Many industries have been reacting to the rapid and impending disruption that voice technology is causing. Retail has perhaps been the loudest in this discussion, and hospitality is not far behind. In both areas, it’s clear that voice’s potential is less about music and weather updates, and more about an additive experiential technology for consumers.
As both Amazon and Google begin to stake their claims in these realms — partnerships and shopping capabilities integrated directly into smart speaker devices, ‘Alexa for Hospitality’ followed by a partnership with Marriott, Google’s latest Duplex announcement — one area that has yet to evolve through voice in a meaningful way is the ratings and reviews space.
Studies have found that 85% of consumers trust reviews as much as personal recommendations. Furthermore, “60% of [online consumers] said they look at online reviews for local businesses at least once per week, and more than eight in 10 said reviews have convinced them to make a purchase.” (Source: Podium) Despite being critical to consumer decision-making, reviews have largely been left as pages of text for users to browse through, with the exception of some savvy retailers leveraging video upload capability.
Reviews are not only key to purchase decisions, highly valued by consumers, and often used for local or ‘real-time’ decision-making, but they also provide internet users with a higher purpose — helping others. With this in mind, voice makes a tremendous amount of sense as the next logical place for the reviews space to go.
Here’s why voice will become the next standard interface for customer reviews, along with what we can expect from a future of reviews driven by voice:
Bring Back Emotion
Voice is our original interface for communication. In transmitting an account of an experience with a product or service through audio, users will be able to hear the true emotion in a fellow consumer’s voice. This provides tremendous value when you start to consider how often intent, tonality and sentiment can be misinterpreted in an era of shorthand, mentally adrift typing. Additionally, voice can be ingested and understood quickly — and with the proper experience design, users could parse through a variety of experiences and accrue multiple opinions with ease.
Just as voice technology will liberate the voice of the consumer, it will provide the same value to business operators. No longer will consumers scroll through replies or content assuming it’s an emotionless copy and paste exercise, or a form letter. Instead they’ll be able to hear from the business owners directly, and assess their sincerity.
Let us not forget that reviews are not only a communication channel, but a powerful source of data for businesses. Voice will only enhance that, and enable companies to feature, curate, or segment this new content.
Voice will also provide a unique way for businesses to connect and promote 3rd-party content. Consider a hotel that wants to share a local tour company’s pitch, or a retailer that wants to highlight a journalist’s review. Ideally, this content could be accessed and connected to listeners through the review experience seamlessly.
The largest problem plaguing the reviews space is false write-ups. A previously referenced study found that “79% of consumers have read a fake review in the last year, but a worrying 84% can’t always spot them.” Voice could serve as an antidote to this issue or, at minimum, raise the barrier and effort required for a spammer to infiltrate reviews. This will certainly rely on some technological advances — including strong voice identification validation (more on that below) and some form of filtering technology — to spot suspicious recordings.
Audio Identity Goes Mainstream
Securing and validating a “voice identity” will be critical. While devices can currently ‘recognize’ users, it is limited to on-platform engagements. It would be wise for Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Apple and others to address how to take their consumer voice data, and create a universal application (akin to social media sign-on portals, which are now ubiquitous). As a general fear around fake news and manipulated media grows, once an identity system is proposed companies will quickly need to begin the hard work of developing security protocols and validation mechanisms to ensure identity theft via voice doesn’t occur, and that a new type of spam becomes common place.
When voice reviews become commonplace, battlegrounds will quickly develop around both facilitation and data ownership. While the retail space will likely be dominated by Amazon, Google and D2C review technology providers, hospitality presents a few likely candidates to anticipate this, including: Yelp, AirBnB, and TripAdvisor. A whole ecosystem of service providers will begin to emerge on top of this burgeoning space.
For now we’re stuck typing and reading long-form content to gather the research we rely on for purchases, but the promise of what voice technology can provide is exciting. While skeptics may say this is years away, the infrastructure is ready and the market interest surely exists. And sometimes, changing behavior moves faster than you’d expect.
Looking forward to hearing your thoughts online…
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