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Zero Discovery – Why Bot Developers Might Stay Away From Voice Platforms

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As a consumer, I’m excited about voice bots. Both Echo and Google Home reside in my living room, and both have been active.

As a developer, however, I’m wary about building for voice platforms. The caution comes from my own consumer experience. Currently, it is hard to discover a 3rd party service, and even harder to control and use that service with voice commands.

Google Home and Alexa (source: PC Mag)

Zero Discovery

Here is how you find a new service on voice:

  • Use your phone to go to Store/Skill section on Alexa/Google Home app
  • Manually enable it on your account
  • To actually use this new service, you have to read out loud the syntax in your app to Alexa / Google Home.

Users won’t be able to discover your service by simply using voice platform. They need to enter another platform (phone) to discover you and go back to usage.

Compare this with an app/ text bot: discovery and usage are both in the same text / reading environment, and pretty seamless.

Voice requires two platforms and two senses at once. Users need both a phone to search, and then a voice device like Alexa or Home to use. They also need to switch from visual (reading) to voice (talking). It is as if you have to go to a physical store to obtain an URL before going to a website.

Difficult Habit

Even if you have overcome the huddle of discovery, using the bot itself isn’t intuitive.

Users have to say commands in just the right way. This non-intuitive process inspired many articles of “Useful Voice Commands to Try.” Despite the many times I have tried the different bots, I don’t remember these commands at all. I’m tired of the default “Sorry, I can’t help you with that yet.”

My most common voice tasks are now the built in commands from Alexa and Google: “Alexa, what time is it?” “Google, what is 100 meters in inches?

These are more natural language queries built by the platform providers, NOT 3rd party developers.

Furthermore, with apps and text bots, you can remind users via notification. With voice, who would want the equivalence of a spam announcement in their living room?

However, these obstacles doesn’t mean that no one should build a voice bot.

As mentioned above, the biggest problems are Discovery and Habit Setting. If you somehow can remove these hurdles, voice can be satisfying, as in cases below:

  1. Case 1: You already have a brand presence elsewhere Why? Because you already solve the Discovery. I didn’t come to Alexa to learn about Spotify for the first time. More likely, I’m a Spotify user and I want to have the same Spotify experience on Alexa platform.
  2. Case 2: You are a Hardware / IoT developer Again, your customers already know about you; even better, they buy / consider your device already. I love my smart light bulbs. The moment the room lit up after I tell Alexa to turn on the kitchen light, never gets old. As a developer, you are providing voice to create that “magic” moment, where users are delighted with the experience.
  3. Case 3: Native Integration if you can integrate with the platforms as one of the default options, you are removing the barrier of adopting product. Example: playing Netflix on Google Home is easy — on any day, it works like this: “Google, play Sens8 from Netflix on TV”; or once Spotify is enabled, both Alexa and Google knows to use Spotify when users ask for a song, you don’t even need to mention it, just “Google, play some music.
  4. Case 4: Data Collection / Exploration lastly, if you want to explore a new platform and see how users interact with you there, there is nothing wrong with experimentation. Just make sure that this is your objective from the beginning and don’t be discouraged by low traffic.

In short, voice bots can be magic, if you can discover and use them with ease. Voice platforms aren’t yet good as a first introduction to your product. Think carefully whether voice presence will make sense for you.

Disclaimer: Google is my employer but the opinion here is my own personal thought only.


Zero Discovery – Why Bot Developers Might Stay Away From Voice Platforms was originally published in Chatbots Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Source: Chatbots Magazine

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