José Carlos Portugal F. L. Rodrigues | Digital Experience Leader | everis Brazil

Alexa and Voice First for digital immigrants and digital natives

Devices known as smart speakers are gradually leaving the sphere of innovation projects and becoming digital assets that provide companies and people who own them with actual gains. Despite the fact that there are still doubts about their capacity and reach, their growing popularity shows that they have become a new reality. This shift in paradigm initiates a new process of opportunities for Chatbots as a new, official customer relationship channel. Given the increase of its capacity to generate business, quite a number of companies exclusively dedicate executives to the strategic management of this innovative channel.

“Time Waits For No One.” I catch the wave of Freddie Mercury’s solo song recorded in 1985 and recently released by his longtime friend Dave Clark to refer to the future: companies that miss out on connecting with their customers with smart speakers and on directing their flows to Voice First will unfortunately lose quite a number of opportunities related to customer interaction, displaying their brand innovation factor and to business in general.

Just like the musical power of that great singer, this emerging technology features a similar potential, especially the generation of digital natives that will easily use it as part of daily life.

Voice First is a very powerful concept. It leaves behind paradigms such as responsive and mobile first, who would have thought, “Time waits for no one.”

However, new channels also pose new challenges. According to Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella: “Human language is the new UI layer, bots are like new applications, and digital assistants are meta apps. Intelligence is infused into all of your interactions.”

Digital immigrants are people who have learned to use e-mail and social networks late in life, i.e. people for whom computing and emerging technologies are new. On the other hand, digital natives only know the digital language and spend much of their life online. They make no distinction between their online and offline identity. Digital natives are children, teens and young adults who were born beginning in the 1980’s and who have always lived in a computerized and technological world.

Figure 1 — Digital native interacting with Alexa (intelligent virtual assistant)

Two forms of identity can be distinguished here. First, the personal identity, things that people are interested in, activities they develop and second, the social identity, which is characterized by family habits and those of the community the young people live in.

One may also characterize the behavior of this digital identity by separating it in two ages. In the age of the Internet, which includes the rise of digital natives, there is a change in what it means to build and manage one’s identity. In the digital age, social identity may be defined by people the young associate with by connecting with them on social networks, such as Facebook and Instagram.

Another new and innovative component is added to that scenario as new technology being introduced into homes, offices, vehicles and wherever else it may be used. This new and innovative component is called smart speakers.

Smart speakers are electronic devices (hardware) that pick-up audio and convert voice into text by means of an installed or cloud software program based on natural language processing (NLP), a subarea of ​​artificial intelligence (AI). They provide the computational capacity required to understand what a text means, to perform a syntactic, semantic, lexical and morphological analysis, to interpret the meanings, to analyze feelings, to learn concepts, to associate intentions and thus provide possible answers and perform actions.

Voice First is a new concept applied to projects that include chatbots and smart speakers. The initial focus of its architecture and development is aimed at devices such as smart speakers. Voice assistants are going to play a key role in communication and collaboration, both at home and at the workplace.

Voice is everywhere and so far, I have only mentioned some of Voice First’s principles, such as technology components and natural language processing. Other principles need to be included to build this groundbreaking experience, such as the so-called Voice First development steps.

These steps include plan, build, test, deploy and assess, and interaction. Expert support and assistance, as well as application of a framework helps achieve results and accelerates development.

All manufacturers are launching their home assistant version and this new market goes far beyond hardware manufacturing, since it includes voice-to-text technology and natural language processing, which are an actual source of innovation.

Figure 2 — Top players
Figure 3 — Other players

Some manufacturers and their hardware ecosystem, speech-to-text technology, and natural language processing (NLP) are described below. Some have already gained an impressive market share, but their ability to innovate is going to reveal the next steps.

Figure 4 — Smart Speakers ecosystem

Alexa is a cloud-based voice service by Amazon and the brain behind tens of millions of devices, including Amazon’s family of devices.

Resources or skills can be developed that make Alexa smarter and daily tasks of its customers faster, easier and more enjoyable.

To provide a simple analogy, a skill would be the same as an app for a smartphone.

There are three basic governance principles that apply to that new process. They are basic, but not easy to achieve in a successful way. An Alexa Skill, for example, needs to connect to customers and thus needs to be useful, easy to use, to generate satisfaction and recurrence and to anticipate needs to create an emotional connection.

Figure 5— Alexa Skill Governance Model

New habits are emerging as Smart Speakers are being used, such as controlling lighting systems, reading news and adding items to a shopping list. New skills of that new channel are going to include bank balance inquiries and frequent purchases. A recent poll found that in 82.6% of surveyed households, two or more people are talking to Alexa.

Figure 6— Smart Speaker Adoption Reference in the U.S.

Despite the fact that these new technologies still cause doubts, as they are considered new and even suspicious, U.S. market data shows that they have already become a new reality.

Figure 7— Smart Speakers Adoption Reference by 2025

It is estimated that Google Home’s (Nest) smart speaker product line should outperform Amazon’s market share by 2023. By 2025, Google is expected to account for 48.1% of smart speaker sales, compared to 44.7% by Amazon Echo. However, at this point, Amazon will still outperform Google in total devices sold, i.e. 640 million against 545 million. Together, these two giants are expected to control 92.8% of the market by then.

everis has already developed Alexa Skills in major companies and has experience in Skill design, development and certification. It accelerates those processes and relies on UX, UX writer methodology and specialized development experts.

Four aspects need to be taken into account to certify an Amazon Skill:

1) Security.

2) User Experience: Test with users. Users are given skill instructions and are asked to interact with the device (all of which is recorded). After that, users score the skill from 1 to 5 (final score 4.2).

3) Functional: A beta version is distributed and tests are applied during a given number of days. Users try to use the skill according to instructions.

4) Stress.

Figure 9 — Smart Speaker channels

Is your company getting ready for this new channel?


Articles may be accessed at:

IBAÑOS, Ana Tamunt. PAIL, Daisy Batista (2017) Fundamentos linguísticos e computação, EDIPUCRS, primeira edição.

PALFREY, John. GASSER, Urs (2017) Nascidos na Era Digital: Entendendo a Primeira Geração de Nativos Digitais , PENSO; Primeira edição.

PRENSKY, Marc. (2011) Enseñar a nativos digitales: Una propuesta pedagógica para la sociedad del conocimiento, EDICIONES SM.

THYMÉ-GOBBEL, Ann. JANKOWSKI, Charles R (2018) Voice-First Development Designing, Developing, and Deploying Conversational Interfaces, MEAP.

WROBLEWSKI, Luke (2011) Mobile First. Editora A Book Apart.

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