than two-thirds find search slow when they’re rushed and anxious, compared to just 21 percent of people who are calm and relaxed.
It stands to reason that offering consumers the potential to switch seamlessly between voice and text mode, desktop and mobile, increases brands’ ability to serve and gives them a chance to rise above the competition.
But just because search via voice may be more convenient via mobile or when you are irritated or on the move doesn’t mean that brands should only cater to voice at this point.
There will be plenty of annoyed commuters who’d rather type in a search for taxi companies than speak into their mobiles. And many, many relaxed smart TV viewers sitting with a laptop or tablet would much prefer to say “OK Google” from the sofa when looking for Poldark’s broadcast time than search online.
Ultimately, it’s about consumer choice. Just consider the bank that insists on a call center rather than allowing the client to self-serve online, or vice versa. With consumer research, we can broadly infer that an individual will prefer one method over another. That doesn’t mean we only serve up the most popular option.
Brands that don’t provide a seamless digital experience — and this increasingly means optimizing for both text and voice search — will frustrate consumers and impact loyalty.
Matt Bush is the Director of Agencies at Google UK.