September 6, 2019

Consumers choose voice assistants over humans, report finds

By Robert Scammell

Consumers are coming round to voice assistants so much so that many would rather interact with bots than humans, according to research by the Capgemini Research Institute.

The report found that 70% of consumers plan to progressively replace store or bank visits with their voice assistant within the next three years.

Voice assistants, such as Apple’s Siri or Amazon’s Alexa, have proliferated in households of late. Their spread has, in part, been driven by the competitive pricing of smart home devices, which in turn has led to the tech becoming more widely accepted.

These factors have particularly accelerated voice assistant uptake in the past 12-24 months, according to Capgemini, which found that 40% of people now using voice assistants only started doing so in the past year.

And the number is expected to continue growing, with UK analytics firm Juniper Research estimating that there will be 8 billion digital voice assistants in use by 2023.

“This research establishes that conversational assistants are the future of customer interactions, valued by consumers for their convenience and by companies for the operational efficiencies they enable,” said Mark Taylor, head of customer engagement at Capgemini Invent.

“Compared to our study released in early 2018, a much higher proportion of consumers now foresee voice assistants as their first choice within the next three years. In the meantime, the expectations of customers are evolving as they progressively use the technology.”

Business benefits of voice assistants

For businesses, chatbots and voice assistants can help reduce costs by having them handle simpler customer queries, then directing them to a human agent when necessary.

According to Capgemini’s research, businesses executives reported a 20% reduction in customer service costs.

And just over three-quarters (76%) said they have experienced “quantifiable benefits” from their use of voice or chat assistants for their business.

Stan Sthanunathan, executive vice president at Unilever, said:

“The biggest experience that we’ve had is to not look at conversational interfaces as a cure for all the problems that you have, but instead to use them to augment human intelligence. This makes human intelligence a lot more productive. Voice or chatbots can communicate with multiple people simultaneously.

“They therefore help in reducing the amount of stress and strain on our human agents who are responding. These interfaces eliminate anywhere between 20% and 30% of issues reaching the human agents because they are answered then and there. And even when the issue is guided to a human being, it is actually a lot more purposeful.”

Voice assistant privacy concerns remain

Although many separate forecasts predict the use of voice assistants to continue to grow, privacy concerns may cause consumers to take pause.

Recently, Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Apple and Facebook all came under criticism for using human contractors to transcribe smart assistant voice recordings. The companies said this was to help improve the service, but all have since suspended the practice.

“Privacy and security also remain paramount,” said Taylor. “Since our last research, it seems there has been little change in consumer concerns about how voice assistants affect privacy and data security.

“Companies must do more to address both these concerns and consumers’ increasing expectations, as conversational commerce increasingly moves into the mainstream.”

Capgemini’s research involved surveying more than 12,000 consumers using voice assistant or chatbot assistants or both, as well as 1,000 executives from organisations offering assistants to consumers.

Read more: Behavioral Signals: AI that predicts if you’re going to buy from the emotion in your voice

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