“Log that the temp gauge reads 228 degrees with 244 PSI as of the 2:15 pm checkup.” “Pull up the dimensions for the rear entranceway from the blueprint.” “I’m done with the fastening, what’s next to complete the assembly?”
These all sound like things one worker might say to a colleague in the course of a good day’s work. But in 2021, these are also the types of things a professional might say to a custom voice assistant, which may well be the newest member of their team.
For the last six years, we as consumers have welcomed voice technology into our personal lives – on our phones, in our kitchens, in our cars. Many have embraced the “fun” side of voice – playing voice-first games, getting into choose-your-own-adventure-style storytelling experiences (many of which we at RAIN have had the pleasure of building) – but the vast majority of personal use for voice assistants has been functional. We use it because it’s faster to take our inputs, more convenient when our hands and eyes are tied. It’s a tool to get something done. Even if that something is setting a timer, or playing “Babyshark” for the 1000th time. The most frequent voice use cases become routine because it’s simply easier to accomplish those tasks by asking, and as a result, “Alexa,” “Hey Siri,” and “OK Google” have become a part of our daily lives and culture.
The voice-led consumerization of enterprise
While consumer-facing voice assistants have added convenience and value to our personal lives, there’s a profound ripple effect from the collective investments from big tech in voice: a wave of advancement in the voice tech industry at large, from speech recognition to natural language understanding to nearly every possible form factor of devices that can hear and speak to us. Greater reliability, intelligence and flexibility means that voice tech can do far more than just assist us when we’re off the clock. Voice is a tool for the workplace. It can be woven powerfully into the professional lives of myriad workers, for whom voice’s unique affordances open a world of productive possibilities.
The business case for voice tech at work is not hard to make. Cutting mere seconds from frequent processes adds up to significant efficiency over time. That efficiency means either greater productivity and output, or major labor cost savings.
The same dynamics that make voice work well for consumers unlock huge potential for employees, particularly those who are part of the deskless workforce. Most obviously, voice tech’s fast-ball is its speed of input; we can talk three times faster than we can type (let alone swipe and tap). But it’s also a way to be productive in settings where our eyes and hands are tied up, where computing wouldn’t otherwise be possible, whether you’re driving a truck or dangling from a building. Voice is an additive technology, one that can be layered atop existing software or embedded into nearly any device. And most people have now grown accustomed to talking to computers in some regard in their personal lives, a familiarity that wasn’t there just a few years ago. The consumerization of the enterprise we saw with mobile devices was dramatic. The rate of adoption for voice tech in consumers’ lives is even steeper, and for many repetitive, routine tasks on the job, many workers will start to ask themselves, “I know what I want the system to do, why can’t I just ask?” or “why am I writing data points down on the job site, then entering them into a spreadsheet back at the office?”
ROI that’s measurable and multi-faceted
The business case for voice tech at work is not hard to make. Cutting mere seconds from frequent processes adds up to significant efficiency over time. That efficiency means either greater productivity and output, or major labor cost savings. Beyond efficiency, voice technology has the potential to deliver a safer working environment, one where employees are less distracted by screens and can keep their eyes and hands where they need to be, not fumbling an iPad. Lower accident rates are not only good for the people at risk, but for the companies who are liable for workplace accidents. If safety is at the lower end of the Maslow hierarchy of workplace needs, above it would be employee satisfaction. Taking friction and hassle out of fussy processes is one of the easiest paths to happier workers. If voice commands and automations can reduce the busywork, employees are freed up to focus on what matters.
Take, for example, the task of performing a safety inspection on a piece of equipment in a manufacturing plant. An employee might have to reference back to printed instructions, jot down hand-written notes, and then walk over to a computer terminal to input the inspection results. With the right wearable and software solution, this employee could complete the task far faster, getting guided instructions piped into their ear, verbally relaying data and inspection progress as it happens, without having to pause and look down and back up every few seconds. Imagine your business had to do these inspections twice daily across five plants, and you were able to save 25 minutes per inspection, that would mean more than a thousand hours saved per year. Not to mention, this is an innovation an employee would surely appreciate and see as a value-add to their workflow.
If voice commands and automations can reduce the busywork, employees are freed up to focus on what matters.
No longer a matter of “if,” but “how”
It’s no wonder 57% of managers recently surveyed by Pindrop believe technology will increase operational efficiency, and that Gartner predicted that 25% of employee interactions with applications will be via voice by 2023. The market for employee-focused voice solutions used to be confined primarily to clunky headsets for voice-guided picking in warehouses. Now the market has exploded, from voice-enabled note-taking tools for physicians to voice-controlled apps for retail inventory management to voice assistants that operate heavy machinery. The profusion of these solutions is a positive development, but the bigger challenge for most companies is isolating what problems voice tech can solve, and how to make employee-facing voice tools that work reliably and truly do represent “a better mousetrap.”
Tools are only as good as their fit for the job, and the task of finding that fit is one that demands a combination of strategic planning, user-centered design, and technical know-how. You need the business case, you need to know your end-user employees intimately, and you need to ensure the front-end functionality works, and that the back-end integrations are made such that data can flow freely to and from a user. The companies that move now to find their winning use cases, and design thoughtful voice-first solutions that employees love and embrace, will be the ones whose bottom lines are measurably and durably transformed by voice.
Tools are only as good as their fit for the job, and the task of finding that fit is one that demands a combination of strategic planning, user-centered design, and technical know-how.
If you’re excited about the opportunities discussed here and interested in voice-enabling your workforce, please reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’d love to discuss your challenges and build a blueprint for success.
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