Business must embrace voice assistants - or be left screaming

Guy Thornton
Google is getting into voice assistants with Home (Source: Getty)

During its recent Worldwide Developer Conference, Apple announced that its voice-activated assistant, Siri, has been seriously turbo-charged and is to be migrated to the Mac itself. Since then, a lot has been written about how this will improve the consumer experience.

But what has been covered far less, if at all, is the impact the growing use of virtual, or ‘voice-activated’ assistants such as Siri, Cortana and Google Now, will have on everyday businesses.

As the way we search for products and services increasingly shifts away from the keyboard and keyword towards the human voice, the consequences for e-commerce companies will be profound.

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Currently, most people use virtual assistants such as Siri primarily for informational or local search queries, but before long they will be using them to buy products and services online - and at scale.

It’s precisely for this reason that any search-dependent business needs to sit up and take note. Companies that ignore the renewed emphasis Apple is placing on Siri risk being left behind.

Increasingly, we’re moving away from the keyword-based search that all e-commerce companies are now very familiar with, to semantic search underpinned by Natural Language Processing algorithms.

In plain English, this means a much more intelligent, AI-type search engine algorithm that understands what we want through so many more factors than just the words we type, one of which - cue the revamped Siri - is the way we talk.

Read more: Siri-style assistants can't help you with tough questions

There’s another angle to all this, too. Apple is also opening up Siri to third-party app developers, paving the way for consumers to book a cab, restaurant, hotel room or flight through apps simply by talking.

Again, the ramifications for businesses are immense. They need to be there to grasp that moment when the words are muttered, rather than typed.

In summary, in a future where voice will be the primary interaction channel with phones, tablets and computers, e-commerce companies that react the quickest will reap the rewards. Those that don’t adapt quickly enough - or fail to act at all - could struggle to survive.

Three tips for being heard within a world of voice-activated search

1. Prepare to adapt your apps and websites to voice-activated search, i.e. don’t be caught behind the curve when it really takes off.

2. Treat voice-activated search as part of your multi-channel strategy and integrate it as seamlessly as possible.

3. Ask your digital agency to map out the potential impact of voice-activated search on your product or service.

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