Technology•Nov 16, 2020
Business Value of Building a Voice App: Why Voice Assistants Are Still Not “Open for Business”
Smart speakers and the voice assistants that power them have seen consistent growth over the last few years. According to the latest Voicebot Smart Speaker Consumer Adoption report, over one-third of U.S. adults have a smart speaker in their home and about 50% or 45 million people use their devices daily. With the market growing, many businesses are wondering if now is the time to invest in leveraging this new channel to serve their customers. Despite the already impressive reach of this technology, for most businesses the answer is most likely "not yet."
Although users of smart speakers and voice assistants utilize their devices multiple times per day, the vast majority of their use is limited to a couple of narrow features: playing media, general search, and built-in features (i.e., timers, weather, etc.). All of the key features people use regularly are built-in and completely controlled by the big tech companies (Google, Amazon, Apple) and typically do not allow for third-party integrations.
For businesses to provide additional functionality they must create third-party voice apps. All of the major platforms support third-party voice apps and provide standard practices for developing fully featured applications. However, there are two primary roadblocks that make it difficult for businesses to justify investing in building a voice app: discoverability and ecosystem segmentation.
The biggest issue with third-party apps is discoverability. Unlike traditional websites and mobile app stores, voice assistants do not have a highly visible way to promote third-party applications. Users primarily interact with these systems over voice which does not present much opportunity to display additional options or applications.
The majority of users learn about new apps and features through promotional emails from the vendor, social media, or word of mouth. Most users never see new apps and do not attempt to discover them, unless there is a very compelling reason for customers to seek out a third-party voice app or the feature is promoted through other channels. Applications developed by businesses simply won’t be found by users.
Additionally, because most voice assistants are controlled exclusively via voice, users must remember that an app exists and how to use the app without any visual cues. If a voice app is not used regularly, users may forget how to use it or forget it exists entirely. The best apps are ones that are used daily or weekly; however, many voice apps are tried a few times for novelty and soon forgotten.
Businesses are faced with the challenge of choosing which platforms to support when looking at the voice assistant space. The three main competitors in the voice assistant space are Amazon’s Alexa, Google’s Assistant, and Apple’s Siri. Alexa is the clear leader in the smart speaker space with just over 50% of the market share. Google has been closing the smart speaker gap in the past two years and is currently at 30% market share. This duopoly in the market even extends to the “other” devices in the market, around 97% of them use either Alexa or Google Assistant to power their device.
While Apple is not big in the smart speaker space, it owns around 50% of the mobile market share in the U.S. and has a loyal customer base who use their voice assistant on their phones, watches, and earbuds. Even though smartphone voice assistant users typically use 20% fewer voice apps per week than smart speaker users, it can be beneficial to build a Siri app if your user base primarily uses Apple devices.
Similar to mobile app development, supporting multiple platforms for voice apps comes with additional development and support costs. However, because voice apps are newer, there are fewer tools and practices in place to develop successful voice apps. Typically, it is best to start with a single voice app for the voice assistant most commonly used by your customers to validate the business case before developing for multiple platforms.
The Case for Voice Apps
Although the roadblocks above may prevent many businesses from developing voice apps, there are some cases where voice apps are more compelling.
Simple, Loyalty Driven Apps
The most popular features of voice assistants are simple and intuitive, so for a third-party voice app to be successful, it should also be simple and intuitive. Some companies have developed voice apps for ordering products; however, the success of these apps is mixed, with less than 20% of smart speaker owners having ever tried to order anything. Part of the reason is the ordering process can be complicated and contain many steps. Simpler use cases for ordering such as pizza or reordering common items are more likely to be successful than more complex processes. Additionally, because frequent usage reinforces the success of voice apps, an app built to streamline ordering for highly loyal customers who order multiple times per week or month is much more likely to be successful than an order process built to support all customers.
Another model for building successful voice apps is to provide services similar to the built-in voice assistant features. Playing media is by far the most popular feature of voice assistants, so it is a natural fit for media companies such as radio, television, or news to develop voice apps for their loyal customers if their content is not already available on the platform.
Another good fit is productivity tools including online notebooks, to-do trackers, and budgeting apps. Many users of productivity tools are very loyal to the software and find ways to engage with the software multiple times per day. Developing third-party voice apps for these types of apps can be successful because they help build the brand relationship with loyal customers and provide them an additional channel to engage.
Niche Customer Segments
There are some niche customer segments that have a more compelling case to develop voice apps. Businesses that primarily serve early technology adopters will see the biggest lift from creating a voice app. Early technology adopters are more likely to overcome the discoverability hurdle to find and use voice apps. Another relevant segment are businesses that serve customers with blindness or other disabilities. Voice assistant powered devices provide a large accessibility advantage for these customers and developing a voice app can be a competitive advantage in this space.
Finding the Right Strategy for Your Business
As you can see, there are reasons why a voice application may not be the right step for your business in the short term. The challenges of discoverability and ecosystem segmentation being two of the major ones. However, if your business could create additional customer loyalty and engagement with a target market that uses voice apps, you might be able to make a compelling business case. If you’re weighing the pros and cons of a voice app and want to talk it through, reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.